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Q=Clean Fossil Energy via Subsurface Carbon Sequestration 2018 Spring Newsletter


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k+1 Carbon k Clean Fossil Energy via Subsurface 5 5 Sequestration With the world becoming more aware of climate change, “CO2 sequestration” has become a household word. The University of Utah is immersed in its fourth major field demonstration of CO2 storage in deep underground formations with ongoing (active) CO2 injection in a nearly-depleted oilfield in northern Texas. To date, over 800,000 tons of COX2, sourced from ethanol plant emissions and fertilizer plant emissions, are in the ground via injection by the project and its industrial partners. Plans are to continue injection and monitoring of this CO2 until 2022. Previous University of Utah CO2 sequestration research projects included injection and monitoring of approximately 18,400 tons of CO2 into coal beds in northern New Mexico, approximately 350,000 tons of CO2 injected in northern Texas, and almost 300,000 tons injection in southern Utah (near Bluff, Utah). The group has pending proposals that include “CarbonSAFE,” a proposed $9 million feasibility study for injection of 50 million tons of CO2 from Rocky Mountain Power’s Hunter Power Plant near Castle Dale, Utah. Informally, we call ourselves the “Carbon Group”, and we collaborate with both commercial and academic institutions as

well as national labs through the Southwest Regional Partnership on Carbon Sequestration, a consortium sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Energy Technology Laboratory. The Southwest Partnership was founded in 2002 by Brian McPherson, a USTAR professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah. McPherson’s group currently includes four graduate students, four postdoctoral scholars, two research faculty and a full-time professional lab and field manager.

The Carbon Group’s research approach is multi-faceted, including field, lab and simulation components. Our strongest “tool box” is computer simulation modeling as a means for forecasting how deep underground formations will react to storing CO2 and as a tool for quantification of risks associated with subsurface storage. Quantifying trapping mechanisms and associated risks specific to CO2-EOR is of particular interest. One of the more critical risks is the potential for CO2, brine or oil leakage into potable groundwater aquifers. Fundamental flow processes play a role in such leakage, so a major effort in the lab and in our simulations include analysis of multi-phase fluid/rock interactions such as relative permeability and capillary pressure. Another important topic of investigation is the possible link between subsurface pore pressure changes and induced seismicity. In the field, we’ve deployed multiple geophone (seismometer) arrays for monitoring seismic events in real time during injection. But, understanding the relationship between CO2 injection and those events is a tremendous challenge. Thus, we are gearing up our simulation software and our laboratory for specific mechanical properties and how stress and strain evolve under multiphase conditions. In addition to simulation and laboratory work, our fundamental science work is coupled with extensive CO2 Monitoring, Verification and Accounting (MVA) activities in the field, including a newly-designed state-of-the-art eddy covariance tower system to monitor surface leakage of CO2 and methane. Such MVA activities are a critical means to calibrate our modeling efforts for a better understanding of the impact of carbon storage activities.

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Ting Xiao is a post-doctoral associate in the department. She received her doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Utah in 2017. Ting focuses on the numerical simulations of geochemical processes in geological carbon sequestration (GCS) reservoirs, wellbore cement, sealing formation and overlying shallow groundwater aquifers.

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Eric Edelman is a graduate student researching the effects of CO2 injection on reservoir and seal rock. He brings more than six years of industry experience in petroleum geomechanics and laboratory rock testing. Coupling past work experience with present carbon sequestration projects he is advancing the understanding of chemomechanical interaction in Dr. McPherson’s laboratory here at the university. Dr. Vivek Patil received his doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Utah, after which he decided pursue industrial research. He worked at Phillips 66 Research as an associate engineer for more than two years before returning to the CSER group. His research expertise involves modeling single as well as multiphase reactive flow systems.

Alena Grechishnikova has nine years of domestic and international industry experience as geophysical engineer and advisor, including exploration geoscience and project management. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s in geophysical engineering from Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas in Moscow. Grechishnikova has a doctorate in geophysical engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Dr. Wei Jia received his doctorate degree in civil engineering from the University of Utah, a master’s in environmental science from Tongji University in China, and bachelor’s in environmental science from the University of Science and Technology of China. Jia’s research area includes multiphase flow in subsurface, uncertainty quantification, and risk analysis associated with CO2 geological sequestration.

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Dr. Nathan Moodie received his doctorate in civil and environmental engineering in 2017 and a master’s in civil and environmental engineering in 2013, both from the University of Utah. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher with Brian McPherson and the Carbon Group in the department.

Trevor Irons received his doctorate from the Colorado School of Mines and worked at the U.S. Geological Survey and at a private geophysical consulting firm. His interests includes basic research in characterizing past and present geomorphological and fluid transport phenomenon from the pore to the regional scale, engineered abatement to climate change, and research on sustainable policy for groundwater management. Rich Esser is member of the research staff with the Energy & Geoscience Institute. His research interests and expertise include geology and geochemistry of the southwestern U.S. Esser has spent the last 10 years coordinating various project management, laboratory and field programs pertaining to CO2 sequestration activities. Undergraduate student researchers not photographed: Aaron Meyer and Adriann Liceralde.


