Voices from the University of Texas labs

Science & technology

These are some of the projects taking shape in the labs of the University of Texas at Austin, where a select group of students is working on potential energy solutions of tomorrow.

The students, more formally known as University of Texas Energy Institute Emerging Technology Fellows, are supported by ExxonMobil and are looking to solve big energy challenges, including how to provide more energy with fewer emissions. The fellows program provides research funding and an external industrial perspective through the involvement of mentors, many of whom work in ExxonMobil’s R&D labs.

After they graduate, fellows pass the baton to the next generation of aspiring energy scientists, ensuring a continuous supply of fresh thinking.

Here are five fellows who are leading the next generation of university research.

A new class of researchers

Meet the UT Energy Institute Emerging Technology Fellows. These graduate students each have a hand in progressing the world's energy transition with the support of ExxonMobil. Listen to five current and former fellows explain how their work is transforming our energy future.

Palash is working on freezing CO2 by trapping carbon dioxide in blocks of ice-like structures, called hydrates, for long-term storage. His research focuses on creating hydrates that freeze more quickly and efficiently than ever while capturing CO2. This technology could one day be a part of the carbon capture portfolio.

I'm working on carbon dioxide sequestration, which is essentially trying to store CO2 in the form of hydrate blocks. Usually when you work on doctoral research, it's very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you're working in a lab. Science is all that excites you, but it's always good to have a roadmap, which is what Exxon has provided us with. A platform and a roadmap, to be more specific. So that way you know that what you're working on is trying to solve a bigger problem.

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Emily, a recent UT graduate, identified reservoirs that are suitable for CO2 storage. After identifying those reservoirs, she developed pathways to efficiently flow carbon dioxide into them.

I was studying how to store carbon dioxide that would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere. So, trapping it before it's released and pumping it underground. The best part about being a fellow was working with both my advisors and researchers here at UT, but also getting the input from the researchers at ExxonMobil. Getting their perspective and the business lens behind it was really valuable for me as a student.

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Focusing on the Texas energy grid, Sam explores the effect renewables have on grid stability. He's expanding knowledge of energy infrastructure by working with both researchers and grid operators to support a reliable transition to lower-emission power.

I think that climate change is one of the existential crises that we face today. And I think that an important part of addressing that crisis is integrating more clean energy technologies onto our grid. So, I hope that my research can help navigate that challenge. And I think it's really important that we pursue the integration of renewable energy in a smart and thoughtful way.

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Prasanna's research explores large- and small-scale carbon capture and storage. Specifically, he builds physical reservoir models that use 3D printed rocks to mimic the movement of CO2 inside the earth. He works with other engineers and geologists to apply his findings to actual sites.

I trained as a chemical engineer during my undergrad, and right around that time the IPCC report came in, which was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which said that CCS would be essential in order for us to meet any of these climate change goals. And that was definitely a very defining moment for me in terms of deciding what I want to do. After that, I sort of pivoted from what I was doing as a chemical engineer and moved to subsurface engineering, so that I can work on this problem.

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Jenny is a recent UT grad. As a fellow, she developed geomechanical models to answer questions like how much carbon dioxide reservoirs can hold and how best to inject CO2.

My research is really important because the idea of carbon storage exists, but there is also a lot of uncertainty in a reservoir. It's thousands and thousands of feet underground. There is no way for us to actually just take a look at it. So, we need models that accurately portray what the reservoir is really going to behave like. It's definitely groundbreaking work. Nobody's done this before. And the feeling of making a change, a feeling of leaving behind a legacy, was probably the most exciting part of doing this project.

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