UW Leads in Energy Research with Micro Imaging Instrument

January 12, 2012
Man working in lab
Mohammad Piri, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Wyoming, works on UW's new high-resolution 3D X-ray microscope in the College of Engineering's EnCana Research Laboratory. The equipment will enable UW researchers to obtain ultra-high resolution micro-images to help advance the understanding of unconventional reservoirs of oil and natural gas. (UW Photo)

With the installation of the most advanced high-resolution 3D X-ray microscope available, the University of Wyoming becomes the first university in the world to put this state-of-the-art tool in the hands of faculty and researchers to increase their understanding of underground reservoirs of oil and natural gas.

The custom-designed equipment, which is being installed this week in the College of Engineering's EnCana Research Laboratory, will enable UW researchers to obtain ultra-high resolution micro-images of porous media. Once scanned, these micron-scale three-dimensional maps of pore space can be used to more accurately characterize and model flow and fluid occupancy in reservoir rocks relevant to subsurface reservoirs, which can contain oil and natural gas. 

Mohammad Piri, project director and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, says he believes the equipment coupled with UW's research goals will substantially advance the understanding of conventional and unconventional reservoir systems such as tight gas deposits and significantly improve the ability to model oil and gas recovery processes.

"The new laboratory addition will give UW a significant scientific advantage in performing cutting-edge flow in porous media research with direct applications in advanced oil and gas recovery and the potential geologic storage of environmentally damaging gases," Piri says.

The installation of the X-ray microscope is the second of a three-phase project and marks a significant milestone in UW's effort to advance its research and development of porous media Mohammad Piricharacterization and subsurface modeling. The first phase of this initiative, the installation of a meter to millimeter resolution scanner, was completed in 2008 and has since generated novel scientific data, attracted substantial external funding, and drawn visitors from an esteemed national and international list of research and academic institutions as well as energy companies. The complete installation of phase two means that UW is the first university to integrate both pieces of equipment for oil and gas recovery applications. The third and final phase of the initiative calls for installing nano-level imaging capabilities to map the smallest of media and equip the facility as a whole to gather images ranging from meter to nanometer resolution.    

"This project has allowed UW to create a truly world-class research facility to train, educate and support high-caliber undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and research scientists," Piri says. The new equipment, and the progressive research efforts poised to apply its output, is predicted to attract leading faculty, scientists and students to UW. 

"The X-ray microscope is the newest, latest, and fastest instrument of its kind on the market," Piri says.

Vahan Tchakerian, vice president of Global Sales and Field Operations for the California-based Xradia Inc., says, "We are very excited to see this first adoption of the VersaXRM-500 by a university for research into oil and gas recovery. We are confident that Dr. Piri's work at the University of Wyoming of characterizing models for fluid flow in porous media will enable oil producers worldwide to have confidence using models more extensively to optimize well production."

Piri says the project would not have been possible without the support and leadership of UW's School of Energy Resources. "Investment of School of Energy Resources funds in this multi-stage research program started with an important gift from EnCana and has been paramount in significantly strengthening UW's research enterprise in oil and gas recovery from conventional and unconventional resources such as tight gas reservoirs, shale oil and gas," Piri says.

Mark Northam, director of the School of Energy Resources, says that supporting this research is an investment in Wyoming's future and an important part of the research efforts taking place at UW.

"Developing a fundamental understanding of how reservoir fluids move in micro-porosity networks is an essential first step toward improving the ultimate recovery of hydrocarbon resources. Successful outcomes from Dr. Piri's innovative research hold great potential for increasing Wyoming's oil and gas production for many years to come," Northam says. "With investments like these, we're contributing to knowledge and building expertise in unconventional reservoirs."

Piri says he believes this facility will help put UW at the forefront of research and development in multiphase flow in porous media disciplines. Piri credits UW, SER, the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, among others, for completing phase two of the project.


Nadia Kaliszewski
Energy Outreach Associate, School of Energy Resources
University of Wyoming

For more information about the College of Engineering's EnCana Research Laboratory go to: http://wwweng.uwyo.edu/chemical/research/piri/index.html

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