Transportation System Research Civil and environmental engineering assistant professor Cathy Liu and her research team have been focusing on finding the seamless integration of technological innovations into managing urban transportation systems. Specifically, her research makes effective use of data and information for transportation system learning/ informatics, and evaluation. Multimodal Transportation Network Learning and Informatics Urbanization, combined with the rapid growth of population, strains the existing infrastructures to their limits. Given the magnitude of challenges associated with personal vehicles, transportation agencies are looking for ways to effectively manage the demand. Casual carpooling: This is a unique commute option whereby drivers and riders meet at pre-selected pick-up locations and travel to a fixed set of destinations. Causal carpooling benefits both the driver and rider by saving time and/or money and, with enough market penetration, has the potential to reduce congestion and emissions by taking vehicles off the road through shared mobility. Liu and her research team are currently working on a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)-sponsored project to foster interest in casual carpooling. The project looks specifically at the potential of the major corridors in the Washington, D.C. area to support casual carpooling beyond the current level. The preliminary study answers the following questions: What are the promising casual carpooling corridors and stations locations? What features should a new mobile application have that will assist and inform casual carpoolers? And what marketing and outreach activities are needed to foster interest in casual carpooling and enable the successful rollout of new casual carpooling stations? The current project further advances the research and development to develop the business case for casual carpooling, and prepare for implementation of a comprehensive casual carpooling program. Social-Transportation Analytic Toolbox (STAT): In addition to carpooling, public transit is an integral part of a multimodal transportation ecosystem and plays a pivotal role in economic vitality, resource conservation, emission reduction and traffic congestion relief. Liu’s team also focuses on building an open-

source social-transportation analytic toolbox (STAT), this research is sponsored by U.S. Department of Transportation. STAT is to facilitate the use and integration of Twitter and open transportation data in discovering fundamental patterns of interactions between users and transit services, improving the overall performance of the public transit network, and strengthening the tie between transit riders and agencies. The goal is to leverage the STAT system to provide a rich public transit analytical platform that enables transit agencies to effectively explore insights from the integrated transportation data. Transportation System Evaluation: With the impacts of congestion, traffic accidents and other unforeseen incidents, people are concerned about being able to get to their destinations, either to work, to catch a flight or to a doctor’s appointment. However, a transportation system is not always reliable with the same travel time from A to B all the time. Reliability is thus a critical component in a transportation system evaluation because it matters to the decision makers, traffic operators and road users. Transportation agencies want to know where the problem spots lie and where the segments are that make the travel time vary. Road users want to know when they need to leave in order to make an on-time arrival. Liu’s research team has been working on developing an integrative visualization platform using data from a variety of sources, including GPS, radar sensors, accident logs, special events and adverse weather. This data can identify the variability of travel times and its causes. With improved data and visualization, the tool is able to help agencies analyze current conditions and the effects of various operational treatments intended to improve reliability and safety.


Student Spotlight Adam Olsen Adam Olsen received his master’s in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Utah in 2010. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate working with assistant professor Luther McDonald in environmental engineering focusing on nuclear forensics and anticipates to graduate this summer. His research has enabled him to use analytical techniques such as powder X-ray diffraction (p-XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). His graduate work has included the synthesis of several different uranium oxides under various types in order to replicate aging conditions in the production and use of nuclear fuel. From this material, new nuclear forensics signatures are being developed which may someday be used to improve the analysis of intercepted nuclear material. He is also focusing on the development of nuclear forensics signatures that are based on the morphological and crystallographic changes that are induced by aging uranium oxides at elevated temperatures.

This spring, Olsen was accepted into the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP). The NGFP program is a full time, year-long program that is focused on the development of future leaders

In 2017, Olsen was able to attend the NGSI Nonproliferation and International Safeguards Summer Course at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The course focuses on international safeguards policy and the importance of the current nuclear safeguards agreements and how they are implemented at the state level. This opportunity has enabled him to better understand the role that policy plays in nuclear security and nonproliferation in his research. Adams research has led to a publication in analytical chemistry titled “Quantifying Morphological Features of αU3O8 with Image Analysis for Nuclear Forensics”. The article was awarded 2nd place, for Material Protection, Control, and Accountancy in the 2017 Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D awards program managed by the U.S. Department of Energy. He was also the recipient of an outstanding poster award at the Department of Homeland Security Domestic Nuclear Detections Office’s 2016 annual program review for their Academic Research Initiative.

in nuclear security and nonproliferation. The NGFP program places fellows into specific NNSA program or site offices where they get the opportunity to participate in professional development, training and networking opportunities with nuclear security leaders.

