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Researchers Develop Special Coating That Prevents Pipelines From Clogging

Say goodbye to clogged pipelines!

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Back in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had exploded and led to what is now the biggest oil spill in history. Billions of dollars’ worth of damage to the economy, livelihood, and wildlife of the area around the Gulf of Mexico had been done over the course of almost 2 years. What’s sad is that this was a situation that the operators thought they could handle, in which they even succeeded in lowering a 125-ton containment dome over the broken wellhead. Now we have to ask, why didn’t this containment work?

Source: The Telegraph

The reason it didn’t work is because of a thing called methane clathrate, a slushy mixture of frozen water and methane. The slush had built up inside the containment dome due to low temperatures and high pressure and inevitably blocked the outlet pipe, preventing it from redirecting the flow.

Now, a team of researchers from MIT have come up with a solution to prevent this from ever happening again.

The new method, developed by researchers Kripa Varanasi, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Arindam Das, MIT postdoc, Taylor Farnham, PhD, and Srinivas Bengaluru Subramanyam, PhD, involves coating the inside of the pipe with a layer of material that prevents any ice particles or water droplets from adhering to the walls of the containment system, hence stopping the buildup of clathrates and promoting the spread of a water-barrier along the pipe’s inner surface.

Source: Youtube, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Previous methods had involved heating the pipe walls, depressurization, and adding chemicals, which are all harmful and expensive. This new method however, is completely passive- meaning that there’s no need for any further addition of material or energy once it’s in place. The surface coated in the new material attracts liquid hydrocarbons within the petroleum, which creates a thin surface that repels water and other particles from ever attaching to it.

Source: Daily Mail UK

The new material is very similar to one of Varanasi’s previous commercial work in which he had created a coating for containers to prevent the contents, like honey or ketchup, from sticking to the container. Varanasi explains that is it similar to that, but instead “we are using the liquid that’s in the environment itself,” rather than applying a lubricant to the surface. The key to the formation of clathrates is the presence of water, so as long at water is kept away from the walls of the pipe, the buildup of clathrates can be stopped; and as long as the liquid hydrocarbons in the petroleum cling to the wall due to its chemical affinity with the coating, water could be kept away.

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