Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New method to prevent undersea ice clogs

12.04.2012
Surface coatings developed by MIT researchers could inhibit buildup of methane hydrates that can block deep-sea oil and gas wells

During the massive oil spill from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well in 2010, it seemed at first like there might be a quick fix: a containment dome lowered onto the broken pipe to capture the flow so it could be pumped to the surface and disposed of properly. But that attempt quickly failed, because the dome almost instantly became clogged with frozen methane hydrate.

Methane hydrates, which can freeze upon contact with cold water in the deep ocean, are a chronic problem for deep-sea oil and gas wells. Sometimes these frozen hydrates form inside the well casing, where they can restrict or even block the flow, at enormous cost to the well operators.

Now researchers at MIT, led by associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, say they have found a solution, described recently in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. The paper's lead author is J. David Smith, a graduate student in mechanical engineering.

The deep sea is becoming "a key source" of new oil and gas wells, Varanasi says, as the world's energy demands continue to increase rapidly. But one of the crucial issues in making these deep wells viable is "flow assurance": finding ways to avoid the buildup of methane hydrates. Presently, this is done primarily through the use of expensive heating systems or chemical additives.

"The oil and gas industries currently spend at least $200 million a year just on chemicals" to prevent such buildups, Varanasi says; industry sources say the total figure for prevention and lost production due to hydrates could be in the billions. His team's new method would instead use passive coatings on the insides of the pipes that are designed to prevent the hydrates from adhering.

These hydrates form a cage-like crystalline structure, called clathrate, in which molecules of methane are trapped in a lattice of water molecules. Although they look like ordinary ice, methane hydrates form only under very high pressure: in deep waters or beneath the seafloor, Smith says. By some estimates, the total amount of methane (the main ingredient of natural gas) contained in the world's seafloor clathrates greatly exceeds the total known reserves of all other fossil fuels combined.

Inside the pipes that carry oil or gas from the depths, methane hydrates can attach to the inner walls — much like plaque building up inside the body's arteries — and, in some cases, eventually block the flow entirely. Blockages can happen without warning, and in severe cases require the blocked section of pipe to be cut out and replaced, resulting in long shutdowns of production. Present prevention efforts include expensive heating or insulation of the pipes or additives such as methanol dumped into the flow of gas or oil. "Methanol is a good inhibitor," Varanasi says, but is "very environmentally unfriendly" if it escapes.

Varanasi's research group began looking into the problem before the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The group has long focused on ways of preventing the buildup of ordinary ice — such as on airplane wings — and on the creation of superhydrophobic surfaces, which prevent water droplets from adhering to a surface. So Varanasi decided to explore the potential for creating what he calls "hydrate-phobic" surfaces to prevent hydrates from adhering tightly to pipe walls. Because methane hydrates themselves are dangerous, the researchers worked mostly with a model clathrate hydrate system that exhibits similar properties.

The study produced several significant results: First, by using a simple coating, Varanasi and his colleagues were able to reduce hydrate adhesion in the pipe to one-quarter of the amount on untreated surfaces. Second, the test system they devised provides a simple and inexpensive way of searching for even more effective inhibitors. Finally, the researchers also found a strong correlation between the "hydrate-phobic" properties of a surface and its wettability — a measure of how well liquid spreads on the surface.

The basic findings also apply to other adhesive solids, Varanasi says — for example, solder adhering to a circuit board, or calcite deposits inside plumbing lines — so the same testing methods could be used to screen coatings for a wide variety of commercial and industrial processes.

The research team included MIT postdoc Adam Meuler and undergraduate Harrison Bralower; professor of mechanical engineering Gareth McKinley; St. Laurent Professor of Chemical Engineering Robert Cohen; and Siva Subramanian and Rama Venkatesan, two researchers from Chevron Energy Technology Company. The work was funded by the MIT Energy Initiative-Chevron program and Varanasi's Doherty Chair in Ocean Utilization.

Sarah McDonnell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Upwards with the “bubble shuttle”: How sea floor microbes get involved with methane reduction in the water column
27.05.2020 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

nachricht An international team including scientists from MARUM discovered ongoing and future tropical diversity decline
26.05.2020 | MARUM - Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften an der Universität Bremen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Biotechnology: Triggered by light, a novel way to switch on an enzyme

In living cells, enzymes drive biochemical metabolic processes enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very ability which allows them to be used as catalysts in biotechnology, for example to create chemical products such as pharmaceutics. Researchers now identified an enzyme that, when illuminated with blue light, becomes catalytically active and initiates a reaction that was previously unknown in enzymatics. The study was published in "Nature Communications".

Enzymes: they are the central drivers for biochemical metabolic processes in every living cell, enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very...

Im Focus: New double-contrast technique picks up small tumors on MRI

Early detection of tumors is extremely important in treating cancer. A new technique developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from normal tissue. The work is published May 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from...

Im Focus: I-call - When microimplants communicate with each other / Innovation driver digitization - "Smart Health“

Microelectronics as a key technology enables numerous innovations in the field of intelligent medical technology. The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT coordinates the BMBF cooperative project "I-call" realizing the first electronic system for ultrasound-based, safe and interference-resistant data transmission between implants in the human body.

When microelectronic systems are used for medical applications, they have to meet high requirements in terms of biocompatibility, reliability, energy...

Im Focus: When predictions of theoretical chemists become reality

Thomas Heine, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at TU Dresden, together with his team, first predicted a topological 2D polymer in 2019. Only one year later, an international team led by Italian researchers was able to synthesize these materials and experimentally prove their topological properties. For the renowned journal Nature Materials, this was the occasion to invite Thomas Heine to a News and Views article, which was published this week. Under the title "Making 2D Topological Polymers a reality" Prof. Heine describes how his theory became a reality.

Ultrathin materials are extremely interesting as building blocks for next generation nano electronic devices, as it is much easier to make circuits and other...

Im Focus: Rolling into the deep

Scientists took a leukocyte as the blueprint and developed a microrobot that has the size, shape and moving capabilities of a white blood cell. Simulating a blood vessel in a laboratory setting, they succeeded in magnetically navigating the ball-shaped microroller through this dynamic and dense environment. The drug-delivery vehicle withstood the simulated blood flow, pushing the developments in targeted drug delivery a step further: inside the body, there is no better access route to all tissues and organs than the circulatory system. A robot that could actually travel through this finely woven web would revolutionize the minimally-invasive treatment of illnesses.

A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart invented a tiny microrobot that resembles a white blood cell...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

International Coral Reef Symposium in Bremen Postponed by a Year

06.04.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Black nitrogen: Bayreuth researchers discover new high-pressure material and solve a puzzle of the periodic table

29.05.2020 | Materials Sciences

Argonne researchers create active material out of microscopic spinning particles

29.05.2020 | Materials Sciences

Smart windows that self-illuminate on rainy days

29.05.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>