Researchers design coatings to prevent pipeline clogging

Researchers design coatings to prevent pipeline clogging

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In oil and gas pipes an icy mixture of frozen water and methane, called methane clathrate. It is formed because of the low temperatures and high pressure near the seafloor. The slushy mix formed buids up inside the containment dome and blocks the outlet pipe, preventing it from redirecting the flow. If the flow restricts unabated leakage and widespread ecological devastation might occur.

A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a solution that may prevent these blockages that can lead to constant pipe maintenance or rupture. The research is published in ACS Applied Materials

The key to the new system is coating the inside of the pipe with a layer of a material that promotes spreading of a water-barrier layer along the pipe’s inner surface. This barrier layer can effectively prevent the adhesion of any ice particles or water droplets to the wall and thus thwart the buildup of clathrates that could slow or block the flow.

Conventionally, the layer was removed by heating of the pipe walls, depressurization, or using chemical additives, which can be expensive and potentially polluting. However, the new method is completely passive — that is, once in place it requires no further addition of energy or material. The coated surface attracts liquid hydrocarbons that are already present in the flowing petroleum, creating a thin surface layer that naturally repels water. This prevents the ices from attaching to the wall.

The new method of preventing the icy buildup is described in a paper in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, postdoc Arindam Das, and recent graduates Taylor Farnham SB ’14 SM ’16 and Srinivas Bengaluru Subramanyam PhD ’16.

Unlike previous methods, such as heating of the pipe walls, depressurization, or using chemical additives, which can be expensive and potentially polluting, the new method is completely passive — that is, once in place it requires no further addition of energy or material. The coated surface attracts liquid hydrocarbons that are already present in the flowing petroleum, creating a thin surface layer that naturally repels water. This prevents the ices from ever attaching to the wall