Multidisciplinary

This story appears in the 2014-15 issue of Mines' research magazine, "Energy & the Earth."

 

Water and oil don’t mix. With oil and gas production and water, it’s quite the opposite.

Getting at the unconventional oil and gas reserves at the heart of America’s energy boom can take millions of gallons of water per well before the first hydrocarbons emerge.[1] One estimate puts the hydrologic demands of the 80,000 wells in 17 states drilled since 2005 at more than 250 billion gallons.[2] That’s three times the volume of Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Yet in the western United States and elsewhere, geologic “accident” has placed some of the most promising unconventional oil and gas reserves below parched landscapes.

Mines researchers are at the forefront of enhancing our still-nascent understanding of this modern story of oil and water, and more broadly in the development of new ways to boost freshwater resources in an era of rising demand and growing scarcity.

ConocoPhillips’ recent $3 million gift to establish the new Center for a Sustainable WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) is the latest testament to Mines’ strengths in water.

The idea is to focus on a single formation such as the Niobrara, taking a comprehensive look at the complex technical and social interdependencies of oil and gas development and limited water resources. Professor John McCray, head of Mines’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, describes a wide-ranging effort, involving remote sensing and hydrological models to map out water sources and the tools of geochemistry, hydrology, microbiology and environmental engineering to develop ways to clean up the water that emerges from the depths during oil and gas operations. The work also will involve a strong social-sciences component led by Mines anthropologist Professor Jessica Rolston, McCray said, to help define ways to communicate the actual risks of unconventional energy development and get energy companies, regulators and the public on the same factual page.

“It’s a partnership with ConocoPhillips that can break new ground, and one that doesn’t exist outside of this center,” McCray said. “We want to come out and be the honest broker.”

Education is a key component of the ConocoPhillips center, said Associate Professor Terri Hogue, who is directing the new center. A big part of the budget will go to fellowships for 15 to 20 masters and PhD students, she said, in addition to 10 undergraduate fellowships each year. The center will attract top-notch talent all focusing on the nexus of water resources and energy development.

Professor Tzahi Cath is among those at Mines already at work at that confluence. Cath directs Mines’ Advanced Water Technology Center (AQWATEC), which is developing a range of water-treatment technologies. This spring, the masters students in Cath’s Environmental Engineering Pilot Lab course were studying if adding an inky slurry of activated charcoal to the city of Golden’s water treatment process might help remove the organics that have spiked in reservoirs along Colorado’s Front Range after the 2013 flood. A green garden hose snaked from a tank in the bed of the AQWATEC pickup parked on the sidewalk outside Coolbaugh Hall. It fed a bench-scale model of Golden’s water treatment plant, its upper tanks full of fluid like curdling apple cider. If it worked here, they would test the activated charcoal in a Mines pilot plant housed in the treatment facility itself and, assuming the city adopts the approach, would help with the transition to the full-scale plant.

“Usually, the city adopts our recommendations,” Cath said.

A bit downhill, in AQWATEC’s space in Mines’ General Research Laboratory, PhD student Bryan Coday was working near several hip-high plastic drums, some encrusted with salt (they’re for a project testing new ways to extract valuable potassium sulfate from the Great Salt Lake).

Others contained produced water from hydraulic fracturing operations, and Coday was working on a system to cleanse it using low-pressure osmosis and flat-sheet polymeric membranes. To the touch, the membranes felt like high-end wrapping paper, but in practice is a very sophisticated material. The system uses salt water to attract clean water from the deep-brown produced water across the membrane, which retains contaminants.

“Produced water is difficult to treat because of the hydrocarbons and complex organic compounds, plus high salinity,” Cath said. Mines environmental chemist Professor Christopher Higgins is working with Cath to identify just what chemicals from the different samples of produced water cross the membranes, and how they can improve the process to produce even drinking-quality water from produced water.

A test system had performed well enough that Coday and research assistant Mike Veres were now in the midst of building a pilot-scale system. “Harnessing the natural chemical energy of brine as the driving force for wastewater treatment has its advantages,” Cath said. “Such systems are mechanically simpler, take less energy, and are easier to clean because the grime hasn’t been rammed into filter pores as happens with high-pressure systems.”

