David Blackwell

SMU to host geothermal energy conference May 18-20, 2015

Power Plays 2015 geothermal conference logo

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory will host its seventh international energy conference and workshop on the main campus May 19-20, 2015. The conference is designed to promote transition of oil and gas fields to electricity-producing geothermal systems by harnessing waste heat and fluids from both active and abandoned fields.

More than 200 professionals – ranging from members of the oil and gas service industry, to reservoir engineers, to geothermal energy entrepreneurs, to lawyers – are expected to attend “Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields.

Topics of discussion will include:

  • Power generation from flare gas
  • Power generation from waste-heat and geothermal fluids
  • Research updates on induced seismicity, as well as onshore and offshore thermal maturation
  • Play Fairway Analysis – a subsurface mapping technique used to identify prospective geothermal resources
  • Technology updates

SMU Geothermal Lab logoResearchers from the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences will present results from their Fall 2014 Eastern North American Margin Community Seismic Experiment (ENAM CSE) research. In addition, equipment such as one-well systems, desalination and other new technologies will be explored.

SMU has been at the forefront of geothermal energy research for more than 45 years, and the Geothermal Laboratory’s mapping of North American geothermal resources is considered the baseline for U.S. geothermal energy exploration. Geothermal Laboratory Coordinator Maria Richards and Emeritus Professor David Blackwell have seen interest in geothermal energy wax and wane with the price of oil and natural gas.

But Richards believes current low oil prices will drive more interest in geothermal development, encouraging oil and gas producers to use geothermal production from existing oil and gas fields as they try to keep them cost-effective for petroleum production at 2015 prices.

The technology that will be examined at the conference is relatively straightforward: Sedimentary basins drilled for oil and gas production leave behind reservoir pathways that can later be used for heat extraction. Fluids moving through those hot reservoir pathways capture heat, which at the surface can be turned into electricity, or used downhole to replace pumping needs. In addition, the existing surface equipment used in active oil and gas fields generates heat, which also can be tapped to produce electricity and mitigate the cost of production.

“Oil and gas drilling rig counts are down,” Richards said. “The industry has tightened its work force and honed its expertise. The opportunity to produce a new revenue stream during an economically challenging period, through the addition of relatively simple technology at the wellhead, may be the best chance we’ve had in years to gain operators’ attention.”

Featured speakers include Jim Wicklund, managing director for equity research at Credit Suisse, who will speak on “Volatile Economics in the Oil Field,” and Holly Thomas and Tim Reinhardt from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office.

STW Water Process & Technology, a water reclamation and oilfield services company, will have desalination equipment on-site for attendees to understand size and scaling capacity of water purification for oil field operators.

Registration is still open; walk-ups will be accepted. For more information, visit smu.edu/geothermal.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

Nine SMU faculty members retire with emeritus status in 2012-13

Nine distinguished faculty members, with more than 313 years of combined service to SMU, have retired or will retire with emeritus status during the 2012-13 academic year. Congratulations to the following professors:

• William Beauchamp, Professor Emeritus of French, Dedman College of Humanities (1974 to 2013)

• David Blackwell, Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities (1968 to 2013)

• Robert C. Davis, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (1967 to 2012)

• Margaret (Maggie) Dunham, Professor Emerita of Computer Science and Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering (1984 to 2013)

• Charles (Charley) Helfert, Professor Emeritus of Theatre, Meadows School of the Arts (1970 to 2013)

• Robin Lovin, Cary M. Maguire University Professor Emeritus in Ethics (1994 to 2013)

Bijan Mohraz, Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering (1974 to 2013)

 Laurence (Larry) Scholder, Professor Emeritus of Art, Meadows School of the Arts (1968 to 2012)

• Linda Brewster Stearns, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (2003 to 2013)

‘Unconventional geothermal’ a game changer for U.S. energy policy?

SMU-Google geothermal map of North AmericaSMU geothermal energy expert David Blackwell gave a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday, March 27, 2012, on the growing opportunities for geothermal energy production in the United States, calling “unconventional” geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. energy policy.

