Predictive Modeling of Fracture and Pore Networks

Project Background

Dr. John Lane and Dr. Fred Day-Lewis of the United States Geological Survey approached the MET² program through professor Mark Vesligaj about creating an advanced model of fracture networks using 3D printing technology, a relatively new tool to the field of geology. The results of the experiments with the project deliverables will help to verify computational and numerical flow simulation methods used by geologists.  Since all previous verification's were done against real earth-samples with unknown flow paths, having a known system of flow paths greatly increases the accuracy to which scientists can verify the models. Learning about ground flow is important for extracting natural resources and controlling contaminant spread.

For the team, research into geology, materials, computer aided design and simulation, and technology needed to be conducted to provide a more advanced model of fracture networks.  The team knew that we would have access to College of Technology resources, in particular, machine shops.  Last year the team obtained proficiency in SolidWorks and OpenSCAD, the former used for tank design, and the latter used for geological design, due to its aptitude for randomization and efficiency by way of nested iterations.  Material improvements to be made this year were to get a more transparent material and hopefully a stronger one, more resistant to the warping experienced last year. 

As far as geology, nothing relevant to the project had changed since last year, except that this year, the USGS wanted us to try to simulate pore networks as well as fracture networks.  Therefore, some research into the new geometries we would be working with had to be conducted.  A problem that was foreseen with pore networks is that they are of a smaller scale than fracture networks, which would require a greater degree of precision than was necessarily in our control. Other additions the USGS tasked us with were to include electrode ports, extended reservoirs, and to remove dead ends in the flow paths.

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The Mechanical Engineering Technology & Manufacturing Engineering Technologies (MET²) is supported by the NSF ATE Program Grant, award number 1400610. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.