Environment

The Colorado School of Mines Colorado Fuel Cell Center hosted the first public demonstration of IEP Technology’s Geothermic Fuel Cell™ (GFC) Oct. 23. This first-ever GFC will enable production of unconventional hydrocarbons, such as oil shale, in an economic and environmentally sustainable way, while producing clean, baseload electricity.

The technology was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/U.S. Department of Energy, TOTAL Petroleum, Delphi Automotive PLC (NYSE: DLPH), and the Colorado Fuel Cell Center at Colorado School of Mines.

“In the Piceance Basin (Northwest Colorado) alone, Colorado’s oil shale reserves are estimated in the trillions of barrels, but there has not been an environmentally responsible or economically viable way to access them,” said Alan Forbes, President and CEO of IEP Technology. “We are now one step closer to recovering oil shale resources while producing clean, reliable energy that will have significant economic impact for Colorado.”

Capital and operating costs of GFC technology are dramatically lower than other technologies when including revenues from surplus power and gases generated in the process. Previous technologies have either used mining/surface production facilities or large amounts of traditional utility-supplied electricity for in-situ technologies, both of which have significant impacts to the environment.

The GFC technology will capture and reuse its own gases produced in the process to become self fueling after startup; can achieve net zero air emissions; and can actually produce water during its operation thus avoiding impact to water needs in arid parts of the state.

IEP Technology’s GFCs use proven and tested solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology from Delphi. GFCs use the heat generated by the fuel cells as the “product,” leaving the clean baseload energy from the fuel cells available to be sold back into the utility grid.

 “We are really excited to apply our knowledge and expertise in fuel cells and oil shale to an innovative industry application like the GFCs,” said Dr. Neal Sullivan, the Colorado School of Mines professor who is also the school’s Director of the Colorado Fuel Cell Center Laboratory.

IEP Technology’s plan is to complete in-situ testing this year to monitor the heat and electrical output of the GFCs. A full-scale GFC field test at a Northwest Colorado oil shale resources site is slated for 2015. Commercialization is expected to follow application validation.

 

About IEP Technology
Independent Energy Partners (IEP) is a clean technology and resource company based in Denver, Colorado focused on the economic and environmentally responsible recovery of unconventional hydrocarbon resources utilizing its patented, breakthrough in-situ Geothermic Fuel Cell(GFC) system. IEP was founded in 1991 and has been involved in the development of more than 15 energy projects employing a wide range of technologies. The company holds exclusive rights to broad, patented GFC processes and technology in the U.S. and Canada as well as its own oil shale resources containing more than 2.0 billion barrels of oil. Patenting and technological development has been underway since 2004 and has been vetted by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  IEP holds strategic partnerships with Total Petroleum, Uintah Resources, Inc., Delphi Corporation and Colorado School of Mines. Learn more about the company and its technology at iepm.com.

About the Colorado Fuel Cell Center at Colorado School of Mines
Colorado School of Mines, mines.edu, is a uniquely focused public research university dedicated to preparing exceptional students to solve today’s most pressing energy and environmental challenges. Founded in 1874, the institution was established to serve the needs of the local mining industry. Today, Mines has an international reputation for excellence in engineering education and the applied sciences with special expertise in the development and stewardship of the earth’s resources.

About Delphi

Delphi Automotive PLC (NYSE: DLPH) is a leading global supplier of technologies for the automotive and commercial vehicle markets.  Headquartered in Gillingham, England, Delphi operates major technical centers, manufacturing sites and customer support services in 32 countries, with regional headquarters in Bascharage, Luxembourg; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Shanghai, China and Troy, Michigan, U.S. Delphi delivers innovation for the real world with technologies that make cars and trucks safer as well as more powerful, efficient and connected. Visit delphi.com.

Contact: 

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu
Cindy Jennings, President, Volition Strategies / cindy@volitionstrategies.com

Graduate students Travis Brown (Hydrology) and Kamran Bakhsh (Mining Engineering) received first place as the winning team in the 2014 Geothermal Case Study Challenge, sponsored by the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Last semester, Brown and Bakhsh worked with Mining Engineering Professor Masami Nakagawa to gather geothermal data on the Waunita Hot Springs Geothermal Area in Gunnison, Colorado. They published their case studies on OpenEi.org, a Wiki for energy information.