Adam is an incredibly hard working individual. He has really flourished performing nuclear forensics research attacking very challenging problems to develop new techniques and procedures which are critical for identifying unknown nuclear materials.

Dr. Luther McDonald


Alumni Spotlight MJ Ameli

Ameli received his master’s (2011) and doctorate (2016) degrees in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah. During his graduate studies he had a chance to receive education on different topics in the structural design and seismic evaluation of building and bridge components. Under the guidance of the civil engineering professors, especially professor Chris Pantelides, he was exposed to cutting edge projects that equipped him with problem-solving skills he currently utilizes as a graduate engineer with the Diagnostics Group at Walter P Moore in Houston, Texas. Ameli’s new role at the firm includes analysis and design of new structural components, assessment and evaluation of existing structures, design of repair and retrofit for existing bridge or building structures, performing nondestructive evaluations and interpretation of results, preparation of construction documents and assistance in construction administration phase. These projects are versatile in terms of scope, size, level of urgency and complexity.

learned how to function independently to accomplish the given tasks and achieve the anticipated results. He had the opportunity to excel in advanced topics related to his areas of interest for which he had to pay close attention to the basics of systems and materials behavior. In the aftermath of the recent Hurricane Harvey that brought unprecedented destruction to southern Texas, the Walter P Moore Diagnostics team, including Ameli, has actively participated in the recovery of the affected area. These fast-track flood mitigation projects are highly time sensitive, requiring a close coordination between all the parties involved to expedite the design development phase and ultimately the overall construction delivery time. Having been involved in accelerated construction during his graduate studies, Ameli incorporates the lessons learned from his applied research in these fast-paced projects to meet the unique needs of the clients.

Ameli stated that his education has enabled him to become an effective team player when assisting his associates or when receiving assistance to conduct his own research. His past participation in different research groups helped him realize the significance and value of team work in order to actively engage in a large project at work including a team of more than 25 individuals. During the course of his doctorate studies, Ameli also

Mini Engineering Day

More than 100 middle and high school students from West High School, Salt Lake Center for Science Education and Horizonte Instruction and Training Center attended the mini-engineering day event at the University of Utah, March 8. After watching the movie “Dream Big: Engineering Our World” at the Clark Planetarium, students participated in three hands-on design challenges at the University of Utah Student Union. The recruitment and outreach activity was developed to inform local students about opportunities in civil and environmental engineering and educate teachers on methods to incorporate engineering into middle and high school classrooms.

Based on feedback from students and teachers after the event, it was a great success. After watching the movie, one West High School student stated, It was amazing to see bridges built in Africa that allow students to cross a river to go to school.”

Civil and environmental engineering associate professor Jennifer Weidhaas said, “The activity had two goals: Get students excited about engineering and show teachers how to incorporate civil and environmental engineering into their classrooms.”

To build off the excitement generated by the IMAX movie, students participated in a tower build challenge, a modified geo-wall challenge and a life cycle assessment of sustainable building materials. The scaled-down geo-wall chal-


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Distinguished Awards

Dr. Jennifer Weidhaas Outstanding Mentor

Ramesh Goel Outstanding Faculty

4910 in the Community Every semester the Senior Professional Practice and Design Course (CVEEN 4910) works on a project to provide a glimpse into the professional world. The projects come through community contacts and general requests with the project selection geared toward solving real problems within our community. This academic year the students have worked on a study looking into the problems associated with access in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. The fall 2017 course looked at the Big Cottonwood Canyon specific issues and determined that a variable tolling system that assess vehicle feels should be implemented. This could help in having higher fees at peak-time, similar to the express lanes that are used along Interstate 15. This spring, the class looked at the specific issues associated with Little Cottonwood Canyon. A community presentation occurred in April where several options were presented.

lenge was based on the American Society of Civil Engineers, Geo-Institute GeoWall competition. The objective of this competition is to build a model mechanically stabilized Earth retaining wall using the least amount of paper reinforcement. “Graduate students and CVEEN staff were invaluable in making sure this activity was a success,” Weidhaas said. “In future years, we will fine-tune the event and recruit more schools. It would be great if the number of students attending approached 200 or more.”

Gemma Clark Research Recognition Award


DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL & ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING 110 Central Campus Drive, Ste., 2000 Salt Lake City, Utah 84112

Part-time Masters Want to boost your salary? Looking to get a P.E. License? Consider completing a part-time Master of Science degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah.

With this degree, you and a faculty mentor choose 10 classes (30 credits minimum) to complete the non-thesis MS degree, taking one or two classes each semester based on your work schedule. Increase your knowledge and skills in engineering management, environmental, geotech, materials, transportation, or water.

For more information, please contact our graduate academic advisor at 801-581-6678 or Bonnie.ogden@utah.edu.

* Additional courses are required for non-B.S. in civil engineering applicants.

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CVEEN 2018 Spring Newsletter  
CVEEN 2018 Spring Newsletter  
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