Mechanical instability of monocrystalline and polycrystalline methane hydrates
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionNature Communications 2015, 6 10.1038/ncomms9743
Despite observations of massive methane release and geohazards associated with gas hydrate instability in nature, as well as ductile flow accompanying hydrate dissociation in artificial polycrystalline methane hydrates in the laboratory, the destabilising mechanisms of gas hydrates under deformation and their grain-boundary structures have not yet been elucidated at the molecular level. Here we report direct molecular dynamics simulations of the material instability of monocrystalline and polycrystalline methane hydrates under mechanical loading. The results show dislocation-free brittle failure in monocrystalline hydrates and an unexpected crossover from strengthening to weakening in polycrystals. Upon uniaxial depressurisation, strain-induced hydrate dissociation accompanied by grain-boundary decohesion and sliding destabilises the polycrystals. In contrast, upon compression, appreciable solid-state structural transformation dominates the response. These findings provide molecular insight not only into the metastable structures of grain boundaries, but also into unusual ductile flow with hydrate dissociation as observed during macroscopic compression experiments.