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UWyo Magazine
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

UWyo Magazine

January 2015 | Vol. 16 No. 2

Associate Professor Vladimir Alvarado

Associate Professor Vladimir Alvarado, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering

Groundbreaking Research

As part of the Tier-1 Engineering Initiative, four newly formed research clusters aim to explore solutions that will benefit Wyoming.

By Micaela Myers

In top companies around the world—from Google Inc., to Microsoft Corp., to Exxon Mobil Corp.—the silos continue to crumble, as people from different departments work together programmatically, sharing their diverse knowledge and know-how to accomplish things that no single entity could achieve alone. This integrated and collaborative approach is key to the University of Wyoming Tier-1 Engineering Initiative, bringing researchers from across various colleges and departments together to generate new understanding that will benefit Wyoming and beyond.


Professor Dimitri Mavriplis and doctoral student Enrico Fabiano


“One of the things that excites me is the integration aspect of the Tier-1 dream—really helping the university move from individual departments to working together in a collaborative, innovative way that produces things beyond what people thought was possible,” says Thomas Botts, the retired executive vice president of global manufacturing for Royal Dutch Shell and a board director for EnPro Industries Inc. and Wood Group, who serves as co-chair of the Wyoming Governor’s Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force. “The other thing that I’m especially excited about is that we’re already seeing that this move to Tier-1 is attracting more and more industry partners. People and companies are keenly interested in the research that UW is doing and the progress we’re making in developing programs around the niche areas.”

Chosen niche areas are an important aspect of the Tier-1 initiative—these are fields of research in which the UW College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) seeks to be a reputed leader nationally.

“Newly formed research clusters will lead the research agenda growth, supporting the niche areas that have relevance and impact to the Wyoming economy—these target exploiting unconventional oil and gas resources, developing energy conversion solutions, and applying computational science and engineering to industry and business challenges,” says UW Tier-1 Engineering Initiative Program Coordinator Richard Horner.

The first four research clusters that have been funded are headed by Vladimir Alvarado, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering associate professor and associate department head; Maohong FanSchool of Energy Resources professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering; Mohammad Piri, Wyoming Excellence Chair in Petroleum Engineering; and Dimitri Mavriplis, Department of Mechanical Engineering professor.

“These first four research clusters represent tremendous opportunities to build upon existing expertise and lift UW to international prominence in areas that also happen to be of great importance to Wyoming’s economy,” says Interim Dean Al Rodi. “They also illustrate the strong interdisciplinary approach that is essential for the Tier-1 Engineering Initiative to achieve its full potential.”


Improved Oil and Gas Recovery

Aiming to investigate and prove new technological approaches, Alvarado’s cluster will focus on improved oil and gas recovery in unconventional reservoirs. The interdisciplinary team includes Teresa Lehmann from the Department of Chemistry, John Oakey from the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, John Kaszuba from the Department of Geology and Geophysics, Michael Urynowicz from the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, and Klaas van ’t Veld from the Department of Economics and Finance.

A generous donation from Exxon Mobil funded an advanced core-flooding dynamic geochemical flow-thru system and a state-of- the-art microfluidic experimental platform.

These capabilities will provide UW with pioneering infrastructure to research the development of novel approaches to extract hydrocarbons from unconventional oil and gas reservoirs, including tight formations such as shale. The team has also received U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding.

“We hope to map the unconventional oil and gas reservoirs in a very different way,” Alvarado says. “We think that if we understand fluid-fluid interactions and fluid-rock interactions, we can actually change those interactions so that the oil will flow more naturally. Moreover, instead of using expensive reagents, we might be able to do it with treated gases or water to create economically viable improved recovery processes.”

At least two consortia of oil and gas companies will work with the team, and the researchers hope their work leads to patents and commercial technologies to offer industry new approaches to target, capture and exploit residual oil and gas in varying reservoir formation types. The potential economic impacts are great: If this research were to further enhance oil and gas productivity in Wyoming by just 1 percent, it could equate to $51.4 million in additional annual income from oil and gas sales.


School of Energy Resources Professor Maohong Fan and doctoral student Feng Guo

School of Energy Resources Professor Maohong Fan and doctoral student Feng Guo

Clean Coal and Gas to Liquids

Wyoming is the most prolific coal-producing state in the United States, but in 2013, Wyoming coal production fell by 3 percent, making Fan’s research all the more timely.

