The Ocean Resources and Applications Laboratory focuses on responsible development of conventional and renewable fuels and related energy and environmental technologies. Research currently is being conducted on three topics: 1) seafloor methane hydrates; 2) deep ocean oil spills; and 3) energy from marine biomass.
Large reservoirs of methane hydrate exist in seafloor sediment and arctic permafrost and represent an untapped fossil energy resource. Destabilization of methane hydrate deposits may also have played a role in past global warming events. Our work, which is funded by the Office of Naval Research, explores the fundamental thermochemistry and kinetics of hydrates and the effects of chemical promoters and inhibitors on hydrate structure and stability.
In the late 1990s, in collaboration with colleagues from MIT, Clarkson University, and SINTEF (Norway), we were engaged by the Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the major U.S. oil companies to conduct one of the first investigations of deep ocean oil spills. This study included laboratory, field, and modeling components. Following the tragic 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, interest in this topic increased and we currently are involved in several joint studies funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, Chevron, and the American Petroleum Institute. We are focusing on the effects of subsea application of dispersants on the formation and evolution of oil droplets and natural gas bubbles to determine the fate of these contaminants in the ocean.
Marine macroalgae (seaweed) grow quickly, often doubling their mass in 3-5 days. High in carbohydrates and low in lignin, they are excellent candidates for fermentation to biofuels. We previously completed an assessment of the technical and economic potential to convert different species of invasive macroalgae to ethanol to provide a revenue stream to fund removal from reefs in Hawaii. At present, we are investigating novel methods to convert polysaccharides to simple sugars, and to ferment these sugars. In cooperation with academic institutions in Japan, we also are exploring anaerobic digestion and thermochemical processes to utilize marine biomass for energy.