Sometimes, nature can solve industrial problems. Increasingly, gas companies move their product through pipelines in which the gas is mixed with water, then separated later. But in winter, hydrates, a form of ice, can clog these arteries.
The solution, say scientists at British Petroleum Co.'s research center at Sunbury, Britain, is to take a cue from fish who live in the frigid waters of the Antarctic and avoid icing up by producing so-called antifreeze chemicals. The researchers created chemicals similar to those found in the fish and made their own antifreeze, and it has kept pipelines clear in tests at BP's North Sea gas operations. The fish-based variety is cheaper than other antifreezes. Methanol or glycol can keep pipelines unclogged but only in concentrations of up to 15% of the water in the line. The new ice inhibitor works at a level of just 400 parts per million, small enough to generate significant savings.