The Magnetic Resonance Imaging Petrophysical Application Center (MRI−PAC) is dedicated to the application of MRI and NMR to problems in engineering and science. Although the principal focus is on applications in petrophysics and petroleum engineering, the Center’s charter approves its use for interdisciplinary research where it can make significant contributions.
The MRI−PAC will become the most important facility in the U.S. dedicated to the application of MRI/NMR to problems in engineering and physical science.
- Identify research areas of concentration which are at once, addressable by NMR/MRI and are of scientific and social significance.
- Innovate and Develop NMR/MRI solutions to important and visible research problems in these areas.
- Publish and Promote Results of this research through Journal Articles and Visible Participation in Domestic and International Scientific Meetings.
- Provide education and training to Post−Docs, Graduate Students and Undergraduates.
- Develop, through grants and endowments, the funding necessary to support the above activities.
An analysis of relevant research trends was conducted based on a survey of historical and current research publications indexed in the Web of Knowledge Data Base. The capabilities of the technology which define the Center − current and projected − were also evaluated. Included in the Appendix is a third party technology forecast used in this evaluation. Based on these considerations the following areas of immediate concentration were identified.
Areas of Concentration
Gas Hydrate Formation and Dissolution
Gas hydrates are ice−like structures in which water molecules, under pressure, form structures composed of polyhedral cages surrounding gas molecule "guests" such as methane and ethane. Rarely encountered in everyday life, they occur in staggering abundance in cold sub−sea, sea floor and permafrost environments where (P,T) conditions ensure their stability. The natural gas trapped in these deposits represents a potential source of energy many times all known natural gas reserves. Hydrates can form as well in undersea piping and above ground gas pipelines where they pose a major problem for gas/oil producers. Other applications of hydrate phenomena include deep sea sequestration of CO2 to combat global warming as well as separation processes in Chemical Engineering.
NMR relaxation times correlate with molecular rotation while NMR diffusion measurements correlate with molecular translation. Thus NMR can detect and quantify hydrate formation and dissociation at the molecular level for purposes of developing engineering strategies and methods for energy production or for flow assurance in pipelines. Texas Tech University’s equipment provides a nearly unique way to observe the phenomenon microscopically at the relevant pressures and temperatures. It’s imaging capability can visualize the phenomenon macroscopically in realistic multi−phase flows through porous media.
Asphaltene & Parafin Precipitation and Remediation
Asphaltenes are components of petroleum whose behavior and structure change with pressure, temperature and oil composition. In one of these changes, precipitation, the asphaltenes turn into solid form and separate from the rest of the liquid oil. Unwanted asphaltene precipitation is a serious concern to the petroleum industry where asphaltenes plug well−bores, add skin to the formation and can decrease or stop production in other ways. There is specialty in petroleum engineering called "flow assurance" which focuses on these problems. Despite decades of study; understanding when, where, how and why asphaltenes precipitate (and what to do about them once they have formed), continues to be limited.
NMR provides ways of measuring the microscopic sizes of molecular aggregates in solutions, their diffusivities, as well as the macroscopic viscosities of the solutions themselves. Changes in the viscosity of a fluid and the diffusivity of its components, precede and accompany the process of precipitation. Through these connections NMR can be used to study the process of precipitation, and detect its onset even before macroscopic evidence appears. Again Texas Tech University’s equipment provides a nearly unique way to observe the phenomenon microscopically at the relevant pressures and temperatures. Its imaging capability can visualize the phenomenon macroscopically in realistic multi−phase separations.
CO2 Interactions with Water & with Oil
CO2 interactions with oil is of considerable practical interest to oil producers particularly in West Texas. Over 40% of wells in this region use CO2 injection to mobilize the more viscous oils remaining in these well−developed reservoirs. These enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods have been long practiced, but it is only recently that attention has been given to the interaction of the CO2 with the brine water (aquifers) also present in the reservoir. Interest in this direction is also fueled by current interest in the sequestration of greenhouse gases in old reservoirs. Early studies show that the mineralogy and reservoir properties are altered by the interaction of CO2 with formation water.
The application of NMR to well logging is highly developed, where it is used to determine porosity, permeability and pore size distributions. NMR Well−logging techniques represent new powerful tools to study the changes in rock properties resulting form CO2 −brine−oil interactions. NMR’s multi−nuclear capability offers the ability to study the chemistry of these processes as well − a dramatic extension not possible for down hole tools − but quite feasible on laboratory studies on cores.
Skeleton in vertebrates is composed of hard (cortical) and spongy (trabecular) bone. The large and micro−scale architecture of these bones change in time in response to a number of influences. These include normal development and aging, repetitive mechanical stress, nutritional inputs, disease processes, electromechanical effects and pharmaceutical actions. Although much is known about bone metabolism, much still remains unclear. In particular little is known quantitatively about how bone micro−architecture develops in response to the above influences. Understanding biomineralization is an important goal. Aside from bio−engineered products, there may be important medical benefits to an aging population. The strength of bones and their resistance to fracture is as much a function of bone micro−architecture as it is of bone mineral density. Understanding the structural consequences of nutrition and other influences may be of great importance.
NMR and MRI techniques developed for petrophysical analysis can used to identify and quantify the micro−architectural changes produced in spongy bone by the above influences. By extending these techniques it is hoped to clarify questions about the interior surface properties of bone, in vivo, and the interaction between bone and marrow.