If some combination of low-pressure filtration and microbial treatment (another AQWATEC project being tested across the lab in columns of activated carbon next to the AQWATEC aluminum boat) can economically bring produced water to the high standards of municipal wastewater treatment, the benefits are hard to miss. Water locked up two miles below could be released into streams in drought-prone regions, actually boosting the water budget. And oil and gas operations could reuse some portion of this new resource in their hydraulic fracturing operations. Coday is enthusiastic.

 “It’s a great opportunity to work on a project where industry is moving at such a quick pace on the energy side, on the water side and on the regulatory side,” he said.

Another major project has a similarly sweeping purview, but pertains to urban water use. Since 2011, Mines has teamed with Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and New Mexico State University on a 10-year, $40 million effort that aims to transform how cities in the arid West use and reuse water. The program, called Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), is the first National Science Foundation-funded Engineering Research Center to focus on water issues.

McCray, who leads the Mines effort, said a dozen Mines faculty are leading or working on some 20 ReNUWIt projects. Hogue is spearheading an effort involving several Mines colleagues to determine the potential impact of August 2013’s 257,000-acre Sierra Nevada Rim Fire on water supplies to San Francisco and surrounding counties. Cath’s team is refining a portable, commercial-scale sequence batch membrane bioreactor that has proven its mettle with the wastewater from the apartments at Mines Park – capable of producing drinking water from domestic wastewater. Mines professors Tissa Illangasekare and Kate Smits lead a project that is developing technology to allow underground aquifers to treat and store water and then re-use it rather than letting it escape downstream. They are researching the use of sensors that provide real-time feedback on system performance, so decisions can be made to improve operation efficiency. Mines Associate Professor Linda Figueroa is working with the Plum Creek Wastewater Authority south of Denver on a pilot-scale system using anaerobic wastewater treatment. The system has been in operation for 1.5 years and has reduced more than 40 percent of the influent organic matter without the expense of oxygen (unlike traditional aerobic methods) and, as a bonus, produces energy while it cleans wastewater.

As with the ConocoPhillips center, ReNUWIt involves a heavy social science component. That’s because, for all the technological capabilities on display at Mines, the biggest challenges facing smarter water systems may reside between our ears. People just don’t like the idea of drinking reclaimed water (in Singapore they call it NeWater), McCray said, even though that’s what the South Platte River really is. Collectively, such apprehensions coalesce into powerful social and political barriers.

 “They’re by far the biggest hurdles to clear if we’re going to have any change in the way we develop our infrastructure,” McCray said.

 

It was a first for Mines when Linda Battalora, associate teaching professor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering, presented her research on bone density and fracture risk in HIV-infected adults at the Joint Session of the 14th European AIDS Conference and the 15th International Workshop on Co-morbidities and Adverse Drug Reactions in HIV, in October 2013 in Brussels.  

And as a Young Investigator Scholarship awardee, she presented her research at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in March 2014 in Boston – another first for Mines.  

Breaking new research ground for Mines has been part of her pursuit toward a doctorate degree in Environmental Science and Engineering, but it was Battalora’s career in the oil and gas industry that sparked her interest in studying a health-related topic.

During her career in the oil and gas industry, she served as engineer, attorney and negotiator for international oil and gas project development. Her interest in the health of people stricken by infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in resource-limited countries led her to pursue cross-discipline, cross-college research with her Ph.D. advisors, John Spear in Mines’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Benjamin Young, of the International Association of Providers in AIDS Care; APEX Research, in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering from Mines, in 1987 and 1988 respectively, and then a Juris Doctor degree from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 1993. She is licensed to practice law in Colorado and Louisiana, and is a registered patent attorney.

“I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so I was familiar with offshore oil and gas development. I was good in math and science and I wanted to see the world,” Battalora said of her decision to study petroleum engineering.

In addition to her teaching role, Battalora has been a part time graduate student at Mines since 2009. She earned her Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering in May 2014. The title of her thesis was, “Bones, Fractures, Antiretroviral Therapy and HIV.” 

