Fundamental Processes

David DiCarlo ( is the Program Manager of the Fundamental Processes research program.

Research on Fundamental Processes examines the intersection of fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, surface science, transport phenomena, geochemistry and petrophysics that determines the flow and transport properties of geological formations, oil and gas reservoirs and aquifers.

Research Projects

Matt Balhoff

Surprisingly, recent experimental and field observations indicate that the addition of viscoelastic polymers improve oil recovery by an additional 20%, contrary to the conventional wisdom that polymers should have no impact on residual oil saturation.

Quoc P. Nguyen, Gary A. Pope

Funding source: Saudi Aramco

Funding amount: $250,000 per year

The physical and chemical interactions between crudes, brines, and rock determine both oil reserves and producibility. Measurements of these interactions are difficult and research in the past has mainly concentrated on sandstone reservoirs. In particular, limestones and dolomites are poorly investigated.

Matt Balhoff, Kishore Mohanty

The invention of putting 10-25 transverse vertical fractures on long horizontal wells has made it possible to produce shale oil by primary recovery. The ultimate recovery by primary production, however, is low, between 5-10%. Improved recovery methods (e.g., CO2 flooding) must be developed for this huge resource.

Matt Balhoff, Larry Lake, Paul Bommer

Techniques for measurement of fluid rheological properties are important for field operations in the oil industry, but existing methods are relatively expensive and the results can be subjective. Marsh Funnels are popular quality-control tools used in the field. In the normal measurements, a single point is used to determine an average viscosity.


David DiCarlo

When one fluid displaces another inside a porous media, the sharpness of the wetting front can determine the stability of the overall displacement. Also inherently, displacements with sharp fronts cannot be modeled using continuum multi-phase flow equations.

Nicolas Espinoza

CO2 geological storage can help mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Large-scale implementation of CO2 geological storage requires full understanding of the interaction between injected CO2, host pore fluid, and rock minerals.

Matt Balhoff

An extension of our work in computational fluid dynamics, this new project involves microfluidic and coreflood experiments to better understand the reduction of residual oil.

Matt Balhoff

Polymers are useful during EOR because of their high viscosity, caused largely by the long chains of the molecules.

Nicolas Espinoza

Advanced completion methods seek to maximize the stimulated reservoir volume as a result of hydraulic fracturing. Shale acidization has been proposed as one method to improve drainage efficiency.

Nicolas Espinoza

Tight rocks host hydrocarbons in different pore habits, including fluid in bulk conditions, in adsorbed state, as a solute in fluid phases, or a mixture of these three. Organic rocks show a high potential for adsorption. In fact, sometimes more fluid can be stored in adsorbed state than in bulk conditions in these types of rocks.

Steven L. Bryant

Funding source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Funding amount: $246,000 for the period of Sep. 2004 - Aug. 2007

Water resources and environmental quality are important issues for agriculture. A key component of water quality is the concentration of very small (colloidal) particles suspended in the water. Example particles are bacteria, viruses and inorganic materials on which contaminants have adsorbed.

Matt Balhoff, Carlos Verdin

The hypothesis of this work is that dynamic petrophysical properties of shales cannot be measured accurately and reliably with traditional approaches because the physical laws governing fluid transport in nanoscale pores are fundamentally different from those of microscale pores of conventional reservoirs.

Steven L. Bryant, Ruben Juanes


Sponsor: National Energy Technology Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy  
Award Number: DE-FC26-06NT42958
Duration: October 2006 - September 2010

Todd Arbogast (Math), Steven L. Bryant, Jim Jennings (Bureau of Economic Geology), Charlie Kerans (Bureau of Economic Geology)

Funding source: National Science Foundation

Funding period: Sep. 2004 - Aug. 2007

In previous work we developed tools to model and compute flow at the meter scale in rocks containing touching cm-scale vugs. In this project, we will address the questions of 1) solute transport in such systems and 2) the extension of the models to the 1 to 10 meter scale, and then to the 100 meter macro-scale.

Proposed Research

Quoc P. Nguyen

Polymer and polymer gels have long been used in improved oil recovery, near wellbore treatments, and environmental remediation. A major drawback of using polymeric systems is a high risk of damaging the formation, due primarily to a strong adsorption of the polymers.