“Waunita has some of the higher geothermal potential in the state and right now there are not any geothermal power plants in Colorado,” Brown said. “Part of our interest in doing this site was to complie research that may be 2-3 decades out of date and hope enough people would be interested to conduct more recent exploration there.” As part of the award, Brown was able to attend the Geothermal Resource Council's 38th Annual Meeting, the largest geothermal conference in North America.

Both students learned how to organize research on an open source domain website and to apply exploration techniques to finding geothermal resources.

Their data collection can be found at OpenEi.

 

Contact:

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

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.

 

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

For those of us residing on the planet’s surface, the term “shale” evokes visions of flaking layers of rock you can all but peel away by hand. Oil and gas shale is nothing like this. Pick up a cylindrical core brought up from a reservoir two miles below – from the Bakken in North Dakota, the Niobrara in Colorado, the Vaca Muerte in Argentina, it doesn’t matter – and it’s heavy and solid like a hunk of marble. The hydrocarbons are locked inside, perhaps 100,000 times more tightly than would be the case were it merely mixed into concrete.

This is the stuff, though, of the American – and, increasingly, global – boom in unconventional oil and gas. You can’t just drop a well bore into rock like this and watch hydrocarbons gush out. You muse use advanced horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies to release the oil and gas. Roughly one-third of the U.S. natural gas production heating our homes and fueling our factories is won this way. Two-thirds of all rigs are drilling horizontal wells. Unconventional energy, at least as applies to shale oil and gas, has become conventional.

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades, but we’re still learning about it. What are the true environmental impacts? How can we increase yields to bring more output per well and so have fewer wells, lower costs, cut trade imbalances and lessen the impact on the planet? Can these same techniques be applied to renewable geothermal technologies? Researchers at Colorado School of Mines are working to answer these and other questions via a broad set of disciplines and several noteworthy vehicles. Among them include the Marathon Center of Excellence for Reservoir Studies (MCERS); the new ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable We2st (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology); and a new National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored program to understand the risks of natural gas development to the Rocky Mountain Region’s air and water.

As Mines Professor Dag Nummedal, who directs the Colorado Energy Research Institute, put it, “We really focus on making fossil energy more sustainable. That means reducing CO2 emissions, reducing methane emissions, and doing energy development in ways that allow the fossil energy industry to coexist with clean water, agriculture, breathable air and optimal temperatures.”

As part of a five-year, multi-institution NSF project, Mines researchers will focus on quantifying what those risks actually are, said Professor Will Fleckenstein. In the public arena in particular, assertions about the environmental and public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing have not infrequently outstripped their scientific basis, he added.

The projects include a study of the stresses in the cement sheaths and well casings for a better sense of what they can actually handle, he said. Fleckenstein is at the forefront of such work, having invented a technology, now ready for market, that uses a pressure test to ensure a sound hydraulic seal at depths of 300 to 2,000 feet, the zone of freshwater aquifers. The team will also examine databases relating to hydrocarbon migration for a better sense of if, how, and how often it happens.

Elsewhere at Mines, researchers will use a wind tunnel filling what used to be the Volk Gymnasium pool to better grasp how methane from natural gas production migrates through surface soils. Ground and aircraft-based sensors are sometimes finding methane hot spots with no obvious methane sources. That ground-based and air-based sensors tend to disagree on the volume of methane leaking has made the work all the more urgent, said Kathleen Smits an assistant professor. PhD student Ariel Esposito was at work on a small-scale version of the experiment at the pool’s edge. She would feed methane into the bottom of a tank of fine gravel, sand and water and detect it through sensors on top at a rate of 500 samples per second.

“It’s a really important field because there’s a lot of uncertainty about the amount of gas that’s leaking,” Esposito said. “We’re trying to lend some insights into the underlying processes.”