Blackwell’s presentation outlined the variety of techniques available for geothermal production of electricity, the accessibility of unconventional geothermal resources across vast portions of the United States and the opportunities for synergy with the oil and gas industry. Also speaking at the briefing were Karl Gawell, executive director of the geothermal energy association, and James Faulds, professor at the University of Nevada-Reno and director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

“This is a crucial time to do this briefing,” said Blackwell, W. B. Hamilton Professor of Geophysics in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and one of the nation’s foremost experts in geothermal mapping. “Everybody is worrying about energy right now.”

The session was one in a series of continuing Congressional briefings on the science and technology needed to achieve the nation’s energy goals, titled collectively, “The Road to the New Energy Economy.” The briefing was organized by the National Science Foundation, DISCOVER Magazine, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was honorary host for the March 27 briefing at the Senate Visitor’s Center, which included congressional staffers, members of science and engineering associations, government, private and industry representatives.

SMU’s geothermal energy research is at the forefront of the movement to expand geothermal energy production in the United States. Blackwell and Maria Richards, the SMU Geothermal Lab coordinator, released research in October that documents significant geothermal resources across the United States capable of producing more than three million megawatts of green power — 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today. Sophisticated mapping produced from the research, viewable via Google Earth, demonstrates that vast reserves of this green, renewable source of power generated from the Earth’s heat are realistically accessible using current technology.

Blackwell began his presentation by debunking the common misperception that geothermal energy is always dependent on hot fluids near the surface – as in the Geysers Field in California. New techniques are now available to produce electricity at much lower temperatures than occur in a geyser field, he said, and in areas without naturally occurring fluids. For example, enhanced geothermal energy systems (EGS) rely on injecting fluids to be heated by the earth into subsurface formations, sometimes created by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Blackwell noted the potential for synergy between geothermal energy production and the oil and gas industry, explaining that an area previously “fracked” for oil and gas production (creating an underground reservoir) is primed for the heating of fluids for geothermal energy production once the oil and gas plays out.

The SMU geothermal energy expert called these “unconventional” geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. Energy policy. Geothermal energy is a constant (baseload) source of power that does not change with weather conditions, as do solar and wind-powered energy sources. Blackwell noted that SMU’s mapping shows that unconventional geothermal resources “are almost everywhere.”

Blackwell closed his presentation with acknowledgment that site-specific studies and more demonstration projects are needed to make geothermal energy a strong partner in the new energy economy.

The briefing was taped and will be posted to the Science 360 website hosted by the National Science Foundation at a later date.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> More news from the SMU Research blog at smuresearch.com

Research Spotlight: Mapping confirms vast geothermal resources

Coast-to-coast U.S. geothermal map from the SMU Geothermal LaboratoryNew research from the SMU Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from Google.org, documents significant geothermal resources across the United States capable of producing more than three million megawatts of green power – 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today.

Sophisticated mapping produced from the research, viewable via Google Earth, demonstrates that vast reserves of this source of power are realistically accessible using current technology.

The results of the new research, from SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics David Blackwell and Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, confirm and refine locations for resources capable of supporting large-scale commercial geothermal energy production under a wide range of geologic conditions, including significant areas in the eastern two-thirds of the United States.

The estimated amounts and locations of heat stored in the Earth’s crust included in this study are based on nearly 35,000 data sites – approximately twice the number used for Blackwell and Richards’ 2004 Geothermal Map of North America, leading to improved detail and contouring at a regional level.

Based on the additional data, primarily drawn from oil and gas drilling, larger local variations can be seen in temperatures at depth, highlighting more detail for potential power sites than was previously evident in the eastern portion of the U.S. For example, eastern West Virginia has been identified as part of a larger Appalachian trend of higher heat flow and temperature.

Conventional U.S. geothermal production has been restricted largely to the western third of the country in geographically unique and tectonically active locations.

However, newer technologies and drilling methods can now be used to develop resources in a wider range of geologic conditions, allowing reliable production of clean energy at temperatures as low as 100˚C (212˚F) – and in regions not previously considered suitable for geothermal energy production. Preliminary data released from the SMU study in October 2010 revealed the existence of a geothermal resource under the state of West Virginia equivalent to the state’s existing (primarily coal-based) power supply.

