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The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.


Gas Hydrates: Climate Change and Energy Supply


Walter Chapman, Ph.D., Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University
Gerald Dickens, Ph.D., Department of Earth Sciences, Rice University
Brandon Dugan, Ph.D., Department of Earth Sciences, Rice University
George J. Hirasaki, Ph.D., Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University
Manik Talwani, Ph.D., Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Department of Earth Sciences, Rice University
Colin Zelt, Ph.D., Department of Earth Sciences, Rice University
Gaurav Bhatnagar, Graduate Student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University
Kishore Mohanty, Ph.D., Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Houston

Gaurav Bhatnagar completed his Ph.D. fall 2008
 Brandon Dugan
 Dr. Brandon Dugan conducts a presentation

Project Background

Gas hydrates are crystalline solids composed of gas molecules trapped inside a rigid lattice of water molecules. These compounds occur naturally in Arctic permafrost at depths greater than 200 meters, and they also form in marine sediments at ocean floor depths greater than 500 meters where temperatures hover near freezing.

Gas Hydrates offer a vast, untapped source of energy, a key element in the global carbon balance and past global warming events and the number one problem for hydrocarbon transmission in deepwater oil and gas production. This research combines Rice University and external expertise in the natural occurrence of methane hydrates, thermodynamics and kinetics of gas hydrates, and transport through porous media. The research will develop mechanistic models to describe the accumulation and dissociation of gas hydrates. Such knowledge is important to understanding the role that gas hydrates might play in energy exploration and production and with regard to climate change. The program supports seminars to address global climate and sustainable energy production and investigate the contribution of gas hydrates to global climate change and future energy supplies. The seminars will bring together researchers from Rice, the University of Houston, Texas Tech University and local companies.

Shell Center funds will enable the research team to enlist a graduate student's assistance in modeling the dynamics of the accumulation and dissociation of methane hydrates in deep ocean sediments.

 Bhatnagar and George Hirasaki
 Bhatnagar and his research advisor, Dr. George Hirasaki. In the background, his research, winner of the American Geophysical Union Outstanding Student Paper
 First Place at SPE competition
 Bhatnagar (center) accepting first place at the SPE International Student Paper competition

Project Update

The work developed by Mr. Bhatnagar received a $1 million grant from the Department of Energy to fund further work by George Hirasaki and Walter Chapman from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Jerry Dickens, Brandon Dugan and Colin Zelt of the Earth Science Department, and Kishore Mohanty of the University of Houston. The work will develop models and produce data for detection, production and impact of assessing and quantifying gas hydrates below the seafloor. The multi-disciplinary project will address remote imaging of gas hydrate accumulations, geologic accumulation of hydrates, reservoir production of hydrates, impacts of geologic and human perturbations to the hydrate system, and geochemical proxies for estimating fluxes through these dynamic systems.

In May 2006, Rice University graduate student Guarav Bhatnagar was recognized with the Outstanding Student Paper Award from the American Geophysical Union, in Acapulco, Mexico, where he presented the results of his latest research.

Mr. Bhatnagar won the Ph. D. division of the International Student Paper Contest at the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Conference and Exposition in San Antonio, on October 24, 2006. He was recognized at the annual awards banquet. The title of his presentation was, “Generalization of gas hydrate distribution and saturation in marine sediments by scaling of thermodynamic and transport processes.” Dr. George Hirasaki and Dr. Walter Chapman of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at Rice University were his research advisors.

 Jerry Dickens
 Dr. Jerry Dickens discusses research findings
 Bhatnagar and Professor Kobayashi
 Bhatnagar, first place Fellowship recipient, with Professor Kobayashi, at the Inaugural Kobayashi Graduate Fellowship event

For more information, visit:

Department of Energy project description:




Bhatnagar, G., Chapman, W.G., Dickens, G.R., Dugan, B. and Hirasaki, G.J., in press, Generalization of gas hydrate distribution and saturation in marine sediments by scaling of thermodynamic and transport processes, American Journal of Science.

Winters, W.J., Dugan, B. and Collett, T.S., in review. Physical Properties of Sediments from Keathley Canyon and Atwater Valley, JIP Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrate Drilling Program, Marine and Petroleum Geology.

Dugan, B., in review, Fluid Flow in Keathley Canyon, Northern Gulf of Mexico, Marine and Petroleum Geology.

Published Manuscript

Outreach Activities

Fire in Ice: Implications for Energy Development and the Carbon Cycle
November 12-13, 2003

U.S. Energy Scenarios for the 21st Century
February 16, 2005

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