The Collaborative Energy Complex: Research and Partnerships

The University of North Dakota's impressive Collaborative Energy Complex serves to connect the oil and gas industry to research partners and future employees.
By The Bakken magazine staff | February 11, 2014

The University of North Dakota’s Collaborative Energy Complex is the most impressive facility in the state capable of connecting the oil and gas industry to petroleum research partners and future employees. The CEC, however, doesn’t exist yet. With private donations from alumni, companies and the oil industry itself, the facility is on track to the $10 million required to build and outfit the 30,000-square-foot complex. Dan Muus, director of development for the College of Engineering & Mines, is one of several from the University who is working to make the facility a reality. Muus has worked with private industry to explain the merits of the CEC, and with several million already raised and several other interested oil industry partners in talks with Muus, the CEC will soon be more than a dream.

“The College of Engineering & Mines should be working on big things,” says Hesham El-Rewini, dean of the college. “If you look at the U.S. in the past 10 years, people are concerned about energy and jobs. We can address both.”

According to El-Rewini, North Dakota’s oil industry hopes he’s right. The industry has created a massive demand for petroleum engineering students. El-Rewini helped supply those students by forming the Department of Petroleum Engineering and staffing it with several oil industry veterans and researchers. The Department of Petroleum Engineering started out with only four students, but has since grown to well over 200. “Our research expenditures from external companies has also doubled. We have increased our faculty by 25 percent.”

The CEC, a project the dean calls the most important in the state due to its relevance and potential for supplying the Williston Basin with state-based research and employees, is the next step in the incredible growth of the College of Engineering & Mines. The name of the facility was a factor in the vision for the work to be done. “We will have a wing in the facility where faculty members from all of UND can work to address issues above and below ground. Producing technology is meaningless unless we have an understanding of its impact,” he says.

Industry partners will have access to the students and the research work by those of Steve Benson, chair of the Department of Petroleum Engineering and his staff. As Benson would say, the industry is driving the research efforts that he formulates for his students.

“Our ability to provide the oil industry with graduates and interns is crucial,” El-Rewini says. In addition to housing Benson’s students and staff, the facility will also be home to the newly created Institute of Energy Studies. The newly formed entity will help the public, including royalty owners, and private industry, including those not well-versed in the technical side of the industry, learn more of the industry. A two-day short course has been designed to explain everything from exploration and production processes to enhanced oil recovery.

“We are here to help the industry and provide them with the best students,” El-Rewini says. For the oil industry, the CEC could truly become a dream facility. The CEC willprovide access to the HaroldHamm Virtual Core Library, and provide future experts to an industry the dean says is overcrowded with baby boomers. And it will turn the term collaboration into innovation.That is the dean’s message and Muus’ too. Someday soon that message will come to fruition. “When we say collaborative, we really mean it,” El-Rewini says. “Contact us.”