‘Ice You Could Light on Fire’

You may never have heard of methane hydrates, but Vikram Mansharamani says they could become a key energy source. (Photo By: Michael W. Kahn)

You may never have heard of methane hydrates, but Vikram Mansharamani says they could become a key energy source. (Photo By: Michael W. Kahn)

TAMPA, Florida—Could methane hydrates one day keep the lights on?

"Methane hydrates are frozen natural gas crystals which are on the seabed of the ocean. And they are all over the place," said Vikram Mansharamani, a global equity investor who teaches at Harvard University and was previously a lecturer at Yale University. "This is ice that you could light on fire."

Mansharamani quoted the U.S. Geological Survey as saying enough methane hydrates are known to exist to power America for between 100 years and 3 million years. 

The reason we haven't heard more about methane hydrates is that they're not cost competitive with natural gas—yet.

"The Japanese are clocking away with technology," Mansharamani told the NRECA Directors Conference. And there could be implications coming for your electric co-op.

"My guess is over the next 15, 20, maybe 25 years, you're going to see people clip away at that cost. And at a certain point—I don't know when—emerging markets are going to start demanding natural gas, prices are going to go up, and suddenly methane hydrates are going to be cheaper," he said.

That was just one of the insights Mansharamani shared during an April 3 session at the Tampa Marriott Waterside. Another focused on millennials, who Mansharamani said "care about values and bigger picture things like the environment."

"Alternative energies are getting a lot more attention," he said, telling directors "it's coming to your world."

Mansharamani said a boom in electric cars is on the way, along with grid-scale storage. 

A possible lithium shortage could pose a wrinkle, but Mansharamani said researchers are working to cut lithium production time from 14 months to a matter of hours.

"If that happens, I will argue lithium prices plunge, alternative energies explode, and you suddenly see solar, wind, and everything else that was deemed unreliable before become the new norm," Mansharamani said.

"And then the scale effects kick in, prices drop, and it becomes widespread. That's a possible scenario."

ADVERTISEMENTS
MORE FROM NRECA