“The overall objective of this cluster is to use the resources in Wyoming—including coal, natural gas and minerals such as trona—to produce value-added fuels and chemicals, such as diesel, gasoline or ethylene glycol,” Fan explains. “They are very easy to market and are a high-price product compared to coal.”

Fan recently received a grant from the DOE for his work with Wyoming’s Powder River Basin sub-bituminous coal. This innovative coal-conversion project aims to produce a synthetic gas that can be used in the production of value-added chemicals. “This DOE project is designed to use a new composite catalyst prepared from Wyoming’s minerals for significant reduction of the methane in syngas,” Fan says. “If we can convert these resources to a value-added product, the profit from these Wyoming resources will be much higher.”

His main team members in the advanced conversion cluster include David Bell and Hertanto Adidharma from the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and Yuan Zheng and Michael Stoellinger from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Donations from Peabody Energy Inc. and Arch Coal Inc. were matched by the state to support this promising research.


High-Performance Computational Science and Engineering

In recent years, UW has focused heavily on developing world-class computational research infrastructure, and the state has made major investments both on campus and in attracting the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center to the state. “The state also hopes to attract data and tech centers and has an advantage because of location, weather, power rates and more,” Mavriplis says. “In terms of economic diversification, this is the way of the future. If you have the expertise here, you will also get spinoff companies, undoubtedly.”

In addition, management of big data and the development and use of sophisticated high-fidelity computer-based simulation models is becoming increasingly important across a wide range of industries, such as the energy industry and advanced manufacturing. Thus, sustaining a world-class position in these areas aligns well with UW’s Tier-1 initiative.

The cluster seeks to solve a multitude of fundamental and applied engineering problems, as well as sustaining excellence within the fields of atmospheric research and developing new opportunities for creating wealth from natural resources, including minerals, wind and water. The team includes Michael Stoellinger from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Xiaohong Liu from the Department of Atmospheric Science, and Liqiang Wang and Amy Banic from the Department of Computer Science. Team members already receive funding from the DOE, NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, and formal dialogues are underway with IBM to collaborate in a number of fields, including discussions on the potential to set up a center of excellence at UW in computational modeling and simulation. There is also potential to generate interest from other major players such as Intel, Nvidia, Microsoft, Google and other corporations that have a stake in scientific computing.


Oil and Gas Flow in Unconventional Reservoirs


Mohammad Piri

Mohammad Piri, Wyoming Excellence Chair in Petroleum Engineering


About 50 to 70 percent of the original oil remains stranded in Wyoming’s aging fields, and enhanced oil recovery methods have the potential to retrieve 5 to 15 percent of that oil. Piri, an international leader in the field, will lead his team as they leverage the unique technologies and equipment at UW to examine oil and gas flow in unconventional reservoirs to discover the fundamental driving mechanisms that impact yield and output.

“The establishment of improved understanding of flow and transport in these systems will lead to the development of new hydrocarbon recovery techniques,” Piri says.

Principal team members include Lamia Goual and Saman Aryana from the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and Dario Grana from the Department of Geology and Geophysics. Their research will include a new permeability simulator model for improving uncertainty forecasting of oil and gas reservoir rock yields, improved reservoir characterization methods that relate static and dynamic geo-physical measurements, a new fundamental pore-scale model (atom level and upwards) for establishing oil and gas flow in reservoir rock, and screening of new surfactants and nano-fluids to stimulate oil and gas productivity.

Piri’s research has already resulted in significant collaborations with private industry, including financial support from Hess Corp., Halliburton Co., Saudi Aramco, Total S.A. and Encana Corp.

Mark Northam, director of UW’s School of Energy Resources, says, “The results of this experimental and computational research hold the promise of significantly higher ultimate recoveries of oil and gas from both conventional and unconventional reservoirs.”

Student Team Members

In each of the University of Wyoming Engineering Initiative clusters, graduate students—and sometimes undergraduates as well— outnumber the faculty members and play a crucial role in the research.

Emerging Clusters

In the future, more funded research clusters within the defined niche areas—as well as new emerging research clusters—will be funded.

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Dept. 3226
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Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

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