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Energy Frontier Research

Researchers received $10.75 million Department of Energy grant for new center.

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate for the College of Engineering

The University of Utah’s College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences have received a four-year, $10.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC). The center will study how fluids interact with porous solids, vital research that could benefit the future production of oil, gas and other energy resources. It is the first EFRC grant ever awarded to the University of Utah.

The group, to be called the Center for Multi-Scale Fluid-Solid Interactions in Architected and Natural Materials (MUSE), will be a multidisciplinary effort involving researchers from the U’s departments of chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, chemistry, metallurgical engineering, and the Energy & Geoscience Institute. It also will include personnel from the Idaho National Laboratory; Pennsylvania State University; University of California, Davis; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and the University of Wyoming.

PHOTO CREDIT: College of Engineering

Milind Deo, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Darryl Butt, Dean of the College of Mines and Earth Science, is in the header image.

There is still a great deal that we don’t understand about how fluids move through porous media, such as deep geologic materials, particularly at the nanometer scale,” said Darryl Butt, dean of the Colleges of Mines and Earth Sciences, who will lead the MUSE project. “The idea is to develop physics- and chemistry-based fundamental models that bridge the nanoscale and allow us to predict how fluids move through many types of media across many scales.”

The research will focus on how fluids like gas, oil and water interact with materials such as underground shale to improve the production of energy resources while also minimizing its environmental impact. This knowledge could be applicable to a variety of processes used by energy companies, including figuring out ways to use less water in hydraulic fracturing.

“This goes to the heart of everything that happens in nanostructured materials,” said Milind Deo, chair of the U’s Department of Chemical Engineering. “It goes to establishing how fluids reside in these materials and how they move.”

It will be staffed by faculty from across the U campus, including members of the College of Engineering including Deo, Michael Hoepfner, Jules Magda, John McLennan, Swomitra Mohanty, and James Sutherland from the Department Chemical Engineering, Brian McPherson from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Pania Newell from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Members of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences include Jan Miller and York Smith from the Department of Metallurgical Engineering, and members of the College of Science, including Michael Bartl and Ilya Zharov from the Department of Chemistry. Bryony Richards from the Energy & Geoscience Institute will also work in the center.

MUSE is one of 42 EFRC awards totaling $100 million per year given to centers around the country, the DOE announced June 29. The centers will help to accelerate scientific understanding in diverse energy-related fields including catalysts, electro- and photo-chemistry, geoscience, quantum materials, and nuclear and synthesis science. Their research will lay down the scientific groundwork for future advances in solar energy, nuclear energy, energy conversion and storage, electronics and computation, production of fuels and chemicals, carbon capture and control of the Earth’s subsurface, according to the DOE.

Established by the department’s Office of Science in 2009, the EFRC program brings together researchers from multiple disciplines and institutions, including universities, national laboratories and nonprofit organizations.