Contrast in traditional medical MRI images is produced by the differing NMR relaxation times in tissues. In the past clinicians have used these images to observe anatomy without paying attention to the underlying biophysical phenomena producing the differing relaxation times. Functional MRI (fMRI) focuses on these biophysical correlations rather than merely on anatomy.
The differing relaxation times in tissue result from the molecular motions of the fluid components of the tissue. Just as in oil/water/rock systems, it is possible to measure perfusion, diffusion and complex transport properties in biological tissue. Moreover, in tissue, relaxation times are affected by oxygen content − so that metabolic activity can provide image contrast.
Importantly these parameters can be measured (and even imaged) as a function of changes in the state of the tissue or organism. For example, these techniques can be applied to the brain of a research subject subjected to differing stimulus. The experimenter can image the changes in local brain metabolism as the result of such stimuli. In essence it allows the experimenter to "see thought."
MRI-PAC uses the same small scale MRI equipment used by fMRI researchers − so called "animal systems." The Center will attempt to focus on the thermodynamic and physical transport properties of appropriate animal models as collaborators are found.
Three & Five Year Plan
A successful and sustainable academic research center derives from a circular mechanism.
Once such a cycle has been successfully set in motion the center becomes self−sustaining (provided each element functions adequately). Bootstrapping such a cycle requires development of all four elements − but none more crucially than funding. Therefore the three and five year plans are driven by the necessity to generate funding in one or more of the target research areas.
- Within 1st 3, years generate sufficient extramural funding to support operating costs of Center.
- Within 1st 5, years generate sufficient extramural funding to support 2 resident graduate students and 1 post−doc (or technician − depending on school policy).
- Within 1st 5, years generate sufficient interest by external collaborators to acquire supplemental funding, visiting scientists, graduate students or staff.
- At end on 5th year, be positioned to apply for center funding status from NSF, a similar agency or industry consortium.
Graduate Students, Undergraduates, Collaborators − Goals
- Within 1st 3 years, graduate at least 2 PhD students with associated publications.
- Within 1st 3 years, develop undergraduate research process to provide candidates for graduate program.
- Within 1st 3 years, develop collaboration outside department, college, school.
- Within 1st 5 years, graduate at least 4 PhD students.
- Within 1st 5 years, develop graduate student exchange relationships with foreign, domestic universities.
- Within 1st 5 years, arrange to have 2 additional University faculty members involved as permanent Center Participants.
- Within 1st 3 years, develop research initiatives in all 5 targeted research areas.
- Within 1st 3 years, produce significant research results in at least 2 research targeted areas (As measured by publications, conference presentations, invited talks).
- Within 1st 5 years, become significant research organization in at least 2 targeted areas (As measured by citations in Citation Index and SPE index).
Publications, Conferences, Visibility − Goals
- Within 1st 3 years, publish 5 papers that build credibility for funding.
- Within 1st 3 years, present papers in at least 2 high visibility conferences.
- Within 1st 5 years, publish 15 papers that establish center as important contributor to at least 3 targeted research areas.
In addition to the Director, graduate students and undergraduates there are a number of faculty collaborators initially involved in developing these research activities:
- Prof. Nicep Guven in Geosciences
- Prof. Leslie Shen in Pathology at THSC
- Prof. Walter Chapman in Chemical Engineering at Rice University
- the center is also a member of the Rice Consortium on Gas Hydrates
Potential Sources of Funding
Sources of funding for these activities depend on the research area targeted. Because of the diversity of research targets available to the Center there is a wide range of potential funding sources. This is at once a blessing and a curse, since each funding agency is part of a subculture. For this reason it is important to choose collaborators appropriate to the research arena.
Historically funding for research in Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering have come from the oil and gas or petrochemical industry − from single companies or from consortiums (JIP’s − "joint industry projects").
- JIPS − Typically provide funding at levels > 300K/year for extended periods. Requires significant effort to develop and promote.
- Industry Sponsored Research Foundations − Typically provide 50K/year for 3−5 years.
- Individual Companies − Typically provide 100K/year for limited time on project basis
The NSF, DOE and American Chemical Society among others also fund research in areas related to petroleum engineering.
- NSF Directorate for Engineering − Division of Chemical & Transport Systems
- DOE Basic Energy Research
- ACS Petroleum Research Fund
Because the targeted areas of the Center are much broader than this, additional funding sources are available from government agencies and private foundations.
- NSF Geosciences Directorate − Earth Sciences − Geobiology & Environmental Program
- NSF Directorate for Math & Physical Sciences −Chem,.Div.−Phys. Chem. Program
- NSF Directorate for Math & Physical Sciences −Mat. Research .Div.−Condensed Matter Program
- NIH − Various Institutes
Similar Centers and Institutes
The initial capital cost of a center like the MRI−PAC is extremely high. It is virtually impossible for researchers in engineering and physical science to fund such capital equipment via standard grant processes. In biomedical research, in contrast, over 100 similar centers exist world−wide focusing on fMRI medical applications to animal models.
Those centers available for research in engineering and the physical sciences are very few. To the Center’s knowledge there are only six other similar centers in the world:
- Univ. of Ulm, − Germany
- Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences, National Research Council − Ottawa Canada
- University of Nottingham, Dept. of Physics − Nottingham England
- Aachen University of Technology, Insititute of Macromolecular Chemistry − Germany
- Sintef Experimental Center, Sintef Research Foundation − Trondheim Norway
- Colorado State University − RMMR Center USA