Chen, Dr. Zhangxing (John)

2012 Winner: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Technology

Researcher Solves Challenges, Enhances Oil Recovery

Dr. Zhangxing (John) Chen has made a career of shaking up the modern reservoir simulation world with his innovative modelling and simulation techniques. His inventions —and his acumen in commercializing them — are dramatically improving efficiencies in oil recovery process.

Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Calgary, Dr. Chen is the most advanced researcher in petroleum reservoir modelling and simulation in Canada and is a global leader in the field. He was named by Oilsands Review (February 2009) as one of the three most prominent researchers in reservoir simulation in the world.

Science Impact

Dr. Chen is building fundamental theories about enhancing oil recovery, both economically and environmentally; and developing algorithms to enhance understanding of the physics of the reservoir. His work is also having a wider impact.

“From the science perspective, the basic concepts, ideas and knowledge I have created advance science and help the petroleum industry,” he says. “From the technology perspective, my inventions and achievements help the economy because they lead to more job growth.”

The state-of-the-art reservoir simulation toolkits Dr. Chen has created allow for multiple parallel runs, faster computation and rigorous optimization. The numerical techniques he has developed are faster and have greater accuracy than what had been available in the past. His advancements in simulation have improved workflow, including risk and uncertainty analysis — and in turn, have provided significant savings in capital costs for all of the involved Alberta oil companies.

Fostering Relationships

Because of his diligence, research brilliance and commitment to the industry, Dr. Chen has forged strong relationships in the science, energy and technology sectors. It is this connection that has provided support for his ongoing research. His industrial partners contributed more than $12 million to his lab over five years.

In the lab, Dr. Chen’s research requires a cross-disciplinary understanding of geology, multidimensional modeling, scientific computing, reservoir stimulation and petroleum engineering with a focus on economics. His current research team includes four postdoctoral fellows and 38 graduate students who will be in demand by industry teams to work on the complex aspects of play development.

In the face of all of his accomplishments, it is his role as educator for the last 30 years that makes Dr. Chen proudest.

“I have supervised nearly 80 MSc and PhD graduate students in the past 25 years,” he says adding, “Many students want supervision and it is difficult to decline them.” They work side by side on research projects; and he often develops long-term relationships with them and follows their success. “All my students are working around the world and making their own important contributions to society.”

Commercialization has started for the technology and the market looks promising. Dr. Chen’s research will have a significant impact on petroleum operating strategies, profitability decision-making, reservoir management, and the evaluation and design of novel production processes.

“A lot of problems still exist with petroleum reservoir simulators today. The speed, robustness, accuracy, stability, capacity and data resolution are less than they could be,” Dr. Chen explains. “I hope to solve some of these challenging problems in the near future and design the fastest and most accurate petroleum reservoir simulator in the world.”