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High Bay Research Facility: Groundbreaking Research

September 5, 2017
researcher with equipment
Ph.D. candidate Alimohammad Anbari works with a nano-resolution imaging apparatus. It enhances the capability of researchers to study multi-phase flow in micron-sized samples from conventional and unconventional reservoirs.

By Micaela Myers

While gas flows easily at the pump, about 50 to 70 percent of the original oil remains stranded in the world’s aging fields. Enhancing recovery is an age-old issue, and the University of Wyoming’s new High Bay Research Facility is uniquely positioned to help address it. The facility is home to the Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media. The center fosters research initiatives that can provide a better understanding of the characteristics of oil reservoirs and how to effectively enhance recovery using innovative recovery processes and technologies. The facility also houses the Improved Oil Recovery Laboratory, the Geomechanical/Petrology Laboratory, and a Structures Research Laboratory. On the following pages, discover the exciting research taking place at this state-of-the-art facility.

Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media

“Today there are very vast quantities of hydrocarbons left behind in unconventional and conventional reservoirs,” says Mohammad Piri, who heads the Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media. Piri is the Thomas and Shelley Botts Endowed Chair in Unconventional Reservoirs in the College of Engineering and Applied Science and a professor in the School of Energy Resources. “One of the tangible outcomes of the work that we hope will be conducted in this facility is the development of safe and effective recovery schemes that can allow us to reduce the amount of hydrocarbons that are left behind. In shale oil reservoirs, we leave more than 90 percent of oil underground. The idea is to develop a better insight into how these hydrocarbons are stored and transported through these ultra-tight formations. By doing so, we hope we can produce more energy for the world’s growing population.”

UW partnered with private industry to support the High Bay Research Facility and help fund the research.

“Really, no one in the world is doing this kind of work, so it really produces a lot of visibility in a very large industry across the world,” says College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Michael Pishko. “That’s why you see companies continue to invest in the research that’s going on here because they understand the economic importance of this as we move down the road.”

The Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media includes advanced capabilities in computational modeling, nanoscale imaging, high-resolution X-ray imaging and microscopy, characterization of interfacial phenomena and phase behavior, reservoir conditions core flooding, and microfluidics. The facility’s capabilities in these areas allow for numerous experiments to take place at once, creating capacity that’s never before been realized under one roof.

 “We are able to study fluid flow at the macro scale, in which we use larger samples we obtain from different reservoirs,” Piri says. “We are also able to image fluid flow through pores the size of a few microns and then use that insight to enhance the recovery from those reservoirs.”

Understanding those tiny atomic-scale interactions between elements in a reservoir is key. “Until now, observations at the atomic scale were a challenge to the scientific community,” says doctoral student Samuel Afari of Accra, Ghana. “With the highly sophisticated state-of-the-art Environmental Transmission Electron Microscope (ETEM) here at the High Bay Research Facility, we can now observe and image these atomic-scale interactions. By understanding these interactions, we will be in a better position to design efficient enhanced hydrocarbon recovery processes.”

Not only does the facility have cutting-edge equipment such as the ETEM and machines with proprietary and confidential designs, but it also has a great deal of such specialty equipment, creating the capacity needed to move the science forward while helping to find solutions for industry. To make full use of the technology, the facility is drawing a growing team of talent from around the world. Doctoral student Maziar Arshadi, who hails from Iran, further explains the research taking place: “We are imaging flow of water, oil, and gas simultaneously moving through reservoir rocks. We look at how they move at the pore scale, in micron scale or in nanometer scale, depending on the type of rock we investigate. At the end, we get a 3-D map of fluids sitting in the porous space of the rock. We look at it, and we try to understand the physics that control the movement.”

Once our understanding of the physics is improved, the parameters can be manipulated to maximize production. The computer models and simulations that are created allow for different scenarios to be tested. “The plan is to understand the physics and then model them to predict the reservoir performance behavior,” Arshadi says.

The research also has wider implications, explains doctoral student Opeoluwa Wonuola Olawale from Nigeria: “The state of Wyoming and the world at large gain tremendously from our environmentally conscious research that not only focuses on the oil and gas industry but is equally relevant to active areas in geothermal energy, CO2 sequestration, water conservation, environmental remediation programs, unconventional resources, process optimizations for cost-effective solutions and even a cleaner coal energy resource.”

Piri and petroleum engineering Assistant Professor Pejman Tahmasebi also head the Geomechanical/Petrology Laboratory at the High Bay Research Facility. “Our research will eventually be used for CO2 sequestration, hydraulic fracturing and other related geotechnical applications,” Tahmasebi says.

Piri looks forward to continued support from the state and university as well as expanding industry partnerships. To learn more about the Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media, visit coifpm.com.

Improved Oil Recovery Laboratory Uses New Space and Collaborations

man examining several tubes of liquid beside a machine
Department of Chemical Engineering Head Vladimir Alvarado leads the Improved Oil Recovery Laboratory in the High Bay Research Facility.

One of the research groups using the new High Bay Research Facility is Department of Chemical Engineering Head Vladimir Alvarado and his Improved Oil Recovery Laboratory. Alvarado’s group will benefit from the facility’s space, equipment and collaborations.

“The high-bay space will be used to test larger-scale flow experiments that are not possible in traditional lab space,” he says. “For instance, flow circuits for emulsions, foams and polymeric solutions will be developed. Also, cooperation with colleagues will allow us to test pilot-scale systems.”

The new spaces make it possible to process large volumes of fluids and rock under better preservation conditions. “This is absolutely essential to conduct delicate experiments that are highly dependent upon compositional control,” Alvarado says. In addition, equipment that was once scattered across campus due to space limitations can now be centralized in one facility.

Alvarado sees the facility attracting additional funding and top team members to collaborate on oil and gas improved recovery research. He believes the multidisciplinary collaborations, including with the future Geomechanical/Petrology Laboratory lab in the High Bay Research Facility, can lead to new research lines. That research will, in turn, benefit the state and beyond.

“Discoveries and concepts developed through the associated programs can be, in many cases, applied to reservoirs in Wyoming through entities such as the Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute,” Alvarado says. “Cooperation with oil and gas corporations in the U.S. and overseas will enrich activities associated with the program. This in turn should launch intellectual property development and bring returns to Wyoming.”

Structures Lab Benefits Civil and Architectural Engineering

group of people working with cinderblocks and mortar
Renxiang Lu and other students take part in Jennifer Tanner Eisenhauer’s Advanced Materials class in the structures lab.

As part of the new High Bay Research Facility, the College of Engineering and Applied Science Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering gained a state-of-the-art new structures lab. The facility’s high ceilings are especially helpful to the lab, which will be used by students and professors to test structural materials and close gaps in existing design knowledge.

One of the lab’s main researchers is Associate Professor Jennifer Eisenhauer Tanner, whose research focuses on experimental testing and implementation, including studies of durability of concrete and masonry, non-destructive testing and shear-wall testing.

“A lot of stuff we’re doing is building concrete or brick walls and trying different ways of using reinforcement with them and different types of concrete,” says Scott Wiseman, the senior technician of the lab. They then apply force to the walls, and sensors supply data regarding displacement and strength.

“It’s a lot larger than the facility that we have now, so we’ll be able to do more experiments and hopefully find more work that companies pay us for,” Wiseman says. The old structures lab will also remain in use, expanding the university’s capacity overall.

Wiseman says the new facility will appeal to companies looking to pay UW to conduct research on their behalf. Architectural engineering classes will also use the facility.

Click here for the Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media’s Research Areas


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