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Meet a Participant: Isis Fukai

Researcher investigates methods to assess storage reservoirs for carbon dioxide

Isis Fukai
As a participant in the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship Program, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy, Isis Fukai is utilizing infrared-spectroscopy and scanning-electron-microscopy to determine the viability of gas shales to store carbon dioxide. (Photo courtesy of NETL)

Isis Fukai was searching for a way to participate in practical and exciting research relevant to society, and she found just that with the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) Program, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), which is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy. MLEF provides opportunities for students who are pursuing degrees in STEM majors, with an emphasis on recruiting female and minority students, to engage in a 10-week summer internship focusing on research projects relevant to the DOE Office of Fossil Energy’s mission. All eligible candidates are encouraged to apply for the program.

“I wanted to participate in geologic research of societal relevance that was also related to national energy sustainability and independence,” Fukai said. “The experience has provided positive insight into the intellectual atmosphere and innovative research happening at national U.S. laboratories.”

Under the guidance of mentor Angela Goodman, Fukai is conducting research at theNational Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh. The two are utilizing infrared-spectroscopy and scanning-electron-microscopy to investigate carbon dioxide sequestration.

“I am in the process of helping to develop a method for estimating carbon dioxide sequestration potential of gas shale formations, and I am looking at laboratory interactions between organic-rich shale samples and carbon dioxide at high pressure and temperature,” Fukai explained. “My research will help develop a regional-scale, resource assessment of the carbon dioxide mass-storage potential of all gas shale formations in the United States and also help understand the reactions/mechanisms in which carbon dioxide may be safely and permanently sequestered in shales.”

Their research could help offset greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by establishing gas shales as a viable storage reservoir for carbon dioxide.

“Similar to methane, carbon dioxide is more readily absorbed to the surfaces of clays and organic matter in shales, so injecting carbon dioxide into these formations may enhance recovery of natural gas, as well as provide an effective storage mechanism,” said Fukai, who recently obtained her master’s in geology from Louisiana State University. “I have had to branch out from my metamorphic petrology background and learn a lot about sedimentary formations, shale properties, and the energy industry.”

Through her experience with MLEF, she has learned to understand and better address issues using different approaches and perspectives. One moment she could be conducting microscopic analyses in the lab, while another she could be participating in discussions of regional-scale resource assessments via teleconference.

The variety provided by this appointment has opened doors for collaboration and interactions with researchers of a wide range of backgrounds. From chemists to undergraduates, geoscientists to post-docs, Fukai has made connections that have changed her method of research.

“I’ve learned how to solve problems using a more interdisciplinary approach, and I’ve been able to explore and enhance my interests in subsurface geology,” she explained. “This is a good program for people who are interested in public service via scientific research.”