“When I’m asked about my research, and I explain that it’s a public health topic, the typical response is another question: What does this have to do with petroleum engineering? It becomes a teachable moment,” Battalora said. “The short answer is that corporate social responsibility is an integral part of every oil and gas project.  When we enter a location for project development, we have a social responsibility to the community. Depending on where we are in the world, this may include building roads, health clinics, risk-prevention programs, schools or addressing other community needs. “

Asked how her Ph.D. will inform her teaching at Mines, she explained “Every engineering project involves the human workforce and regulatory frameworks.  Understanding the integration of health, safety, security, environment and social responsibility (HSSE-SR) is essential to maintain a healthy workforce and a safe, cost-effective engineering project. Students must understand these elements, integrate them in project development and be able to communicate effectively with representatives from the community, government agencies and other stakeholders.”

Battalora incorporates HSSE-SR in the undergraduate and graduate courses she teaches at Mines. She is a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) HSSE-SR Advisory Board and was recently awarded the 2014 SPE Rocky Mountain Regional Award for her work in HSSE-SR.

Battalora plans to continue her research with the CDC, and collaboration with Spear and Young, on HIV-related topics and HSSE-SR.

 

Contact:

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
 

 

National Public Radio (NPR) Foreign Correspondent Deborah Amos shared experiences and insights from covering the Arab Spring in a special lecture of the Hennebach Program in the Humanities at Colorado School of Mines, Jan. 17, 2013.

Amos’ lecture, “The Arab Spring and Islamism: Stories from the Syrian Frontline," is especially timely given the civil war in Syria and its potential impacts worldwide.

Amos also spoke at the University of Colorado Boulder on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. Her appearances were jointly sponsored by the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado Journalism & Mass Communication program, and the Hennebach Program in the Humanities at Mines.

 “The Arab Spring is the largest geopolitical event to affect the Middle East since the end of the colonial era some five decades ago.  This popular movement succeeded in bringing about rapid regime change in some countries but has taken a more tortured path in Syria,” said Mirna Mattjik of the Hennebach program.  “Were the Assad regime to fall, it would have significant impacts on many countries in the region and on America’s interests there. Deborah Amos provides insights and analysis from her firsthand encounters.”

Nabil Echchaibi, director of CU’s Muslims in the Mountain West Project, welcomed the collaboration with the School of Mines to provide the public with timely and authoritative new information about the situation in Syria.

“The road to free rule in Syria has proven arduous and deadly,” Echchaibi said. “The unfolding tragedy in Syria today is a real litmus test for the resilience of authoritarian rule in Arab lands, and what happens there might have even larger repercussions for politics and U.S. interests in the region.”

As a journalist, Amos has been covering the Middle East for decades and has published two books on the region. Among her many accolades, Amos was recognized with the Edward Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting from Georgetown University (2009) and was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award by Washington State University (2010). Since 2010, Amos has served as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

 

Embedded video from
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology

Twin NASA probes orbiting the moon have generated the highest resolution gravity field map of any celestial body.

The new map -- created by the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission -- of which Mines Professor Jeff Andrews-Hanna is a guest scientist -- is allowing scientists to learn about the moon's internal structure and composition in unprecedented detail. Data from the two washing machine-sized spacecraft also will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.

The gravity field map reveals an abundance of features never before seen in detail, such as tectonic structures, volcanic landforms, basin rings, crater central peaks, and numerous simple, bowl-shaped craters. Data also show the moon's gravity field is unlike that of any terrestrial planet in our solar system.

These are the first scientific results from the prime phase of the mission, and they are published in three papers in the journal Science.

The news announced Dec. 5 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union was immediately picked up by numerous news media:

Time

The Guardian

MSNBC

Science

BBC

For more information about the GRAIL mission and its findings, click here.

 

Set in one of the world’s most important cultural epicenters, the city that gave rise to artistic paragons from Michelangelo to Rossini, stands a musician’s dream venue: St. Peter’s Basilica. 

It’s known for its acoustic awesomeness; orchestra members and choralists often rave of how the sound amplifies as it travels up the towering marble walls and fills the enormous chambers.

Only the most fortunate musicians ever experience their own voice, their own instrument resonating in this space. But during a recent Saturday evening mass, the sound of 14 college musicians from Colorado echoed through the world’s most famous church.

“As a musician, the experience is unparalleled,” said graduate student Joseph Capriotti.

