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In a paper published this week in PNAS, researchers at the University of Amsterdam's Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences and the Amsterdam Center for Multiscale Modeling provide atomistic insight in the formation of methane hydrates. On the basis of molecular dynamics simulations they explain how selection between competing methane hydrate polymorphs occurs, and how this might be generalized to other hydrates and molecular crystal formation.
Methane hydrate are ice-like solid substances that are abundantly present, among others at the ocean floors. It is estimated that the amount of energy stored in methane hydrates is twice the amount of energy stored in conventional resources of fossil fuels. At the same time, the formation of hydrates is of concern to the petroleum industry as they can clog oil pipelines, causing flow problems. Methane hydrates are also present in the permafrost in arctic regions. The thawing of the permafrost as a result of increasing global temperatures can lead to the release of large amounts of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.
Methane - Hydrate - Level - Methane - Water
In a methane hydrate, at the molecular level methane is encaged inside a hydrogen-bonded water network. While methane gas is hydrophobic under ambient conditions, at low temperatures and high pressures a mixture of water and methane gas can spontaneously nucleate into hydrates.
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