Meanwhile, Mines is applying its renowned strengths in reservoir characterization to boost the production of hydraulically fractured wells, which makes both economic and environmental sense. There’s a big potential upside, said Professor Hossein Kazemi, who co-directs MCERS: current production techniques only yield about 10 percent of unconventional oil, compared to 30 to 40 percent for conventional reservoirs. The work ranges from major field studies of the Bakken, Niobrara and Vaca Muerte led by Professor Steve Sonnenberg to lab experiments focusing on the nanoscale properties of reservoir rock.

As with much of the work at Mines, the research involves both experimentation and computer modeling. In one of Kazemi’s Marquez Hall labs, Mines PhD student Younki Cho has spent two years building a core flooding experiment to measure shale permeability at the nanoscale. The experiment can also inject surfactants or carbon dioxide to simulate enhanced oil recovery, he said. The stainless-steel setup was forcing pressurized brine into a 1.5-inch by 2-inch cylindrical rock core at confining stress of 2,625.7 pounds per square inch (psi) and pressure differential of 2,100 psi, producing a flow of 0.003 cubic centimeter (cc) per minute.

“It’s a very slow rate because permeability is so small,” Cho said. “You have to be very patient.”

Downstairs, PhD student Somayeh Karimi was spinning cores in an ultracentrifuge humming at 13,000 rpm. It was 420 hours into a cycle.

“Right now we have not seen any published data on direct measurement of capillary pressure with reservoir fluids in tight shale rocks,” she said. The results will feed into modeling of how much oil and gas might be recoverable, how fast, and how long that recovery might take, Karimi added.

Over in Professor Marte Gutierrez’s Brown Hall lab, PhD student Luke Frash was fracturing rocks of his own, but larger ones of about a cubic foot. Using a black-steel cell of his own design, Frash applies heat and pressure in three dimensions, and then drills into and hydraulically fractures cubes of shale, high-strength cement and granite, testing for strain, temperature, pressure, sound, even micro-earthquakes. The idea is to understand the rock-mechanical behavior of underground formations, Gutierrez said.

“It’s a scale model of what’s going on in the field,” Gutierrez said.

The granite cubes in Frash’s lab are for studies of hydraulic fracturing for renewable geothermal applications, an active field of study at Mines, said Associate Professor Bill Eustes. He and Fleckenstein are working on a project with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to see if multi-stage hydraulic fracturing technology used in unconventional shale can be applied to geothermal energy. There are many challenges, Eustes said – among them, thicker geothermal well bores and much more heat.

These and other efforts, including work to characterize possible reservoirs for carbon sequestration and storage, illustrate how the definitions of conventional, unconventional and renewable energy are starting to blur. It’s a fascinating time to be in the energy business, Nummedal said.

“The push for sustainability is driving technology at a faster rate of change than ever before,” he said.

 

 

By Andrew Hoffman
The Oredigger

Members of the Engineers Without Borders / Bridges to Prosperity (EWB/B2P) student organization at the Colorado School of Mines recently traveled to Nicaragua to complete a social survey for a community development project. The team of five included four students: Ethan Faber, Eric Rosing, Ashley Lessig, and Jeremy Beard as well as professional mentor Stephanie Fleckenstein. Over the course of the survey trip the team spent their spring break collecting information about a group of four rural communities in the Carazo region of Nicaragua. The main goals were to collect information about development needs in the communities and identify what opportunities they saw for themselves. The Los Gomez area communities were the site of a pedestrian bridge construction project which was completed by the community members and EWB/B2P students at Mines in May, 2013.

A central focus of the organization is to help foster sustainable development by building a lasting relationship with communities. Additionally, the students work closely with the community members in developing feasible projects. It is critical that the community owns the project however. In this way Mines students are able to use their technical training to help implement a project that is truly needed and which will be maintained long after the students have left.