However, these weren’t students of a prestigious musical conservatory – they were future scientists and engineers from Colorado School of Mines, who also happen to be musicians.

“These experiences are normally not available to engineering students,” said Mines Music Director Dr. Bob Klimek, who traveled with the students to Rome along with four alums and three faculty members.

What began as a personal invitation from the Vatican to Klimek – a recognized composer of catholic music himself – evolved into a lesson for his students of the close relationship between their own fields of study and the art of music.

“It became an international trip to introduce our engineering/musician students to opportunities designed to engage both sides of their professional personality,” said Klimek.

Among these opportunities was a visit to the workshop of Marco Salerno Luthier, an internationally known Renaissance and Baroque instrument maker in the hills just outside of Rome. Surrounded by the raw wood, lacquers, parchment and glues – the very same tools used to make these instruments for centuries – the students carved a Baroque fiddle.

They also attended a conservatory style master class with the famed Italian musician Allessandro Buccarella, who noted that the students’ engineering mindset lent itself well to interpretation and shaping of music. The class culminated in a performance at the 13th century church of San Paolo alla Regola.

“Standing on a marble floor, some of the stones being the actual tomb markers of various church patrons and clergy, the students got to experience the joy and of performing in such a lively sonic chamber,” said Klimek.

For Geological Engineering student Martha Grafton, touring the ancient baroque architecture of Rome coupled with such rich musical opportunities was a “phenomenal experience.”

“This trip was a remarkable experience that brought together the past, present and future,” she said. “Touring the old monuments, singing new compositions in a centuries old ceremony, and having a Maestro help us improve our future performance were just a few of the enlightening moments of this trip.”

Eleven Colorado School of Mines students are studying in China this month with the McBride Honors Program in Public Affairs. After two weeks of instensive Chinese language study at the Dalian University of Technology, the students visited Qufu, the hometown of Confucius.

"The people here are absolutely wonderful. They are very interested in using their English, learning about Americans, and have been kind to us beyond measure," Mines electrical engineering student Roy Stillwell wrote in his blog about the trip.

The McBride Honors Program provides a select community of CSM students the enhanced opportunity to explore the interfaces between their areas of technical expertise and the humanities and social sciences; to explore the moral, social, and environmental implications of their future professional judgments and activities; and to foster their leadership abilities in preparation for managing change and promoting the general welfare in an evolving technological and global context.

 

Historically, Colorado School of Mines has been a leader in energy research and technology development. While that fact holds true, some of today’s researchers are forging new frontiers in areas not usually associated with Mines, including biomedicine.

For example, Physics Professor Jeff Squier holds one of the original patents for femtosecond Lasik eye surgery and continues to further advance that technology with a focus on surgeries requiring a high degree of precision with respect to cuts made close to sensitive membranes.

Across campus Will Fleckenstein, an adjunct professor in the Petroleum Engineering Department, is working on improving hydraulic fracturing technologies to increase productivity of natural gas wells.

“The inventions the technology transfer office receives from faculty and students cover a wide breadth and tend to be more applied than most university inventions, which helps facilitate their movement into the marketplace,” said Will Vaughan, director of Mines’ technology transfer office.  

“We’ve been working to open several avenues for the commercialization of the inventions while keeping the academic mission first and foremost. There have been some notable successes and we will continue to enhance the entrepreneurial culture as we move forward,” he said.

 

Encouraging entrepreneurship

As part of an initiative to encourage entrepreneurship within the Mines research community, a fund aimed at bringing technology to the commercial marketplace was funded by the Colorado School of Mines Foundation under the leadership of the Foundation Board of Directors Chairman David Wagner.

The Colorado School of Mines Proof of Concept Fund — $350,000 over a three-year period — will allow several research projects to head down the commercial pathway.  The intent is to license the technologies to private companies or serve as the basis for start-up companies.

Chemistry Professor Kent Voorhees’ project, “Next Generation Point-of-Need Analyte Detection and Identification using Novel Lateral Flow Capillary Concentration and SERS,” is a method for detecting bacteria such as Listeria.

“The original iteration of this technology was patented by Mines and later licensed to Microphage, Inc. for use as a rapid method for detection of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus in hospitals,” Voorhees said.