“Once again, SMU continues its pioneering work in demonstrating the tremendous potential of geothermal resources,” said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association. “Both Google and the SMU researchers are fundamentally changing the way we look at how we can use the heat of the Earth to meet our energy needs, and by doing so are making significant contributions to enhancing our national security and environmental quality.”

“This assessment of geothermal potential will only improve with time,” said Blackwell. “Our study assumes that we tap only a small fraction of the available stored heat in the Earth’s crust, and our capabilities to capture that heat are expected to grow substantially as we improve upon the energy conversion and exploitation factors through technological advances and improved techniques.”

Blackwell is scheduled to release a paper with details of the results of the research to the Geothermal Resources Council in October 2011.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> Get the full story from the SMU Research blog
> Watch a Google.org video on Enhanced Geothermal Systems video

Research Spotlight: West Virginia a hotbed of geothermal energy

wv-image-03-press-release.jpgNew research produced by SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from Google.org, suggests that the temperature of the Earth beneath the state of West Virginia is significantly higher than previously estimated and capable of supporting commercial baseload geothermal energy production.

Geothermal energy is the use of the Earth’s heat to produce heat and electricity. “Geothermal is an extremely reliable form of energy, and it generates power 24/7, which makes it a baseload source like coal or nuclear,” said David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geophysics in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and Director of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory has increased its estimate of West Virginia’s geothermal generation potential to 18,890 megawatts, assuming a conservative 2 percent thermal recovery rate. The new estimate represents a 75 percent increase over estimates in MIT’s 2006 “The Future of Geothermal Energy” report and exceeds the state’s total current generating capacity, primarily coal based, of 16,350 megawatts.

The West Virginia discovery is the result of new detailed mapping and interpretation of temperature data derived from oil, gas, and thermal gradient wells – part of an ongoing project to update the Geothermal Map of North America that Blackwell produced with colleague Maria Richards in 2004. Temperatures below the earth almost always increase with depth, but the rate of increase (the thermal gradient) varies due to factors such as the thermal properties of the rock formations.

“By adding 1,455 new thermal data points from oil, gas, and water wells to our geologic model of West Virginia, we’ve discovered significantly more heat than previously thought,” Blackwell said. “The existing oil and gas fields in West Virginia provide a geological guide that could help reduce uncertainties associated with geothermal exploration and also present an opportunity for co-producing geothermal electricity from hot waste fluids generated by existing oil and gas wells.”

The team’s work may also shed light on other similar geothermal resources. “We now know that two zones of Appalachian age structures are hot – West Virginia and a large zone covering the intersection of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana known as the Ouachita Mountain region,” said Blackwell. “Right now we don’t have the data to fill in the area in between,” Blackwell continued, “but it’s possible we could see similar results over an even larger area.”

Blackwell thinks the finding opens exciting possibilities for the region. “The proximity of West Virginia’s large geothermal resource to east coast population centers has the potential to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce CO2 emissions, and develop high paying clean energy jobs in West Virginia,” he said.

SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory conducted this research through funding provided by Google.org’s RE<C initiative, which is dedicated to using the power of information and innovation to advance breakthrough technologies in clean energy.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: SMU receives $5.25 million for geothermal data project

Geothermal map of North AmericaThe Geothermal Laboratory at SMU has been awarded $5.25 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to help provide data for the planned National Geothermal Database.

The grant allocation is part of $338 million in Recovery Act funding that was announced Oct. 29 by DOE Secretary Steven Chu. The funding is intended to help dramatically expand geothermal production in the United States.

Principal investigators are SMU’s David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geothermal Studies, and Fabian Moerchen of Siemens Corporate Research. The project team also includes Jefferson Tester, the Kroll Professor of Chemical Engineering at Cornell University; William Gosnold, chair of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of North Dakota; Seiichi Nagihara, associate professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University; John Veil, manager of the Water Policy Program at the Argonne National Laboratory and Martin Kay, president of MLKay Technology LLC.

“The primary benefit of this project is that it will support developers of geothermal power plants by decreasing the costs of the resource identification and the risks inherent in the exploration phase,” Blackwell said. “The project will rescue important data from deterioration or complete loss and provide a set of tools to be used by other parties to submit data to the NGDS.”

