The Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL) is MIT’s home for research and education focused on sub-surface energy resources and environmental issues. Through integration across traditional academic disciplines and across department and school boundaries, ERL aims to address complex questions of modern (upstream) hydrocarbon industry and produce tomorrow’s industry leaders. As one of several independent research labs focusing on a broad range of energy topics across the MIT campus, ERL works closely together with the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI).
Integrated Reservoir Science: ERL develops methodologies for cutting edge studies of Reservoir Structure, Geological Materials, Fluid Flow, and Reservoir Monitoring. This involves geophysical imaging, multiphase flow, remote sensing (GPS, InSAR), geomechanical and flow modeling, microseismics and stress estimation, borehole science, rock physics and chemistry, and data assimilation. This expertise is used in a concerted effort to advance a holistic understanding of reservoirs with the ultimate aim to improve the production or resources or the safe sequestration of waste material in an environmentally responsible fashion. The Focus Areas include fractured reservoirs, reservoir monitoring, borehole science, geothermal energy, carbon sequestration, and near-surface environmental geophysics.
Changes over time: ERL was founded in 1982 by Professor M. Nafi Toksöz, who was the director until 1999. During this period the Lab, which was then housed in E34, focused on reservoir characterization and borehole science and was funded through a Founding Member and a Borehole Consortium. During Professor John Grotzinger’s directorship, from 2000-2003, ERL began expanding its expertise by engaging more faculty from the departments of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and Mathematics, a trend that has continued under Professor Robert van der Hilst’s leadership (2004-present). In 2008, ERL joined the main geophysics and geology programs in the Green building (building 54), a move that inspired broad participation from EAPS faculty and which improved the exposure of ERL students to a broader spectrum of the Earth Sciences and introduced other EAPS students to the challenging problems of today’s subsurface energy research. In 2008 the Borehole Consortium was discontinued and its activities merged with the general research scope within a single Founding Member Consortium.
Since 1982, ERL has produced more than 100 students, most of whom now fulfill leadership positions in energy companies and federal agencies, both in the United States and abroad.
In 2011, ERL has a staff of about 60 (faculty, research scientists, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students) in the departments of EAPS, CEE, and Mathematics. In addition, visiting faculty and researchers from universities and industry frequently participate in ERL research and educational activities. ERL has access to large scale computational resources and houses experimental facilities for ultrasonics, rock physics, and fluid flow.
Support: ERL’s research is supported through the Founding Member Consortium, specific sponsored research projects with individual companies, grants from federal agencies (such as the US National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy), and MIT (through academic salary of its faculty and the use of facilities and space).