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Energy research institute celebrates 50th anniversary

The Energy & Geoscience Institute provides research assistance for the energy industry and pioneers new technologies to aid the transition away from carbon-based fuels.

This story is adapted from an article originally found here.

For decades, the Energy & Geoscience Institute (EGI) at the University of Utah has served as a research resource for the energy industry. Now, as the institute celebrates its 50th anniversary, it sits at the forefront of new geothermal energy technologies, and brings in new computational tools to improve the use of geologic data by the energy industry.

EGI is one of the world’s largest university-hosted energy research consortia. The institute traces its history to two energy institutes created in the early 1970s: the Earth Sciences & Resources Institute (ESRI) at the University of South Carolina and the University of Utah Research Institute (UURI) at the University of Utah. In 1995, ESRI’s petroleum science division and UURI joined together under the EGI name. This year, EGI celebrates 50 years of global science and collaboration with Corporate Associate members and partners in academia, government and industry.

Serving the energy industry

EGI collaborates with member companies in the energy industry, serving more than 170 companies through its Corporate Associates program. The program offers research opportunities and engages members in annual Corporate Associates Technical Conferences which have been held at EGI in Salt Lake City, Utah, Houston, Texas, Bratislava, Slovakia and London, England. EGI has also led field courses through the rich geologic settings of Utah and the Intermountain West and to sites around the world.

EGI’s collaborations, partnerships and special initiatives have led to scientific and technical success. In 1997, EGI created the Technical Alliance for Computational Stratigraphy (TACS) to maximize the value of fossil data used in geologic studies to find the ages of geological formations, a discipline called biostratigraphy. Since 2014, the EGI Oceans team has published several detailed biostratigraphic analyses of the world’s oceans, drawing on information in drilled samples from the ocean floor and other data sets. In 1999, EGI received BP’s Paleontological Database Systems and Services database representing 40 years of paleontological research.

EGI’s geothermal research team has enjoyed a more than 45-year relationship with the U.S. Department of Energy, which sponsored geothermal projects such as the Raft River demonstration project in Idaho starting in 2009.

To date, EGI’s research projects have delivered $850 million in value to Corporate Associate members. Many of those project reports and an extensive library of reports, well logs and seismic data are available to current Corporate Associate members through EGIconnect, EGI’s members-only proprietary database.

A global research consortium

In 50 years, EGI scientists have performed work on all seven continents and in more than 100 countries, covering a variety of topics. Between 2006 and 2008 alone, EGI scientists visited 41 countries. Reports from international field work encompass EGI’s full range of scientific experience.

EGI’s international focus developed early in its history. Through ESRI, petroleum scientists entered into collaborations and conducted field studies in North Africa as early as 1973, surveying locations in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and the Gulf of Suez. ESRI’s research soon expanded to include surveys and analyses of specific geological formations across South America starting in 1979 and 1980. The next few years saw even more rapid expansion of field research to Australia and Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, and Asia. By 1995, ESRI had worked in 35 countries and every continent except Antarctica. Meanwhile, during the 1980s, UURI completed geothermal research projects in India and Mexico.

EGI’s successes could not have been possible without collaborations with dozens of international organizations over the years—more than 55 in all. Beginning with ESRI’s work with North African organizations and UURI’s U.S. Department of Energy partnership, EGI has collaborated to increase access to scientific resources, and make research opportunities and breakthroughs possible. EGI’s partners include government agencies, universities, and independent companies worldwide.

EGI’s staff reflects the institute’s global experience in serving an international energy industry. The institute maintains offices and relationships with affiliate scientists on five continents and includes staff members from more than ten countries. International voices guide EGI on the institute’s advisory board, which includes members from three continents and more than five countries.

Toward the future of energy and sustainability

In addition to EGI’s deep roots in hydrocarbon exploration and research, the institute’s capabilities include two critical areas in the energy transition environment: geothermal energy and carbon sequestration. Both fields have advanced rapidly in recent decades, and EGI’s research program is evolving to meet the needs of the energy transition.

