The University of Utah’s College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences have received a four-year, $10.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC). The center will study how fluids interact with porous solids, vital research that could benefit the future production of oil, gas and other energy resources. It is the first EFRC grant ever awarded to the University of Utah.

The group, to be called the Center for Multi-Scale Fluid-Solid Interactions in Architected and Natural Materials (MUSE), will be a multidisciplinary effort involving researchers from the U’s departments of chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, chemistry, metallurgical engineering, and the Energy & Geoscience Institute. It also will include personnel from the Idaho National Laboratory; Pennsylvania State University; University of California, Davis; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and the University of Wyoming.

The research will focus on how fluids like gas, oil and water interact with materials such as underground shale to improve the production of energy resources while also minimizing its environmental impact. This knowledge could be applicable to a variety of processes used by energy companies, including figuring out ways to use less water in hydraulic fracturing.

“This goes to the heart of everything that happens in nanostructured materials,” said University of Utah chemical engineering chair Milind Deo (pictured). “It goes to establishing how fluids reside in these materials and how they move.”

The MUSE Center will be led by University of Utah Colleges of Mines and Earth Sciences Dean Darryl Butt. It will be staffed by faculty from the College of Engineering including chemical engineering members Deo, Michael Hoepfner, Jules Magda, John McLennan, Swomitra Mohanty, and James Sutherland. Brian McPherson from the U’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Pania Newell from the Department of Mechanical Engineering also will work for the center.

MUSE is one of 42 EFRC awards totaling $100 million given to centers around the country, the DOE announced June 29. The centers will help to accelerate scientific understanding in diverse energy-related fields including catalysts, electro- and photo-chemistry, geoscience, quantum materials, and nuclear and synthesis science. Their research will lay down the scientific groundwork for future advances in solar energy, nuclear energy, energy conversion and storage, electronics and computation, production of fuels and chemicals, carbon capture, and control of the earth’s subsurface, according to the DOE.

Established by the department’s Office of Science in 2009, the EFRC program brings together researchers from multiple disciplines and institutions, including universities, national laboratories, and nonprofit organizations.