Cockrell School of Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin


Associate Professor Matt Balhoff joined the UT PGE Department over a decade ago after graduating with a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Louisiana State University. Since then, he has become a rising star in the petroleum engineering field of enhanced oil recovery - an important discipline for improving oil and gas recovery rates, making the process more efficient. Balhoff shares his latest innovations and challenges as well as the benefits of cross-disciplinary research.

1/ From a 30,000 foot view, what are the latest advances you have discovered on the enhanced oil recovery front?

We have demonstrated in laboratory coreflood experiments that we can reduce the residual, final oil saturation to less than seven percent in water wet rocks using only polymers (compared to over 30 percent) from a waterflood. These types of recoveries have only been previously observed when surfactants were used. The polymer flooding is found to be most successful when they are viscoelastic, having properties of both a viscous liquid and an elastic solid. We are now performing experiments using glass microfluidic chips and micromodels, which are 2D porous media that can be used to visualize flow behavior.

2/ You collaborate with several faculty members, who work within diversified areas of oil and gas in UT PGE. How do those partnerships help you to be successful?

Yes, I have collaborated with almost every faculty member in UT PGE in some capacity. Working with so many experts in our field has enabled me to come up with innovative ideas, and apply them to new applications. This work is a direct result of my collaborations with Dr. Gary Pope, who is an expert in chemical enhanced oil recovery. I have also worked with Dr. Carlos Torres-Verdin on microfluidics and nanofluidics and I am now applying these tools to other problems, like polymer flooding.

matt website photo

Associate Professor Matt Balhoff

3/ What papers have you recently published on this topic?

We have two recent papers in the SPE Journal on the subjects of polymer flooding and reduction of residual oil. In the polymer flooding paper, we first demonstrated that viscoelastic polymers significantly improved oil recovery. Moreover, we used a medical CT scanner to show that the additional oil is truly residual, and the recovery is correlated with the amount of elasticity of the polymer. In the second paper, we showed that residual oil saturation could be increased even further by simply increasing the salinity of the polymer solution.

4/ What big challenges are you looking to tackle over the next year?

The observations of low residual oil saturation from polymer flooding are surprising, exciting, and potentially transformative. Part of the challenge will be optimization by performing more experiments. The main challenge will be explaining the fundamental mechanisms of why it works, so real optimization can be performed. The solution to the problem will require more experiments in our micromodels and modeling at the pore scale.

UT PGE students swept the 2018 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Southwest Regional Paper Contest. The competition, held at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge on Feb 22, hosted 13 undergraduate and graduate students in the Southwest region.

Paper contest participants presented their innovative findings from a research project or internship to judges, who are experts in the oil and gas field. The students were critiqued on the following three areas: subject matter, delivery and clarity of communication.

In addition to placing in the top spot in all three divisions (B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.), UT PGE students also placed second in two divisions:

B.S. Division

  • 1st – Jack Trueblood (only first place was awarded)

M.S. Division

  • 1st – Jenny Ryu
  • 2nd – Yusuf Nasir

Ph.D. Division

  • 1st – Mahmoud Shakiba  
  • 2nd – Mohsen Babazadeh

The top place finishers in each category will travel to Dallas, Texas this Sept. 24-26 to compete in the international paper contest at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE). UT PGE students will go up against the impressive qualifiers from the other 14 regional divisions. This is the seventh consecutive year at least one UT PGE student won the regional competition and went to the international contest.

UT PGE students also participated in the regional PetroBowl – a fast-paced quiz competition. The team placed third, qualifying them for SPE ATCE, where they will go head-to-head against schools from around the globe.


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The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) is awarding five UT PGE professors with six SPE International awards – the most of any year in department history. Professor Mukul Sharma won the John Franklin Carll award, which recognizes distinguished contributions in the application of engineering principles to petroleum development and recovery.

Associate professor Quoc Nguyen is taking home two awards. The Lester C Uren award, which recognizes engineers under 45 who have made a significant impact on the technology of petroleum engineering, and the Distinguished Member award, which acknowledges members who have attained eminence in the petroleum industry or the academic community, or who have made significant contributions to SPE.

Professor Eric van Oort won the Drilling Engineering award for his outstanding achievement and contributions to the advancement of petroleum engineering in the area of drilling. Assistant professor Zoya Heidari, and her former graduate student, received The Cedric K. Ferguson Medal for the best SPE paper among members younger than 36. Associate professor Matt Balhoff also earned the Distinguished Member award.

The faculty will receive the awards during SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE), Oct. 9-11, in San Antonio.