The system is now being distributed internationally as the first phage-based bacterial detection device for clinical MRSA screening and is the only FDA-approved MRSA detection device. It is currently being adopted by some of the largest hospitals in the U.S.

Voorhees said his team has continued to refine the technology and has applied the improvements to detection of various pathogens and bacterial agents of biowarfare including plague, anthrax and food borne E-coli. It also has the potential to target viruses, fungi, hormones and cancer markers.

Hongun Liang, an assistant professor in the George S. Ansell Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, also received funding for his project “Development of Artificial ‘Cells’ for Anti-Cancer Drug Delivery,” a method for delivering a variety of anti-cancer drugs.

Also funded was Adele Tamboli, research assistant professor in the Department of Physics, for her project “Electrochemical Extraction of Sodium from Silicon Clathrates,” which examines modifications of structures to store hydrogen and other atoms.

The material, silicon in the clathrate crystal structure, is an exciting topic with the potential for a lot of renewable energy applications. Researchers at Mines are among only a few groups synthesizing this material.

“This project is a patentable component of the research that could enable a number of renewable energy applications, such as hydrogen storage materials and photovoltaics, that could form the basis of start-up companies,” said Tamboli.  

 

Entrepreneurial experience for undergrads

Entrepreneurship at Mines extends beyond the faculty research corridors. Graduate courses focused on the subject have been offered for several years through the Division of Economics and Business Engineering and Technology Management Program, but as of fall semester 2011, undergraduate students also are learning what is involved in taking an idea to the marketplace.

“What better place than Mines?” Joy Godesiabois, a teaching associate professor in the Division of Economics and Business, remembered thinking when setting out to teach the university’s first undergraduate class focused on entrepreneurship.

Godesiabois taught a similar course at another Colorado university, where students brainstormed ideas for T-shirt stores, heli-skiing businesses and bars — but at Mines, students were talking about developing different tools to detect blood sugar levels for diabetics and selling used oil drilling equipment to third world countries.

“I was blown away,” she said. “These students are so creative; they get such amazing training in their individual areas here at Mines. They come into entrepreneurship class with ideas that can be game changers.”

The entrepreneurship class gives students a different viewpoint, a different way to look at a problem. Not only are students learning leadership skills and gaining self-confidence, they are forced to face a problem that doesn’t have one correct answer — there is no formula.

“When comparing the students on the first day of class with the last day of class, you can see the changes in how they are thinking about things,” she said.

They learn management skills, how to work independently, how to work and function within a group and how to develop a financial plan. Going into the business world after graduation versed in risk and profitability gives engineering students an edge in talking with management in business terms, Godesiabois said.

Students were so enthusiastic about the class, they started an Entrepreneurship Club. The club works as a networking tool for the students as well as a practice vehicle for what they are learning in class.

 

This article appears in the 2012-13 issue of Energy and the Earth magazine.

Check out this video of a robotics project created by a Mines graduate student last semester in the Mechanical Engineering Department:

“The project assignment was open-ended and the main requirement was that it incorporate mechanical, electrical and software elements,” said graduate student Dan Albert.

Dan Albert

For his semester project in Dr. John Steele’s Mechatronics class, Albert developed an “invisible joystick” that commands a humanoid robot.

Mechatronics combines numerous engineering disciplines and focuses on the design of intelligent machines.

“I am interested in human-machine and human-robot interaction and thought it would be interesting to explore that area by creating a device that lets the user more intuitively interact with and command a robot or computer beyond the traditional means of a keyboard and mouse.”

Albert developed a gesture recognition glove that wirelessly controls “Silver” or “Gold,” Dr. Steele’s Nao robots (autonomous, programmable robots developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics.)

“The glove collects orientation and movement data from the sensor attached to the back of the hand and transmits this data wirelessly via Bluetooth to my laptop,” he said. “There, I wrote some software to interpret the data to determine the nearest recognizable posture.“

When he graduates, Albert plans to work in the robotics industry or start his own business.

Steele’s research interests include intelligent machines and mechatronics, especially robots. Some of his recent projects have focused on robotic welding, mobile robot navigation and design of rock cutting machines for NASA. He serves as the faculty advisor to the Mines Robotics club. 

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