Sunday, 23 January 2011
Natural gas clathrate hydrate formation has been well studied, both in laboratory settings in in-situ. This study expanded on previous work by taking a novel approach to studying deep-sea hydrate formation by utilizing the principals of mass spectrometry and a high pressure/low temperature chamber to simulate and monitor extreme conditions that exist in the hydrate stability zone. Knowledge of exactly how a particular mixture of hydrocarbons tend to form hydrates in a given environment could have far-reaching applications in real-world situations, for example in oil spill responses, where these compounds have recently caused havoc during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The concentration of light hydrocarbons in a sample of water was monitored by utilizing a gas permeable membrane inlet connected to a residual gas analyzer (RGA). It was hypothesized that a drop in instrument response would signify hydrate formation since hydrated compounds are too bulky to pass through the membrane. A significant drop in signal was indeed observed close to the hydrate stability curve during the initial experiment. Subsequent experiments performed at higher temperatures where hydrates cannot form, however, also exhibited the same drop in concentration, which clearly demonstrated that the drop in signal response was not associated with hydrate formation. This result will be beneficial for future hydrate studies with this chamber because it suggests that there was some instrumental or design error involved that will need to be addressed.
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