Philosophical Society of Washington

An Abundance of Frozen Clean Energy from the Sea

Bhakta Rath
Naval Research Laboratory

2200th Meeting Abstract
Friday, January 20, 2006 at 8:15 PM


Bhakta B. Rath

Methane hydrates occur naturally in ocean sediments as a crystalline solid under proper conditions of temperature and pressure in a water environment. The crystalline framework of water molecules capture the biogenically produced methane during crystallization and forms icy solids known as clathrates. Clathrates are stable well above the freezing point of water and typically binds 70 to 160 volumes of methane gas for one volume of liquid water. Abundant methane hydrate deposits are found along the all continental shelves of the world either on the surfaces of seabeds or shallow depths in the sediment. The total amount of concentrated methane deposits is estimated to be over twice the known amount of carbon in earth's fossil-fuel reserves. With a rapid depletion of oil reserves, the vast hydrate deposits have the potential of becoming the major energy resource for the 21st century, similar to the coal during the 19th and oil during the 20th centuries. Nearly pure methane, with highest energy density and cleanest combustion of all hydrocarbons, can be easily and economically separated from the hydrate deposits, by simply altering temperature, pressure or composition. A number of research and development issues such as: structure, chemistry, thermodynamic and kinetic factors on formation and phase stabilities of hydrates, locations and quantification of hydrate deposits and stability zones, seafloor geophysical properties, nature of methane transport through sediments and environmental impacts need to be well understood before economic exploitation of this vital resource can be realized. Current efforts and future plans will be discussed.

About the Author:

Bhakta B. Rath is Associate Director of Research at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington DC. He is also Head, Materials Science and Component Technology Directorate, placeing him in charge of all basic and applied research in structure of matter, condensed matter physics, chemistry, electronics, materials science, plasma physics, computational physics, fluid dynamics, and biomolecular science and technology conducted by the laboratory's staff, contractors, visiting researchers and students. The Directorate manages over 250 research projects.

Following his doctoral studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he joined the faculty of Washington State University in 1961 and held a tenured position until 1965. Between 1965 and 1976, he was a member of the research staff of the Edgar C. Bain Laboratory for Fundamental Research of the US Steel Corporation at Pittsburgh, and the McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratories at St Louis. He joined the Naval Research Laboratory in 1976 as Head of the Physical Metallurgy Branch, and in 1982 served as Superintendent of the Materials Science and Technology Division. During these periods he served as Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, University of Maryland, and Colorado School of Mines. He also served as the principal engineer in solving a number of technical problems including failure of the SKYLAB active coolant system, structural integrity of air-superiority fighter aircraft and several proprietary technologies of the US Navy and the Department of Defense.

He has published over 170 technical papers and reports, edited/co-edited over 20 books on diverse topics in Materials Science and Engineering, serves on the editorial board of a number of international technical journals and on the Executive Boards of the American Society of Materials, The Materials, Metals and Minerals Society, and the Federation of Materials Societies. He has given in excess of 300 keynote and distinguished lectures worldwide. He recently received the prestigious award, the “Distinguished Lecturer in Materials and Society” and the “ASM Distinguished Life Membership Award”.

He serves as a member of several steering, planning, review, and advisory boards of Government agencies, universities and technical societies. He is recognized as a Fellow of the American Society for Materials (1982), the Washington Academy of Sciences (1984), The Materials Society (TMS) of AIME [an award limited to 100 members worldwide] (1992), and the Institute of Materials, United Kingdom (2002). He was presented the Charles S. Barrett Medal (1991), the George Kimball Burgess Memorial Award (1992), S. Chandrasekhar Award and Medal (1998), Distinguished Award, THERMEC-2000, election to the Academy of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering of the Michigan Technological University (1998), the Leadership Award of TMS (1996), Distinguished Oriya Award (1996), CNR's Group Achievement Award [Sea Wolf project] (1996), National Materials Advancement Award (Federation of Materials Society) (2001), and Dedicated Meritorious Service to TTCP as Executive Chair, Defense Research at USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (2001) for his several outstanding contributions to materials research. The Materials, Metals and Minerals Society honored him with an International Conference on “Science and Technology of Interfaces”, in 2002. The American Society for Materials has elected Dr. Rath to receive its most prestigious honor, The ASM International Gold Medal (2004). He was elected to serve as the 2004-2005 president of ASM International and to the Board of Trustees of the ASM Educational Foundation Board to promote science and mathematics education in high schools in the United States through organizing teachers and students camps. The Naval Research Laboratory presented Dr. Rath with its highest recognition, “The NRL Lifetime Achievement Award” (2004) for his exemplary performance and dedication to NRL, the Department of the Navy, and the Department of Defense.

Dr. Rath was elected to receive in 1999 and 2004 the “Meritorious Presidential Rank Award”, presented by the President of the United States for sustained outstanding achievements of a Senior Executive, and was elected to receive the 2005 “Distinguished Presidential Rank Award”, the highest honor presented to a Senior Executive of the United States Government.

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