Japan has successfully extracted methane hydrate from its sea bed, a breakthrough that could potentially win the resource-starved nation energy independence.

Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corp. extracted methane gas, known as “fire ice”, from frozen undersea deposits, in what they are claiming as a world first.

A huge layer of methane hydrate containing 1.1 trillion cubic meters in natural gas – equivalent to Japan’s consumption of the gas for 11 years – is believed to lie in the ocean floor off the coast of Shikoku, an economy, trade and industry ministry official said.

“It is the world’s first offshore experiment producing gas from methane hydrate,” the official said, adding that the firm will start a two-week experimental production.

“We aim to establish methane hydrate production technologies for practical use by the fiscal 2018 year,” a consortium official said.

Other countries, including the US and Canada, are also conducting research on methane hydrate, which experts says is at least twice as plentiful as all known reserves of natural gas, reports the Financial Times.

Research for the hydrate began in February last year as Japan seeks to reduce its reliance on costly energy imports following the Fukushima nuclear crisis that crippled the country’s nuclear power industry.