Collaboration Involves $24 Million to Support UW’s Cutting-Edge Research

Scientific and technical instrument manufacturer FEI will provide state-of-the-art imaging equipment, software and support for cutting-edge digital rock research that will have far-reaching impacts for Wyoming’s oil and gas industry -- and its economy, the University of Wyoming announced today (Friday).

Through this public-private partnership, UW and FEI intend to focus on advancing digital rock technology to gain better insight into flow and transport behavior in unconventional and conventional oil and gas reservoirs.

“We are excited to collaborate with UW in our common pursuit to further develop and commercialize digital rock technology,” says Rudy Kellner, FEI’s Industry Group vice president. “UW is a recognized leader in oil and gas research, and we look forward to working with the university in providing valuable insight into the nano- and micro-scale mechanisms that govern hydrocarbon flow in the oil and gas industry.”

The Wyoming Legislature’s state matching program will contribute an amount equal to the equipment and support provided by FEI -- for a total impact of $24 million.

“The University of Wyoming is well known for enhanced recovery and other oil and gas research,” Gov. Matt Mead says. “We would not be in this enviable position without industry partners like FEI. The generous FEI gift will go a long way to advancing research and pushing the bounds of knowledge about reservoirs for the benefit of all -- our state, UW and the industry.”

The investment will create the new Center of Innovation for Flow in Porous Media, which will fund research to improve understanding of how to maximize recovery from conventional and unconventional oil and gas reservoirs -- part of UW’s Tier-1 Engineering Initiative and the School of Energy Resources’ Strategic Areas of Concentration.

Specifically, the center will continue to advance scientific understanding of subsurface flows. It will develop the tools and knowledge necessary to predict the behavior of these flows -- an essential component of both carbon recovery and storage.

The center’s fundamental research -- resulting in published experimental data and predictive modeling software -- provides key insight into energy problems significant to the state of Wyoming, the nation and the world.

“I would like to thank FEI on behalf of the university,” UW President Dick McGinity says. “FEI’s equipment and support will boost Wyoming’s Tier-1 Engineering Initiative and Mohammad Piri’s work in the Center of Innovation for Flow in Porous Media. This partnership is a great example of how industry, the university and the state can lay the ground for game-changing research that will benefit the people of Wyoming and the nation for decades to come.”

FEI’s digital rock technology will be used to create images and models that deliver valuable information to support critical business decisions -- this is especially valuable for application in the oil and gas industry. The precision 2-D and 3-D pore-scale images, and the digital rock models, inform decisions on how to optimize drilling and production.

Additionally, UW will install an environmental transmission electron microscope from FEI, which will be the first atomic-resolution microscope to be used for nano-scale characterization of pore spaces in oil and gas. FEI’s data visualization and analysis software will be used to visualize results and to perform key modeling steps.

“On behalf of the University of Wyoming, I am honored and excited to recognize this major step in partnerships with the private sector,” says Mark Northam, director of UW’s School of Energy Resources. “FEI’s involvement in the Center of Innovation for Flow in Porous Media is a major step in creating the world-leading research facility in this area. Our future collaborations promise to accelerate the development of fundamental knowledge of how fluids flow in tight rocks and will have bottom-line impacts for development of oil and gas fields globally.”

Because multiphase and multicomponent flow and transport phenomena are still poorly understood, there are limited strategies for both hydrocarbon extraction and geological storage of carbon dioxide.

The Center of Innovation for Flow in Porous Media has the unique ability -- thanks to UW faculty expertise, research alliances and private and public funding -- to ensure present and future access to unconventional oil and gas reserves, as well as long-term storage of environmentally damaging fluids.

The results of the center’s activities are far-reaching: Graduates of affiliated energy programs will use their knowledge to make improvements in a variety of settings, while the center will provide services and real-world applications for its ongoing fundamental research.

The center is led by Wyoming Excellence Chair in Petroleum Engineering Mohammad Piri. His research is geared toward a better understanding of the micro- and core-scale physics of flow and transport in man-made and naturally occurring porous media.

“The collaboration with FEI will elevate the experimental capabilities and capacity in the Center of Innovation for Flow through Porous Media to an unprecedented level,” Piri says. “The center will be established in the High Bay Research Facility of the University of Wyoming. The capabilities in the center will provide our students, faculty, research associates and partners an array of research opportunities and scientific advantages that has never been possible before here and elsewhere.”

Over the last several years, researchers in Piri’s vibrant research program have worked to fill the knowledge gaps in the current state-of-the-art experimentation and modeling of multiphase displacement mechanisms in mixed-wet porous systems, with applications to key technologies for energy and the environment. He, along with his research group, strives to bridge the gap between fundamentals and applications in porous media flow systems consistent with fundamental scientific needs of the industry.

The Center of Innovation for Flow in Porous Media and its state-of-the-art equipment will be housed in the High Bay Research Facility, which will contain approximately 90,000 square feet of traditional and high-bay research laboratories, offices and meeting areas. With ample space and capacity, and state-of-the-art equipment, the facility will support important areas of UW research. It has been designed to be easily reconfigurable, modular and expand as different research areas are emphasized.

The equipment will be installed in the third quarter of 2015 through the end of 2016. The center is anticipated to open by summer 2016.

“The collaboration between FEI and the University of Wyoming is a defining statement regarding the importance of the university’s Tier-1 energy agenda,” says Ben Blalock, UW Foundation president. “UW takes great pride in FEI’s investment of digital rock technology for research into unconventional and conventional oil and gas reservoirs. Partners such as FEI bring remarkable leadership and prestige to Wyoming’s university.”

FEI ( designs, manufactures and supports a broad range of high-performance microscopy workflow solutions that provide images and answers at the micro-, nano- and picometer scales. It helps its customers explore reservoir rock to understand how lithology, porosity, wettability, mineralogy, connectivity, permeability and microporosity impact fluid flow and reservoir behavior.

Today’s event took place at the State Capitol rotunda in Cheyenne. Speakers included Gov. Matt Mead, FEI Vice President and General Manager for Oil and Gas Mark Bashforth, UW President Dick McGinity, School of Energy Resources Director Mark Northam and UW Foundation President Ben Blalock.