In this current project, which is still in its initial stage, the travel team helped identify a list of the most prominent issues the communities face such as access to a reliable water supply and to health services. Faber mentions that such trips really help open your eyes to the scale of poverty in the US versus developing countries. Lack of basic engineering infrastructure, such as primary schools without clean water, are virtually unheard of here, but in the Los Gomez communities it is a fact of daily life. For American college students, the opportunity to help such communities develop their own solutions to their problems is rewarding both as real-world engineering experience and also for personal improvement. An interesting thing happens when you see families and even young children coping with such severe life problems and yet appear to be fundamentally happy, Faber muses. "You can learn a lot from these people, and it really puts your own life and daily problems in perspective." A project can really be considered a success when both groups in an international development project come out having gained something and also having new lifelong connections.

The team had a great time and got a lot of crucial social data over their trip. They are continuing communication with the communities and identifying next steps for the project. As the project becomes defined the group will create a master plan document which will guide what actions need to be taken to realize the final goal.

The club is made up of a wide range of students. All majors and fields of study have something to contribute regardless of the type of engineering project. Knowing Spanish is an excellent asset but not at all required for group members. The travel team recalls that a main highlight of the trip was hanging out with the community after a day's work collecting data. A lot can be shared even without words. The important thing is making the connection to develop a working relationship. Lessig recalls that she particularly enjoyed getting to play and interact with the kids.

EWB/B2P Mines would like to thank donors Alcoa, CH2MHill, Schlumberger, and Shell who sponsor travel and material expenses for current projects, and also to Bridges to Prosperity for all their work in the past and current bridge projects.

Are you interested in joining? The club has two current projects: a second bridge construction and the new Los Gomez project. EWB/B2P has committee meetings Mondays at 6:00 PM (MZ 322), Tuesday at 5:00 (MZ 335), and Wednesday and Thursday at 5:00 (both in MZ 322). Also, the club is having a silent auction lunch benefit pig roast on Saturday, April 19 from noon to 2:00. Both are great ways to learn about the club and have fun. For more information see our website (just search "EWB Mines").

 

This interview originally appeared in the April 13, 2014, issue of The Oredigger.

Colorado School of Mines will compete against nine other schools at the National Collegiate Wind Competition in May in Las Vegas. Teams will be showcasing a lightweight, transportable wind turbine that could power small electronic devices. Each team’s prototype wind turbine will be tested in a wind tunnel and scored for performance, operational safety, component durability and system reliability.

Nine students on the Mines team, Zephyrus, are in the process of using design prototypes to build the final turbine.

Competition advisor Cameron Turner said the team has taken an innovative path in the competition by establishing a supporting business plan and developing an understanding of wind power political issues, in addition to, creating a technical solution to their design.

“In many ways, they are demonstrating not only technical competence, but also personal competence as citizens,” Cameron Turner said. “In two months, they will be presenting their work at the American Wind Energy Association meeting alongside nine other schools. I fully expect that the team will be amongst the best teams at the competition.”

Mines will be competing against Boise State University, California Maritime Academy, James Madison University, Kansas State University, Northern Arizona University, Pennsylvania State University, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Kansas and University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Visit the Zephyrus website and competition website for more information.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

The Feb. 27-28 Conference on Earth & Energy Research gave graduate students the opportunity to practice presenting their research in a professional environment, while judges provided feedback. Last year, two undergraduates showcased their work, but this year, that number rose to nine.

“I’m very happy about the turnout,” Graduate Student Government Academic Chair John Bristow said. “In the past, they’ve been very grad-centered.”

Two speakers presented keynote speeches between students’ poster and oral sessions.

Ken Salazar, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Senator from Colorado, delivered the opening keynote address on North American energy independence. Salazar told stories of the BP oil spill in 2010 and shared conversations with President Barack Obama two years after the disaster.

Dr. Pieter Tans, Senior Scientist and Earth System Research Laboratory at NOAA, closed the conference with “Climate Change: Man Made Climate Change and Energy Policy.” Tans shared his research on measuring carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, detailing some of the causes of these increases and what this means for our future.