In 1972, scientists from the Anaconda and Kennecott mining companies formed UURI’s Earth Science Lab at the University of Utah and began a decades-long collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy for geothermal research and technology development. Since UURI became part of EGI, expertise and international standing in geothermal energy at the institute have only grown.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy selected EGI for the $140 million, five-year FORGE (Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy) project grant. The Utah FORGE team, led by EGI scientists, has performed record-breaking drilling at its Milford, Utah site and developed a robust demonstration project for future enhanced geothermal systems applications.

The rapidly growing area of carbon sequestration has become one of EGI’s core research focuses. In the carbon science group’s more than 16-year history with EGI, scientists have studied multiple carbon sequestration sites across the western United States. As the scientific lead for the Southwest Regional Partnership on Carbon Sequestration, EGI scientists studied sites in Texas, Utah, and New Mexico. This partnership between federal agencies, states, universities and industry has been one of the EGI carbon science group’s longest-running projects.

CarbonSAFE, another sequestration project, comprehensively characterizes a New Mexico carbon storage site. EGI is also developing additional capabilities in carbon sequestration to better participate in this growing field.

What’s next?

EGI intends to build on its reputation as a leading energy research consortium as the energy industry evolves to meet future demands. In particular, EGI is expanding its research emphases into new areas such as critical minerals and developing a geoscience database with over 33 million wells and 11 million samples called iCORDS Offshore. EGI is also integrating data science and machine learning into new research opportunities. The carbon science research team is participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s SMART initiative to create machine learning and artificial intelligence platforms for real-time petroleum exploration applications. These next steps in EGI’s research programs follow the same trailblazing path that EGI has always taken: creating new knowledge and applying cutting-edge science to the industry’s needs.

EGI will continue research on targeted petroleum basins around the world through the revamped iCORDS Offshore database and module and extensive EGI datasets with data analytics and machine learning capabilities to provide added value. The institute has also completed the development of the first-generation Critical Minerals Database.

Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit for avoiding CO2 emissions. Faculty experts in energy efficiency, hybridization, optimization and electric grid resiliency are working with EGI to apply this knowledge broadly across the industry.  EGI is working on hydrogen, energy storage and solar fuels initiatives and is taking a scientific leadership role in the ongoing discussions of the creation of multibillion-dollar hydrogen hubs.

Utah FORGE is the largest energy project funded at EGI and at the University of Utah.  EGI expects Utah FORGE to anchor its geothermal portfolio as they work with their large group of stakeholders to fulfill the project objectives, and will expand into medium-depth and shallow geothermal applications to utilize the full potential geothermal has to offer in direct heat use or electricity generation.

Research in carbon capture and sequestration continues to grow.  The Carbon Science Initiative Team is creating a comprehensive workflow for locating carbon dioxide sources, conceptualizing appropriate capture methods, identifying and characterizing repositories and establishing the logistics of transporting and injecting the sourced CO2 into repositories safely.  EGI is expanding into research on Direct Air Capture technologies to create negative carbon scenarios.  The institute will work with companies to realize the benefits of carbon capture tax credits as they race to meet their respective zero carbon timelines.

The institute’s success and growth has been due to the innovation and entrepreneurship of faculty and staff.  EGI will continue to expand their reach into all applicable areas of energy with an intention of making transformative societal impact. The institute will make appropriate investments to make this happen as they look for partnerships with faculty at the U and beyond.

University administration shares this vision for the role of EGI at the U.  EGI will continue its legacy of excellence in energy research by creating knowledge necessary for our resilient and secure energy future, and by educating the next generation of energy scientists.

EGI is honored to have contributed to the energy industry, collaborated with partners, and served their members during the last 50 years. The institute eagerly looks forward to shaping the energy transition to a low-carbon world.