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Wayne State University researcher's calculations will help unlock new energy sources

Wayne State University - Office of the Vice President for Research

DETROIT -- A Wayne State University researcher is part of a national project to find accessible sources of natural gas.

Jaewon Jang, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, recently received a two-year, $178,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to aid in the search for methane hydrates in oceans and permafrost, such as the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's North Slope.

Methane hydrates are three-dimensional ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside, and are found both onshore and offshore -- including under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world.

The DOE effort, which includes 14 projects in 11 states, builds on the completion of what officials called a "successful, unprecedented test" earlier this year that was able to safely extract a steady flow of natural gas from methane hydrates on the North Slope. Department officials believe methane hydrates are an untapped resource holding great potential for economic and energy security.

Jang's project, "Verification of Capillary Pressure Functions and Relative Permeability Equations for Modeling Gas Production from Gas Hydrates," will try to obtain reliable parameters for equations that can be used by computer simulation programs to provide reliable information on how fast or how much methane is recovered.

Finding those parameters will direct extractors to the best locations, maximizing gas yields and minimizing costs.

Jang said many in the industry might not be inclined to pursue methane hydrates as an energy source right now because of the large quantities of shale gas currently available and its resultant low prices. But because those quantities are the result of research money invested by the DOE in the 1970s and 1980s to develop production methods, he believes that bodes well for the future of the current effort.

"Thanks to those investments, we now have a large amount of shale gas," Jang said. "The total is about $5.6 million for these 14 projects, which is not big money, but could prove to be worth much more in the next couple of decades -- or even hundreds of years."


The Department of Energy award number for this grant is DE-FE0009927.

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit

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