The SMU Geothermal Lab is hosting its annual conference, “Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil & Gas Development,” Nov. 3-4 on the Dallas campus. Registration is available at the door. Find more information at the conference web site.

Read more from the SMU Research blog

For the Record: Oct. 22, 2009

David Blackwell, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College, received the 2009 Joseph W. Aidlin Award at the Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) annual meeting in early October. The GRC, the primary professional educational association for the international geothermal community, gives the Aidlin Award each year for “outstanding contributions to the development of geothermal energy.” Blackwell’s mapping of North American geothermal resources, and his research into using hot wastewater produced from oil and gas wells as a source of electricity, have dramatically expanded the potential for global geothermal energy production.

For the Record: Summer 2009

Linda Eads, Dedman School of Law, received the 2009 Lola Wright Foundation Award from the Texas Bar Foundation in June, which included $5,000 to donate to the charity of her choice. The award recognizes “outstanding public service in advancing and enhancing legal ethics in Texas.” Past recipients include Berry Crowley, James Holmes III, Lloyd P. Lochridge, Jim Sales, Louise Raggio, Guy Harrison, Richard C. Hile, Justice Douglas S. Lan and Scott J. Atlas.

John Attanasio, Dean, Dedman School of Law, participated in a panel of law deans moderated by ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack at the 2009 State Bar of Texas annual meeting June 25-26 in Dallas. Other speakers at this year’s meeting included historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former FBI director William S. Sessions, Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Anthony Cortese, Sociology, Dedman College, served as a panelist to evaluate proposals in sociology, anthropology, American studies, ethnic studies and psychology for the 2009 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships competition in Washington, D.C. He also served as commentator in a special session, “Racial Minorities in Popular Media,” at the annual meetings of the Association of Black Sociologists in New Orleans. In addition, he presented “Affirmative Action: Who’s Benefitting from it and Why” at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association Aug. 8-11 in San Francisco.

Mary Vernon, Art, Meadows School of the Arts, will present a solo exhibition, Mary Vernon: Still Lifes and Tables, Aug. 28-Sept. 26, 2009, at the Valley House Gallery in Dallas. The show features work inspired by her recent trip to China.

Kamal Saggi, Economics, Dedman College, gave a keynote speech at the Valuing International Trade Rules Conference June 17-19, 2009, near Zurich, Switzerland. The conference was organized by the Swiss National Science Foundation and The World Bank. In addition, he was an invited discussant in the American Law Institute World Trade Organization Case Law Project, which met June 8 at the WTO in Geneva.

Members of SMU's student AAPG chapterSMU finished 10th nationally and first in Texas in the Excellence in Management Cup presented by Texas A&M’s Laboratory for the Study of Intercollegiate Athletics. The Cup determines which athletic departments win the most conference and national championships while having the lowest expenses. SMU won five conference championships in 2008-09, including cross country, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis and women’s basketball. Read more.

SMU’s student chapter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has received the national organization’s highest honor: the Domestic Student Chapter of the Year. The recognition includes a $1,000 scholarship from oil and gas industry supplier Schlumberger. SMU’s was the first AAPG student chapter in the nation; Hamilton Chair in Earth Sciences David Blackwell, Dedman College, is its faculty sponsor. Read more. (Left, student chapter members Jason Bell, Andrés Ruzo and Philip Klintmalm at a Barnett Shale drilling site.)

SMU researcher among experts at Geothermal Showcase in D.C.

Maria Richards and David BlackwellMaria Richards, coordinator of SMU’s Geothermal Lab, was among the industry leaders and experts presenting a Geothermal Showcase at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on May 6.

Participants virtually visited some of the leading geothermal energy development projects in the United States and heard from companies at the forefront of geothermal power growth. A panel of leading geothermal scientists discussed how geothermal resources can contribute to the world’s energy needs.

When most people think of geothermal energy, they usually think of extremely high heat, such as geysers. But the Geothermal Map of North America produced by Richards and Professor David Blackwell for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 2004 revealed locations all over the United States where subsurface temperatures are high enough to drive small, binary power plants and generate electricity. Blackwell and Richards are members of the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College.

