A NORTH-East energy firm has revealed plans to use fibre optic lasers to harvest green gases from under the seabed.
Newcastle-based Five Quarter is hoping the pioneering technology will make the process of extracting useful gases from vast coal reserves under the North Sea quicker and cheaper.
The Northern Echo revealed in January how the company planned to build mobile drilling rigs along the North-East coast for its breakthrough deep gas winning process.
Valuable gases will be extracted from coal seams and surrounding shale buried between 250 metres and 2km below the sea, and as far as 10km offshore.
The gases would then be processed at a purpose-built gas purification and separation plant and either sent to petrochemical industries on Teesside or turned into low-carbon electricity at a new-build power plant.
Chief executive and chairman Harry Bradbury said directional drilling under the seabed was extremely expensive and time-consuming.
However, he added that by heating up the rock before drilling using fibre optic lasers, the drills would cut through much quicker and reduce the cost of the process by as much as 90 per cent.
As well as reducing the cost of drilling under the sea, it is believed the technology can be used to heat up the rocks to a certain temperature to ensure the right gases are released and limit the amount of useless waste gases.
Dr Bradbury said that while fibre optics under the seabed were already being used for communications, using fibre laser technology in this setting was new.
The technology is being examined in the North-East after being developed in the US by engineers working on geo-thermal energy projects.
"This builds on a body of research done already, most notably in the US, were certain groups have been able to make use of fibre lasers," said Dr Bradbury.
He admitted the technology sounded like something from a science fiction novel, but added: "Not so long ago if you said you would have a metal rig in the middle of the North Sea that was drilling down deep into the seabed they would think you were talking about a Jules Verne book."
Five Quarter is hoping to work with a team from Manchester University to develop the technology.
The company's deep gas winning process has pre-qualified for the UK Guarantee scheme, which means that while much of the £1bn needed would have to be borrowed on the markets, the project would be guaranteed by the UK Government.
This follows Five Quarter being awarded £15m from the Regional Growth Fund last May.
Five Quarter has ten conditional licences from the UK Coal Authority covering the North Sea and negotiations are under way with coastal landowners with a view to going operational later this year.