How Can Clathrate Hydrates Be Used for Water Desalination?

Updated on September 19, 2015
1701TheOriginal profile image

Leonard Kelley holds a bachelor's in physics with a minor in mathematics. He loves the academic world and strives to constantly explore it.

A plant showing the equipment for osmotic filtering.
A plant showing the equipment for osmotic filtering. | Source

Current Desalination Processes

A real concern for freshwater is growing on the planet. We use it for so many tasks such as basic hydration but also for cleaning and preservation. As we use it, we deplete this resource which is difficult to restock. To prevent a major shortage of it, technology that allows us to retrieve freshwater from saltwater is a key component of our efforts. We can currently heat then distill saltwater or we can use an osmotic filter to remove impurities from the water in a process known as reverse osmosis. Unfortunately, both of these are not commercially viable options. The osmotic filters need to be replaced often, have high energy requirements and also leave much pollution behind. Distilling on a large scale is also a difficult option. The current best rate for distilling per rate of energy is 1000 gallons at 10-12 kilowatt hours. Michael Max, founder of Marine Desalination Systems, says he can beat that with his system: hydrates (64, 66-7).


In the 1960s, the Koppers Company began to experiment with hydrate desalination research using propane as the gas of choice. Later, Barduhn and his colleagues did a general survey of hydration formation, testing compounds and seeing how their decomposition occurred (Bradshaw 14).

A shot of the column with saltwater on the bottom and hydrates forming on top.
A shot of the column with saltwater on the bottom and hydrates forming on top. | Source

Recent Development

Max has studied hydrates since the 1980’s, when he worked for the Navy’s Naval Research Laboratory. They were interested in knowing if hydrates, a combination of ethane (a hydrocarbon gas) and water, were affecting acoustic signals in search of Soviet submarines. In the mid 1990’s, Peter Brewer and Keith Kvenvolden released compressed gases of ethane into a tube of sea water at a deep depth and witnessed hydrate formation (Wolman 65).

How It Works

Essentially, Max has a long column of saltwater that is pressurized. He introduces ethane into the container. Because the volume remains the same and the pressure is increased, the temperature decreases to about freezing point, allowing the ethane and saltwater to react and create hydrate, specifically clathrate which is similar to ice but is flammable because of the hydrocarbons. These hydrates have a cage-like structure to them, which is the water-ice as the bars and the trapped hydrocarbons in the center. Those hydrocarbons cause the hydrate to be less dense than the saltwater, thus it floats to the top. Once the hydrate is removed, the pressure is returned to normal, causing temperatures to rise and letting the hydrocarbon gas to be released and freshwater remaining (Bradshaw 13, Wolman 64, 66).

Different hydrate structures.
Different hydrate structures. | Source

A Pathway To Easy Water?

As simple as this sounds, it works well but does have a problem. The hydrates that form have gas layers that are thin enough to let the saltwater hold onto it. Once that mix is melted down, saltwater will contaminate the freshwater that was to be harvested. Max has suggested building a longer column that will allow more pure freshwater to float above the mess, for freshwater is less dense than salt water. This is by no means a foolproof solution. Max has also studied if using methane, which would create a thicker and harder-to-cling surface, can be feasible (66). Once this hurdle is solved, this system promises to be less-maintenance than its counterparts. It won’t have adverse effects for the environment because the main by-product is saltwater. Only 5% of saltwater actually is converted, so the returned water is not too chemically different (67). His method should cost about 46 to 52 cents per cubic meter, much less than reverse-osmosis (45 to 92 cents per cubic meter) and thermal purification (110 to 150 cents per cubic meter) (Bradshaw 14, 15). If perfected, then the immediate problem of freshwater will soon be a page for the history books.

Works Cited

Bradshaw, Robert W., Jeffery A. Greathouse, Randall T. Cygan, Blake A. Simmons, Daniel E. Dedrick, and Eric H. Majzoub. Desalination Utilizing Clathrate Hydrates. Tech. no. SAND2007-6565. Alburquergue: Sandia National Laboratories, 2008. Print.

Wolman, David. "Hydrates, Hydrates Everywhere.” Discover Oct. 2004: 62-67. Print.

© 2013 Leonard Kelley


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • 1701TheOriginal profile imageAUTHOR

      Leonard Kelley 

      7 years ago

      cuttler, it seems to still be in the experimental stages. I believe the dirty slurry is still a problem.

    • cuttler profile image


      7 years ago from HubPages

      Interesting discovery and great hub. By the way has it been out to use yet or is it still in experimental stages?Voted up and useful.

    • 1701TheOriginal profile imageAUTHOR

      Leonard Kelley 

      7 years ago

      Thanks Reynold Jay. If Max can get that slurry problem solved, it certainly can be a groundbreaking achievement.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      7 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      This could be the most important event of the decade. Let's hope this all works out. Great informative article voted UP and awesome.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)