TAMEST Member Profile: Ganesh C. Thakur, Ph.D. (NAE), University of Houston
TAMEST Board Treasurer Ganesh C. Thakur, Ph.D. (NAE), University of Houston, has always been passionate about utilizing his skills and knowledge to provide more affordable, cleaner energy to enhance our world.
Dr. Thakur spent nearly four decades of his career at Chevron. He helped to pioneer carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and focused on reservoir engineering and simulation, secondary recovery, reservoir and well productivity improvement and more.
After his retirement and election to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 2016, Dr. Thakur transitioned to a new academic leadership role at University of Houston as part of the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI). He says the move enabled him to continue his research interests and mentor the next generation of engineers while also helping to build a bridge between academia and the private sector.
Dr. Thakur is currently a Distinguished Professor of Petroleum Engineering and Director of Energy Industry Partnerships at University of Houston. He also serves as Chevron Fellow Emeritus, has published over 100 journal articles and conference papers, and holds five patents.
TAMEST connected with Dr. Thakur to hear more about his groundbreaking research and why he donates his time and expertise to TAMEST’s mission.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
First and foremost, I am a husband, a father, and a grandfather. My wife, Pushpa, and I have been married for over 52 years. She has been always supportive of my professional career. She has a degree in finance and worked for several years as a financial analyst. Most importantly, she helped tremendously in raising our three wonderful daughters. We also have a granddaughter, and we are very proud of our children and grandchild.
Our children live in California – the first has an Ed.D. and M.P.H. and works in academia, the second has a J.D. and M.B.A. and works in digital marketing, and the third has an M.B.A. and works in the communications and entertainment industry.
Tell us about your research and professional trajectory.
I work as a Distinguished Professor of Petroleum Engineering and Director of Energy Industry Partnerships at the University of Houston. I have been in this position since 2016, leading research with significant contributions in the field of integrated petroleum reservoir management, enhanced oil recovery, unconventional resources, CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) and CCUS. With increasing emphasis on green-house gases, CCS and CCUS play an important role to establish low carbon technology.
My expertise covers both theoretical and practical aspects of these fields. I have worked in the industry for over 40 years (37 years with Chevron, most recently as Vice President of reservoir management technology prior to retirement).
I was fortunate to design and implement major capital projects involving billions of dollars of investments and worked on complex projects around the world. These projects continue to have tremendous business impacts, involving hundreds of millions of barrels of oil reserves and production, and hundreds of thousands of oil production per day. I have published over 100 technical and management articles and patents, and authored three books, two of which serve as textbooks in many universities.
Talk about the importance of your work pioneering carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).
We should keep the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” in mind with a warning that unless CO2 emissions are halved by 2030, drastic changes will occur in the ocean and on land. We must take a double-pronged approach: 1) deploy existing and commercially proven technologies, like solar, wind and nuclear; and 2) develop innovative technologies to reduce CO2 emissions.
Nations with large energy demand (e.g. US, India, China) can especially benefit from this technology to support its environmental and energy self-reliance goals. With financial incentives to capture carbon, operators are venturing into CO2 EOR and storage projects. CO2 injection is a well-documented method for improving hydrocarbon production rates and increasing recovery factors. Considering climate concerns, there has been a push to utilize CO2 injection for the dual objectives of enhancing oil recovery and carbon storage.
Despite the proliferation of CCUS related literature, practical considerations related to reservoir management are rarely addressed. Intelligent Reservoir Management (RM) of a field yields an understanding of key physical mechanisms that govern oil recovery and CO2 storage. A well-managed reservoir is better prepared to benefit from CO2 injection for the synergistic objectives of oil recovery and carbon storage. Our research focuses on underexplored areas in CCUS and on carbon storage as a real solution to GHG (Green House Gas) emissions.
You came to the University of Houston after almost four decades of industry experience with Chevron. What made you decide to transition into academia?
This transition was motivated by my passion for teaching. I come from a teaching family – both of my grandfathers were high school teachers in India – and I had seen first-hand how effective they were in educating the students that they mentored. Many of these students felt that my grandfathers had influenced their lives in a very positive way.
