Undergraduate researcher expands NETL's simulation capabilities

Upon entering college and selecting a study route, Minh Bui had one main concern: making a positive impact on people around the world.

Undergraduate researcher expands NETL's simulation capabilities

While at the National Energy Technology Laboratory as a Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship Program participant, Minh Bui contributed to the advancement of simulation capabilities involving fracture pathway behavior.

Engineering met his requirement with its vast opportunities to improve daily lives. While studying petroleum engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, Bui applied to the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) Program. He wanted to further his impact with an internship focusing on research projects relevant to the mission of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy.

Alongside Nicolas Huerta, Bui conducted research at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Albany, Oregon. Their project involved capturing the evolution of fracture pathway behavior in a system affected by dissolution and precipitation processes. Though these behaviors have been observed experimentally, they have not been effectively characterized from a simulation and modeling perspective.

“Simulation of these processes is necessary, especially when characterizing issues that happen thousands of feet below the surface,” Bui said. “Being able to master these processes will allow for continued use of fossil energy resources in an efficient manner while reducing potential environmental impacts.”

Using PFLOTRAN, a reactive transport simulator, and ParaView, a data visualization application, Bui simulated, modeled and characterized dissolution and precipitation trends in fractured systems. These simulated results were compared to previously obtained experimental results to develop more complex models. Bui believes strengthening NETL’s simulation capabilities is crucial to validating results from research in the lab. The simulations capabilities have the potential to predict situations before any experiments are conducted.

“I think it is very unique that I was able to learn new software with specific applications to reactive transport. Not many of my peers can say they did that,” Bui explained.

Not only did Bui benefit from learning technical skills related to his degree, but he also enjoyed the opportunity to expand his knowledge about other aspects of the oil and gas industry.

“I really appreciate the diverse opportunities presented to the fellows. The program encouraged me to learn new things,” Bui said. He explored the regulatory side of oil and gas operations, topics that are outside of his major field of study.

After his participation in the program, Bui returned to his university to complete his bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. His ultimate career goal is to be involved in work that will positively affect the lives of people around the world, similar to his motivation for pursuing a STEM path.

“Overall, the program was very beneficial because I received valuable feedback from high-ranking individuals within DOE and NETL. I was able to expand my network and get to know some of the brightest people in my field of interest,” Bui said.

The MLEF Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.