Applied Energy, Vol.250, 729-747, 2019
Effectiveness of multi-stage cooling processes in improving the CH4-hydrate saturation uniformity in sandy laboratory samples
Laboratory-created samples of methane hydrate (MH)-bearing media are a necessity because of the rarity and difficulty of obtaining naturally-occurring samples. The hypothesis that the inevitable heterogeneity in the phase saturations of the laboratory samples may lead to unreliable and non-repeatable results provided the impetus for this study, which aimed to determine the conditions under which maximum uniformity can be achieved. To that end, we designed four experiments involving different multi-stage cooling regimes (in terms of their duration and number of stages) to induce MH formation under excess-water conditions. In the absence of direct visualization capabilities, we analysed the experimental results by means of numerical simulation, which provided high-resolution predictions of the spatial distributions of the phase saturations in the cores and enabled the estimation of the parameters controlling the kinetic MH-formation behaviour through history-matching. Analysis of the numerical results indicated that, under the conditions of the experiments and with the design of the reactor, significant heterogeneities in phase saturation distributions were observed in all cases, leading to the conclusion that it is not possible to obtain cores with uniform phase saturation. Additionally, contrary to expectations, heterogeneities increased with the number of cooling stages and the duration of cooling, and this was attributed to imperfect insulation of the upper part of the reactor. A set of simulations involving perfect insulation of the reactor top confirmed the validity of this assumption: (a) predicting the formation of high uniformity MH-bearing cores that became more homogeneous as the number of cooling stages and the length of the cooling period increased; and (b) providing important information for the improvement of the standard design of the experimental apparatus for the laboratory creation of MH-bearing cores using the excess water method.