Skip to Main Content

Apply Now to the University of Wyoming apply now

Powering the Future

January 7, 2021
man in a lab
Senior Academic Professional Lecturer Tawfik Elshehabi oversees the Drilling and Completions Simulation Laboratory. The center serves students in petroleum, mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering as well as industry professionals.

From state-of-the-art drilling simulators to wind energy, UW remains at the cutting edge of energy research and application.


By Micaela Myers


Who would imagine that in a landlocked state like Wyoming, students could learn the intricacies of offshore oil rig drilling? That’s exactly the case, thanks to the university’s state-of-the art Drilling and Completions Simulation Laboratory.

“We’re proud to offer our students not only onshore drilling, which is typical in Wyoming, but also offshore drilling that’s typical in places like the Gulf of Mexico and internationally,” says Senior Academic Professional Lecturer Tawfik Elshehabi, who oversees the lab.

Recent petroleum engineering alumnus Mike Gardner of Vernal, Utah, graduated this past spring and immediately went to work for Vine Oil & Gas as an associate drilling engineer in Louisiana.

“It was helpful in combining what you learned in the classroom into the actual operational standpoint in the field,” Gardner says, adding that his work in the simulator lab was a great addition to his resume.

“I think it’s one of the key aspects that helped me get the job,” he says. “I used the simulators in my senior design to compare a dual-derrick drillship to a single derrick semi-submersible. We drilled a well in real time on the simulator.”


Drilling Simulators

Located in the new Engineering Education and Research Building, the lab was created in partnership with Drilling Systems, manufacturer of advanced simulation technology for the oil and gas industry, and creates North America’s largest, most technologically advanced center.

“The drilling simulators are a state-of-the-art facility that’s available to us with the intention of having students not have to travel into the field to learn series of knobs, dials and valves,” says Department of Mechanical Engineering Department Head Dennis Coon. “They can do all of that in a simulated laboratory environment, which means they can do it more often and safely.”

The center features the dual cyber chair DrillSIM 6000 and conventional brake handle DrillSIM 5000. It also includes the CTS 5000 coiled tubing and WL5000 wireline simulators for well intervention and completion activities, along with a workspace that can hold large, active-learning classes. In addition, there’s a virtual reality drilling rig with VR headsets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Elshehabi has set up the lab so that students can still access it remotely.

Coon says, “Elshehabi has taken a facility in Laramie and turned it into something that can reach far and wide to impact the lives of petroleum engineers and companies.”

While the primary audience for the lab is petroleum engineering students, it also brings in other disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical and computer engineering, as well as offering training to industry professionals.

“A lot of engineering graduates, particularly those who have an interest in working in Wyoming, will be affiliated in some fashion with the petroleum and natural gas industries,” Coon says. “This gives them a great way to integrate their skills and have a lot more marketability in those industries.”

Elshehabi says, “What is unique about this facility is that you have the drilling side, and you have the completions side—two big areas of petroleum engineering. We are the only university that has all of these simulators in the same location.”

The lab is a great recruiting tool for future students and also a wonderful outreach tool, as K–12 groups often come through during non-pandemic semesters.


man posing behind cables in a lab
Director of the UW Wind Energy Research Center, Jonathan Naughton.

Wind Energy

UW’S Wind Energy Research Center (WERC) launched in 2008 with a $2 million gift from BP, a multinational energy company. Since then, roughly 20 faculty members have worked on various issues related to wind energy, such as aerodynamics, operation, control and modeling, increasingly obtaining external grants for their research.

A recent six-year grant focused on modeling wind turbine farms and electricity distribution, as well as the economic aspects of both such as the impact of transmitting wind power over long distances.

“It’s going to cost some money to modernize the grid, but the offset seems to be that the prices of electricity itself are dropping,” says WERC Director Jonathan Naughton.

As wind farms grow in size, WERC is studying how turbines impact one another.

“The pinnacle example is the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project near Rawlins, where they’re talking about up to 3,000 megawatts of installed capacity,” Naughton says. “When you have 1,000 turbines, how does the location of one turbine and its interaction with the wind impact the production and lifetime of another turbine? That’s another area where our modeling has really contributed.”

WERC is also helping model wind resources across the U.S. for a 20-year period. The resulting wind database will be used across the country for applications ranging from economic modeling to evaluating the feasibility of small wind energy installations.

The modeling work is computationally demanding, beginning with modeling winds on a continental scale all the way down to local winds at a particular site.

“If the performance of a group of wind turbines is modeled using these winds, capturing the flow next to the blade is necessary for the best models,” Naughton says. “The modeled scales thus range from hundreds of kilometers down to millimeters, an extremely challenging problem. It takes a lot of high-performance computing. One of the assets we make regular use of is the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.”

To assess whether the models are working well or not, they must be compared to experimental data. WERC works to develop better instrumentation and measurement tools and applies them to laboratory and field experiments.

The Department of Energy declared a goal of 20 percent wind energy by 2030. To address the many aspects of wind energy research, expertise is required from across campus.

Electrical and computer engineering Associate Professor John O’Brien recently investigated single-input two-output control designs incorporating real-time feedback exchange between channels to maximize performance despite limited available bandwidth.

“My interest in wind turbines is principally in improving their lifespan,” he says. “Wind turbines are not lasting, on average, as long as they should. As these turbines become larger and larger, they become more inflexible.”

O’Brien studies the application of feedback on systems that are naturally resistant to it.

“What I wanted to do was see what feedback can do to try to mitigate some of these problems,” he says.

Their strategies proved successful in modeling, and O’Brien moved on to looking at grid-level stability and control.

“What I’m pursuing now is a marriage of grid stability problems and fire,” he says. “Obviously, wildfires are a big problem. The idea here is ‘Can we come up with modeling that will marry fire modeling with what the grid will look like in a five- to 10-year period? What are the effects of these fires going to be in the future on power delivery?’ ”

O’Brien and his team are pursuing funding to study these issues.


High Bay Research Facility

UW’s High Bay Research Facility contains 90,000 square feet of traditional and high-bay research laboratories, offices and meeting areas. The facility houses the Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media, which conducts critical research in oil and gas. You can read more about the center at, and read more about the High Bay facility in the previous fall 2017 issue of UWyo Magazine.


1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
UW Operators (307) 766-1121 | Contact Us | Download Adobe Reader

Accreditation | Virtual Tour | Emergency Preparedness | Employment at UW | Privacy Policy | Harassment & Discrimination | Accessibility Accessibility information icon