3 Sep 2014
Jonathan Verrett was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary earlier this year. He travelled to the 8th International Conference on Gas Hydrates (ICGH 8) in Beijing. Here, he reports on the conference.
The SCI Messel travel bursary has allowed me to share my doctoral research at ICGH 8 taking place from July 28 - August 1 in Beijing, China. The conference occurs every three years and attracts over 600 participants from academia, industry and government from over 20 different countries. It is the only international conference focused solely on gas hydrates, and an invaluable opportunity to interact and network with others in the gas hydrate field from across the globe.
Gas hydrates are crystalline solids formed of a water lattice stabilised by a small guest gas such as methane or carbon dioxide. Hydrates were first discovered and characterised in 1810 when Sir Humphry Davy found that pressurised chlorine gas and water would form a solid structure different from ice. Following this, hydrates were mainly of academic interest until 1934 when reports emerged that their formation in natural gas pipelines led to blockages. Industrial research then focused on hydrate prevention for flow assurance in pipelines. The first discovery of naturally formed gas hydrate was in the 1960s, when methane hydrates were found in the Messoyakha gas field in Western Siberia. Gas hydrate deposits are still being discovered and mapped all over the world and it is currently estimated that these deposits contain 10 times the amount of natural gas found in conventional deposits. This represents a huge potential for energy resources as well as a safety risk should destabilisation of a large reservoir occur.
The three main avenues of research at the conference are classified as fundamentals, flow assurance and natural gas hydrates. The fundamentals section focuses on analyzing gas hydrate structure and properties that can then be used to build hydrate models and predict the behavior of hydrate systems. The flow assurance field studies inhibitory compounds used to prevent hydrate formation as well as case studies of pipeline blockages. Due to its applied nature, it brings together representatives from many major oil and gas companies. The natural gas hydrates section is the focus of many geographers and seeks to locate, characterise and utilise natural hydrate deposits. Since natural gas hydrates can generally be found near any country with a coastline, there is interest from many geographical surveys and government organisations.
Gas hydrates find potential uses in many industrial applications including gas storage, purification and separation. Examples of this include carbon dioxide purification and sequestration in deep-sea hydrate deposits. Transporting natural gas in tankers in the form of hydrates has been shown to be safer and less energy intensive than the current strategy of liquefying natural gas. One major barrier to these and other applications is the slow formation rate of gas hydrates. My specific project focuses on the use of chemical additives, such as sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), which is a common surfactant, to increase gas hydrate formation rate.
The SCI Messel bursary provided me the opportunity to present my research at an oral session. In addition to this I was able to submit a paper in the conference proceedings and participate in the poster session. The oral presentation was well received and I fielded a variety of questions from researchers studying fundamentals from institutes around the world. Following the presentation, further discussions with researchers from France, China, Holland, Scotland, Japan and the United States expanded my knowledge. Even within such a specialised field each researcher brings different perspectives and insights into hydrate research. The largest benefit from these interactions was that they provided insights into past studies and ideas for future work that I can now bring back to my group at McGill University. The contacts I made have also laid the foundation for future collaborative work between our research group and research groups in other countries.
Apart from being a very fruitful academic endeavor the conference allowed me to make industry contacts at various organisations and expand my general knowledge of gas hydrate research. The opportunity to listen to presentations and discuss with researchers focusing on natural gas hydrates and flow assurance has given me greater perspective on the breadth of research into gas hydrates. I had the opportunity to meet a plethora of industrial researchers from companies such as Shell, Exxon, Aramco and Sinopec and discuss the applied aspects of their work. It is extremely interesting to see the knowledge gained in labs being applied to the field and invaluable to speak to engineers working with these systems. Discussions with a variety of geographers from academic institutions, geographical surveys and oil companies allowed me to understand how gas hydrate deposits are formed and identified. Learning about the geographical processes involved in the continuous formation and decomposition of such deposits was extremely interesting. Thermodynamic models, like the ones developed by our group, are being applied in order to predict changes in these deposits and understand how they will act in the future.
The discussion and ideas exchanged at ICGH 8 were invaluable and have provided me with new opportunities to push my research and career forward. Without the SCI Messel bursary my attendance at the conference would not have been possible and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity. I hope that in the future I can contribute to exchange programs so that other students will have the opportunity to travel, discuss and connect with other researchers in the global scientific community.