2014 research competition winners:

  • Overall 1st: Tara Pandey
  • Overall 2nd: Susana Guzman
  • Overall Poster: Tara Yoder
  • Overal Oral: Pascale Meysing
  • Overall Off-campus: Vishal Nangla (U Wyo)
  • Undergraduate: Sarah Rommelfanger
  • Chemical and Biological Engineering: Nicholas Rorrer
  • Chemical and GeoChemistry: Jacqueline Cloud
  • Economics and Business: Ben Johnson
  • Geological Engineering: Joshua Day
  • Geophysics: Joyce Hoopes
  • Hydrology: Rachel Feist
  • Liberal Arts and International Studies: Nathaniel Mauger
  • Materials Science: Alyaa Elramady
  • Mechanical Engineering: Brandon Blakeley
  • Metallurgical and Materials Engineering: Stephanie Miller
  • Petroleum Engineering: Taylor Patterson
  • Physics: Lauryn Baranowski
  • Applied Mathematics and Statistics: Brian Zaharatos
  • Mining Engineering: Yu Koizumi
  • Nuclear Engineering: Michael Servis
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering: Kerri Hickenbottom
  • Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: Craig Champlin

More information can be found at ceerconference.org.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

This article is part of a series on the undergraduate research fellowship program

Engineering physics junior Steven Hackenburg is working with physics professor Dr. Lawrence Wiencke on programming that remotely controls the laser systems at the Pierre Auger Observatory, located in Argentina. Hackenburg studies cosmic rays, high-energy particles, mainly originating outside the Solar System, as part of his undergraduate research fellowship.

“Relatively speaking, we understand light and its properties quite well, and we use it to learn about the universe, from confirming Einstein’s theories concerning gravity, to discovering the composition of planets,” Hackenburg said. “On the other hand however we know little about cosmic rays compared to our understanding of light.”

Hackenburg fires laser shots into the sky in directions where potential sources of cosmic rays are believed to exist. He uses the fluorescence detector to study the tracks in the sky created from the laser. The data from the laser tracks are used to verify that the fluorescence detector is measuring the directions of the rare cosmic ray tracks properly.

Hackenburg said he has always been interested in the mysteries of space and the universe.

“It's amazing for me to think about how little of the universe we have been able to explore in any depth compared to the size of the universe or even our own galaxy,” Hackenburg said. “Also, think about how we get the information about the universe; we observe it. We, as scientists, look to the stars for answers.”

In early 2013, research analyzing data from Fermi revealed that supernovae were a source of cosmic rays. However, supernovae do not produce all cosmic rays, and the proportion of cosmic rays that they do produce is a question which cannot be answered without further study.

“The sources of these particles remain an important question, coming from somewhere outside our galaxy. They are very rare,” Wiencke said. “At the highest energies (10^20 eV), the flux is something less than one square mile per century.”

Weincke and Hackenburg generate many tracks with the laser systems every night of operation.

“This data is used to demonstrate that the observatory is working properly and ready for the monster cosmic events when they occur,” Wiencke said.

Applied physics graduate student Carlos Medina helped with the construction, system integration and testing of the Central Raman Laser Facility in Argentina. He collects data from the CRLF that he is analyzing for his PHD thesis in astrophysics.

“I am happy to have the opportunity to study and analyze data that will help us better understand our universe,” Medina said.

Undergraduate research fellowships are administered by the research council. Students can apply for a fellowship to work on a project with a faculty member.

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

This story appears in the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Mines magazine.

Seven years into his presidency, with plenty of milestones on record, a capital campaign in full swing, and some big changes on the horizon for Mines, we recently sat down with President Scoggins for an informal Q&A. Partly retrospection, partly introspection and partly forward-looking, the conversation that follows will be of interest to all those who support the growth and success of Mines, and are curious to learn more about its president.

Mines: Nearly seven years ago, you transitioned from the corporate world to academia. What motivated your decision?

Scoggins: Not too long before I retired after more than 35 years in the oil and gas industry, I joined the board of trustees of my alma mater, the University of Tulsa. After I retired, I became increasingly active, serving on the executive committee and spending a great deal of time on campus. My wife and I both enjoyed the experience of being involved in the university. When I received the call from Mines asking me to consider being a candidate, I realized this was an opportunity to be part of a remarkable community.

Mines: What aspects of leading Mines do you find most rewarding?

