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University of Wyoming
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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.


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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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The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming


About UWyo

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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

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