This kind of power plant is similar to an air conditioning unit run backwards, using heat to generate electricity. The hot water that runs through one chamber in the pump heats fluid with a lower boiling point in an adjacent chamber, which expands into high-pressure vapor and drives a turbine.

Deep drilling through hard rock is expensive, which is one reason traditional geothermal energy development has lagged behind green technologies like wind and solar power. But Blackwell’s mapping has proven that many existing oil and gas wells in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and some mid-continent states reach shallower depths where temperatures still range from 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit – hot enough for a binary power plant to do its job.

The Geothermal Showcase was sponsored by the Geothermal Energy Association along with Ormat, Enel North America, and Pratt and Whitney Power Systems.

(Above, Maria Richards and David Blackwell of SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.)

Read more from SMU News

Faculty in the News: Winter Break 2008-09

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College, provided expertise for several political stories, including:

  • how Republicans in Congress may be playing a high-risk game by snubbing Barack Obama, who has publicly sought their support, in Forbes magazine, Jan. 29, 2009
  • how a new bill that would boost health care coverage for children would cost and benefit Texans, in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jan. 15, 2009
  • the continuing influence of West Texas in the state legislature as Tom Craddick is replaced as speaker, in The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Jan. 3, 2009
  • Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama, and the Illinois governor’s scandal, in The Washington Examiner, Dec. 28, 2008

Dennis Simon, Political Science, Dedman College, talked about the challenges Barack Obama will face as president, including the challenge of expectations, with The Austin American-Statesman Jan. 18, 2009.

Kathleen Cooper, Tower Center for Political Studies, Dedman College, discussed how Texas will be affected as investments based on high oil prices fall on hard times in an op-ed published in The Houston Chronicle, Jan. 10, 2009.

Robin Lovin, Maguire University Professor of Ethics, discussed whether there is a place for “divine certainty” in the White House in The Dallas Morning News‘ Texas Faith blog Jan. 27, 2009. He also wrote about President Obama and the nature of historical moments for National Public Radio website Jan. 21, 2009.

SMU Theology Dean William LawrenceWilliam Lawrence, Dean, Perkins School of Theology, talked about the often unusual relationship between presidents and preachers in a commentary on 90.1 KERA-FM Radio Jan. 16, 2009 (listen online or download) audio. He also discussed “firsts and lasts” in American political discourse in a KERA commentary broadcast on Dec. 19, 2008 (listen online or download) audio.

Mike Davis, Finance, Cox School of Business, discussed why most individuals have zero comprehension of $1 trillion, and how to make the amount easier to understand, with The Dallas Morning News Jan. 29, 2009.

Ravi Batra, Economics, Dedman College, discussed the current state of the country and its economy in a feature profile published in The Fort Worth Weekly Dec. 16, 2008.

Karen Thomas, Journalism, Meadows School of the Arts, wrote about the changes already begun because of President Obama in an article published in The Dallas Morning News Jan. 20, 2009.

Tony Pederson, Journalism, Meadows School of the Arts, provided expertise for a Jan. 4, 2009 Associated Press article on how former competitors in the news business are forging content-sharing deals to mitigate staff cuts and other losses. The article ran in several newspapers in early January, including The Chicago Tribune.

Dan Howard, Marketing, Cox School of Business, talked about Amway’s effort to revive its own brand with The Houston Chronicle Dec. 25, 2008.

SMU Education Dean David ChardDavid Chard, Dean, Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, wrote an op-ed about the banning of the book ttyl by the Round Rock (TX) Independent School District. The opinion piece was published in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram Jan. 13, 2009.

Hal Barkley, Counseling, Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, talked about how to cope with families and stress during the holidays with The Dallas Morning News Dec. 22, 2008.

Al Armendariz, Environmental and Civil Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering, discussed potential hazards in Houston’s air with The Houston Chronicle Jan. 12, 2009.

David Blackwell, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College, discussed how power from underground “hot rocks” could become the “killer app” of the energy industry with The Christian Science Monitor Dec. 31, 2008.

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