Scoggins: The most rewarding moments revolve around students—seeing them be successful. I’m getting ready to participate in my 15th commencement, so I have had the opportunity to watch many wonderful students walk confidently across the stage, proud of their accomplishment, and poised to make great contributions to society. It’s very special to be a part of that.

I recently heard about an alumnus who is about to graduate from the University of Texas with master’s degrees in environmental engineering and public policy. At Mines, he was a lineman on the football team, and we got to know each other a little. Whenever he saw me on campus, he’d ask, “You gonna come to the game this weekend?” At his graduation, just before I handed him his diploma, I called out his jersey number and said, “James Tyree, #65, you did a hell of a job.” I got the biggest bear hug I think any president’s ever gotten during a college graduation ceremony.

Karen and I try to attend as many student activities as possible—from athletic events to plays and concerts—and we enjoy them all. I particularly enjoy the graduate research conference and looking at the students’ posters, even though I have to admit I really don’t understand all of them.

Really, the most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing the growth in our students over their time at Mines, which is a testament to their own hard work and to the dedication of the Mines faculty and staff who teach and interact with them.

Mines: When you speak to individuals or groups less familiar with the university, how do you make “the case for Mines”? What does the university have to offer that sets it apart?

Scoggins: I talk about the focused nature of the school’s mission, the quality of the education our students receive, and the relevance of our research programs. Mines is uniquely positioned to deal with global challenges related to our focus areas of earth, energy and environment. These issues are at the forefront of the world’s most pressing concerns, and Mines is playing a critical role in educating students who will be leaders in addressing them—through their careers and through meaningful research.

I also always point out something you will hear from almost every Mines alum—and that I completely agree with—which is that our students develop a work ethic unlike almost any other university. By the time they graduate, our students truly have the skills to hit the ground running. They are a very special group.

Mines: The financial crisis erupted relatively early in your presidency. This must have posed some significant challenges.

Scoggins: When I interviewed for the position, the board of trustees indicated they wanted a lot of focus on the school’s financial condition. When I arrived, Mines was already in the process of putting together the all-funds budget. We tightened down our systems, controlled our costs and planned carefully. As a result, we have managed to weather some major cutbacks in state funding. We faced some financial challenges, but the school came through it with minimal adverse impacts...

Read the rest of the story on the Mines magazine website.

Environmental science and engineering graduate student Erin Neil is working on an independent study with civil and environmental engineering professors Dr. Tzahi Cath and Dr. Pei Xu on developing cost-effective and environmentally sound technologies to increase the quality of water from water waste.

“We are trying to use waste streams from one water treatment process to treat another stream that might be used beneficially,” Cath said.

Neil is comparing the removal efficiencies of different types of sludge and evaluating the potential for microbiological contaminants to leach from the sludge to the treated water. The group has collected samples from Golden Drinking Water Treatment Plant, El Paso Water Utilities and other drinking water treatment plants. Neil uses the EPA Membrane Filtration Method to test fluid samples for microbiological contamination.

“We have seen promising adsorption results and expect to better understand the feasibility of re-using this water,” Neil said.

The project is part of a large effort with The National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center Program, ReNUWit Engineering Research Center. It is part of a collaborative study among Mines, New Mexico State University and the industrial partner, El Paso Water Utilities.

The researchers use sludge from drinking water treatment plants to treat reverse osmosis (RO) waste. RO waste is made of concentrated brine, which contains minerals, organics and metals that are rejected by the RO membranes. Treating this concentrate could provide additional water supplies to the public, and reduce the environmental impacts from discharging concentrate laden with salt and toxic heavy metals.

“Treatment of reverse osmosis concentrate can convert the waste stream to additional water for beneficial use, such as irrigation, that is otherwise scarce in arid climates,” Xu said. “Removal of toxic contaminants from RO concentrate will allow beneficial use of the water and protection of environment.”

Although several disposal methods are available, they can be associated with high processing costs, constrained by permitting, environmental impacts and other limitations.

“It can be a challenge with respect to regulations that surround deep well injection,” Neil said. “It can be expensive to dispose of that concentrate.”

 

Contact:

Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 / KMorton@mines.edu

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Environment