Tetrahydrofuran Hydrate Inhibitors: Ice-Associating Bacteria and Proteins
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Ice-associating proteins (IAPs) are proteins that interact directly with ice crystals, either by offering a site for nucleation, i.e. ice nucleating proteins (INPs), or by binding to nascent crystals to prevent addition of more water molecules, i.e. antifreeze proteins (AFPs). AFPs have been found to inhibit the formation of clathrate-hydrates, ice-like crystalline solids composed of water-encaged guest molecules. Study of AFP-hydrate interaction is leading to a greater understanding of AFP adsorption and of the mechanism behind the “memory effect” in hydrates, wherein previously frozen crystals reform more quickly after a brief melt. AFP is currently the only known memory inhibitor. Such a low-dosage hydrate inhibitor (LDHI) is of great interest to the oil and gas industry, as hydrate formation and reformation in the field is a huge problem. Bacterial AFPs, though largely uncharacterized, may be the best candidates for large-scale production of hydrate inhibitors, given the difficulties in obtaining AFP from other sources. The popular kinetic inhibitors (KIs) polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) and polyvinylcaprolactam (PVCap) were used for points of comparison in experiments exploring the hydrate-inhibition activity of several ice-associating bacteria and proteins. The addition of the soil microbe, Chryseobacterium, increased the average lag-time to tetrahydrofuran (THF) hydrate formation by 14-fold, comparable to PVP or PVCap. Samples containing Pseudomonas putida, a bacterium having both ice-nucleation protein (INP) and AFP activity, had lag-times double that of the control. Solutions with P. putida and Chryseobacterium sometimes formed hydrate slurries of stunted crystal nuclei instead of solid crystals. No inhibition of memory or nucleation was noted in bacterial assays, however bacteria with INP activity was linked to unusually rapid memory reformation. Quartz crystal microbalance experiments with dissipation (QCM-D) showed that a tight adsorption to SiO2 and resistance to rinsing are correlated with a molecule’s inhibition of hydrate formation and reformation. These results support a heterogeneous nucleation model of the memory effect, and point to the affinity of AFP for heterogeneous nucleating particles as an important component of memory inhibition.