Availability of inexpensive energy has long been identified as a key element for economic prosperity and national security. For decades, the energy industry has been a driver of research on new materials and tools for thermophysical property measurement. The production of hydrocarbons for meeting our energy needs and providing raw materials to the petrochemical industry will continue to be a dominant industry driver for decades to come. However, it is now recognized that production and use of hydrocarbons comes with an environmental cost. Therefore, emissions associated with hydrocarbon use and surface subsidence in areas around reservoirs will continue to be areas of important research.
Among the primary needs of the petroleum and natural gas industries are:
- advanced methods to recover the approximately 65% of hydrocarbons remaining in oil and gas reservoirs after primary and secondary recovery,
- locating new sources of hydrocarbons,
- technologies for producing novel energy resources like gas hydrates,
- new processes for upgrading the produced fossil fuels (for example, converting coal to liquids or gas, converting gas to liquid fuels etc.); and
- improved methods for reservoir characterization and for transporting hydrocarbons to market
The Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department has established a reputation in most of these key areas. Professors Miller and Hirasaki are developing novel techniques to improve recovery of hydrocarbons using surfactant-based approaches. These methods have also been shown to be effective for environmental remediation. The NMR laboratory established by Professor Kobayashi and now directed by Professor Hirasaki is providing fundamental information to expand the usefulness of down hole NMR logs for reservoir characterization.
Research on gas hydrates, was initiated at Rice 50 years ago in Professor Kobayashi’s lab. Professor Chapman has taken over this work and expanded it through the introduction of molecular modeling methods. In addition, a new initiative was formed within the Shell Center for Sustainability to combine the hydrate energy research with geologic information in order to understand the historical impact of gas hydrates on climate change on the earth. This initiative is led by Professors Chapman and Hirasaki from Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Professor Dickens from Earth Science.