Understanding Methane Transport in Deformable Sediments for Better Harvesting and Reduced Atmospheric Release

2018 Faculty Research Award

Award Period: 2018-2020

Fig 1: Schematic of NGH dissociation and recovery.


Natural gas hydrates — ice-like water crystals containing gas molecules that are found in the microscopic pores of deep-ocean sediment — represent a vast source of natural gas as well as of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Natural gas hydrates are stable in low ocean temperatures, but climate change could result in the uncontrolled release of this methane as ocean temperatures rise, which would further accelerate climate change. PEI associated faculty member Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, will combine experiments and numerical modeling to improve existing techniques for harvesting natural gas from hydrates, while also preventing the release of methane into the atmosphere. Current recovery strategies are hindered by the limited knowledge of how the methane is transported through ocean sediment. The researchers will explore this transport mechanism through experiments on laboratory models, then test those data against numerical simulations to provide reliable predictive tools for optimizing the harvesting of natural gas hydrates.

Results from the project led to the paper “Crack formation and self-closing in shrinkable, granular packings” published in the journal Soft Matter in June 2019. Co-authors included Princeton undergraduate student Rebekah Adams ’21.

Educational Impacts

The experimental work will provide training for undergraduate and graduate students in techniques such as microfluidics and confocal microscopy, as well as computational image-analysis methods. Princeton student Nyema Wesley ’19 conducted independent research related to modeling the constitutive behavior of hydrate-saturated deposits. This project would provide her an opportunity to translate her work into a senior thesis. Datta currently advises undergraduates Florence Odigie ’20 and Maggie O’Connell ’20 on independent research related to developing experimental tools to study deformable porous media. The work proposed here would provide these undergraduates opportunities to extend their work into junior independent theses.

Datta teaches a graduate course on thermodynamics and will develop a module on the thermodynamics of gas hydrates for this course. Datta also will incorporate elements of this project into lectures and talks for Princeton’s Soft Materials Coffee Hour (SMatCH), which he organizes for students and researchers of all levels.

Participating Department


Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Undergraduate Students

  • Nyema Wesley ’19
  • Florence Odigie ’20
  • Maggie O’Connell ’20
  • Rebekah Adams ’21