Complex Made Simple

Texas A&M at Qatar gas hydrates research highlighted in prestigious journal

A research paper written by a team of Texas A&M University at Qatar chemical engineers has been featured on the cover of the Journal of Chemical Physics.

The paper, “Prediction of the Phase Equilibria of Methane Hydrates Using the Direct Phase Coexistence Methodology,” describes the naturally occurring problem of gas hydrates in natural gas pipelines and was published in the 28 Jan. 2015 issue of the journal, which is one of the most prestigious journals in atomic, molecular and chemical physics worldwide.

The authors of the paper are postdoctoral research associate Dr. Vasileios Michalis, master student Joseph Costandy, visiting researcher Dr. Ioannis Tsimpanogiannis, and Professor Ioannis Economou from the Texas A&M University at Qatar Chemical Engineering Program; and Dr. Athanassios Stubos from the National Center for Scientific Research “Demokritos” in Greece.

“Gas hydrates such as methane hydrates are solids that form naturally in water and can block fluid flow in hydrocarbon pipelines during transportation”, Economou said.

The featured research paper discusses a method to predict the pressure and temperature conditions under which methane hydrates form , which is common in the natural gas industry.

“It’s a flow assurance problem,” he said. “To deal with gas hydrates, producers can either operate in different conditions or add chemicals such as glycols or alcohols to prohibit formation of hydrates. But these chemicals add to the cost.”

Knowing exactly how hydrocarbon and water molecules interact under different pressure and temperature conditions to form gas hydrates can help industry better deal with blockages.

The problem of gas hydrates is also an environmental issue. Melting hydrates in the world’s ocean floor has led to the release of methane, which is one of the most important greenhouse gases. In addition, gas hydrates can also be used in water desalination to separate salt and other impurities from seawater to produce fresh water.

The research project began in December 2013 and is funded by a cycle-6 award from Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) National Priorities Research Program (NPRP). The goal of the project is to model and simulate how gas hydrates form so that industry can transport natural gas more safely and efficiently.

The research can have significant impact in Qatar and in the oil and gas industry worldwide.

“We are trying to develop a general methodology based on molecular principles in order to tackle all different gas hydrates,” Economou said.

“We are developing a theory using molecular simulations to model and predict hydrate phase behavior. Once the theory is fully developed, we will disseminate our results to the industry here in Qatar so that they can use it to design more efficient and safer processes.”

Economou said that the work would not have been possible without the high-performance computing facilities at Texas A&M University at Qatar and its Linux supercomputer cluster, “Raad.”

“Molecular simulation using atomistic models is a very powerful but time-demanding method,” Economou said. “It is used widely to solve complex problems in chemistry, biology and engineering. To do this kind of computational science, we need fast, powerful computers and efficient algorithms so that we can run very long simulations in parallel, and Texas A&M at Qatar’s facility is the only high-performance computing facility of its kind in Qatar at this time.”