Right after graduating with my Ph.D. in petroleum and natural gas engineering in 1973 from Pennsylvania State University, I received a variety of opportunities to work in the industry and began my career with a startup mathematical modeling and simulation company in Denver. Then, I became intimately interested in scientific and business aspects of the oil and gas business. Before I knew it, more than 40 years passed by without even realizing it!
Chevron provided me with amazing opportunities to work on some of the most complex projects around the world and I was lucky to make major impacts for the company. After retirement and after election to the NAE in 2016, I decided to transition into academia and follow my lifelong passion for teaching that I could not fulfill earlier.
I was thankful for the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI) grant, which started me on solid footing with my research at University of Houston (UH). In addition, I was lucky to have industry research grants two months after my arrival at UH. Transitioning from industry to academia has been very rewarding, as I enjoy sharing not only my scientific knowledge, but also my 43 years of industry experience with my students. They benefit from this sharing, and their successes motivate me even further.
You currently direct the UH Energy Industrial Partnerships. Talk about why it is important to connect academia with industry and vice versa.
I believe collaboration between industry and academia goes like “hand and glove” and is key to nurturing informed innovation and growing technology with a high chance of success.
University partnerships with industry have expedited the availability of innovative drugs, medical technologies and vaccines, particularly in the last few years. These collaborations not only bring public health benefits, but also funding for academic research. At Chevron, I saw first-hand how university-industry collaborations stimulated the company’s internal research and development programs.
University researchers helped industrial technologists identify research that were useful for the design and development of innovative ideas, products and processes, e.g., in the development of deep water and unconventional (or low permeability) oil and gas resources. I believe these partnerships produce groundbreaking research and innovation that solve complex industrial problems, drive economic growth and create a more skilled workforce.
What makes you most passionate about your work?
What I feel the most passionate about is that I can use my skills and knowledge to provide more affordable cleaner energy to help our society and the world.
Energy security is essential for us. Electricity alone does not end poverty, but we cannot end poverty without electricity. The world needs sustainable, reliable, and cost-effective energy sources, while also addressing environmental concerns. It has to be energy and a safe environment together, not an either/or option.
You currently serve on our Board of Directors and volunteer your time as TAMEST Treasurer on our Executive Committee. Why do you volunteer your time and expertise to TAMEST’s mission?
I am proud of my service to TAMEST. I have served for two years on the Finance Committee, two years as the Treasurer-elect, and now serve as the Treasurer.
I sincerely believe in the goals of TAMEST to bring together the state’s best and brightest minds in medicine, engineering, science and technology to foster collaboration, and to advance research, innovation and business in Texas.
TAMEST has a unique interdisciplinary model and is an effective recruitment tool for top research and development centers across Texas. Because of these reasons, I feel passionate about TAMEST and want to continue to volunteer my time and expertise.
What would you tell other TAMEST Members who are thinking of donating to our annual fund this year?
TAMEST is a great organization representing a collection of scientists and engineers.
It is a scientific and biomedical intellectual engine for the state of Texas, representing space, medicine, research, engineering, energy, and a variety of sciences. It represents scientists from diverse institutes, collaborating with each other for the benefits of public good and business.
By donating to our annual fund, we nurture these programs to continue to move forward and thus benefit our state of Texas, the nation and the world. I make both contributions of service and also play an active role in monetary donations because of my commitment to the TAMEST mission.
Why do you live and work in Texas?
My wife and I believe Texas is a good place to live. We first moved here in 1977, after living in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Oklahoma for seven years. We moved to California for 12 years but returned to Texas.
The community spirit is great here, and we have made many lifelong friends. The cost of living is also excellent, as are the available healthcare systems.
What does being a member of TAMEST mean to you?
I am privileged to be a member of TAMEST. I get to work closely with other prominent research leaders across the state and the world to promote research in medicine, engineering, science, and technology, developing the next generation of scientific leaders within the state of Texas and across the world.
TAMEST’s mission to advance scientific excellence within the state through recognition of its top achievers and its support of targeted educational programs provides a captivating and ideal platform to attract talent to the state, and to advance our position as a leading institution in the nation and across the globe.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I enjoy being with my family and friends, and I enjoy exercising and biking with my friends. I like to work hard academically every day and enjoy contributing to the success of my students.
In addition, I enjoy my profession and want to continue to contribute to making the world a little better place to live every day.