- Number 369 |
- August 13, 2012
NETL’s Dr. Ale Hakala: Geologist, energy researcher, champion amateur snowboarder
Dr. Ale Hakala.
In addition to her work at NETL,
Ale is a champion snowboarder.
Scientific curiosity has always been a driving force for Dr. Alexandra Hakala. While living in Chile and snowboarding in the Andes Mountains, she asked questions about the rock formations and the different geologic layers that she saw around her. In these moments, she knew she had discovered another passion, one that would lead to her current research in the geological side of energy production. In just 3 years as a research scientist at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Dr. Hakala has proven innovative, inspirational, and driven. Her environmental research in pursuit of a clean and safe energy future for the United States and the world, her professional commitment, and her personal desire to communicate her inspiration and findings to others, make her an asset to the Lab.
Dr. Hakala leads two teams as principal investigator on projects that could change the way shale gas developers assess risk and monitor wells. As the principal investigator for Fluid-Rock-Shale-Microbial Interactions, Dr. Hakala leads a multidisciplinary research team to study the association of metals with organics and clays in shales—areas rich in deposits of oil and natural gas. The research will lead to a better understanding of how certain contaminants may be released from gas shales during hydraulic fracturing—a process that aids in extraction—and of the behavior of naturally occurring geochemical tracers, such as isotopes, in geologic systems. Understanding the role of biogeochemical reactions in the shale gas environment and knowledge of how geochemistry, geomechanics, and flow affect shale gas reservoir behavior and properties could lead to the development of computational models for predicting potential risks associated with shale gas development. With knowledge derived from Dr. Hakala’s research, the abundant gas shale reservoirs in the United States can be tapped with higher confidence that the processes are safe for the environment, while still helping ensure our energy independence.
For the Optimizing Process Parameters for Predicting the Geochemical Behavior of Discrete Fracture Networks in Geothermal Systems project, Dr. Hakala is principal investigator in charge of another multidisciplinary team. Their research uses fluid chemistry to indicate the types of reactions that may occur along fractured pathways in a geothermal reservoir. The team is also developing reactive transport models that provide detail on the physical changes expected as a geothermal system reacts with heat carrier fluids. The unique environment of a geothermal reservoir means that energy extraction requires specialized equipment and a variety of scientific testing to protect the environment, equipment, and resource. Dr. Hakala’s research will lead to a process for monitoring and managing geothermal reservoir systems during energy extraction to maximize efficiency.
In addition to her work at NETL,
Alexandra Ale is a champion
Aside from leading research teams, Dr. Hakala performs separate, ongoing lab work on geologic CO2 storage. She focuses on the geochemical behavior of arsenic and uranium in CO2-rich environments and on the use of naturally occurring isotopes as geochemical tracers for brine migration in reservoirs that have the potential to store CO2. So far, her contributions in these areas demonstrate that specific minerals and groundwater aquifer conditions affect the geochemical behavior of arsenic and uranium in CO2-rich environments. These results can be implemented into water quality prediction models to protect groundwater in areas near injection sites.
Dr. Hakala values being able to communicate her research to a wider audience. Through her published papers and national and international conference presentations on her research, she has made a significant contribution to ongoing conversations on energy research, providing fodder for thought and the stepping stones for other labwork in the future by scientists around the world. With an eye on tech transfer, a marker of success for any project, she hopes to contribute to the development of viable energy production processes that result in patents and partnerships between NETL and other companies.
Not only does Dr. Hakala perform her own research projects, but she also guides young scientists. She is a role model who directs them toward excellence in their field as they pursue advanced degrees. The benefit of having a mentor can make a valuable difference to graduate and post-graduate students, and Dr. Hakala devotes significant time to her protégés to ensure that they complete their thesis and lab work and have someone to depend on for career advice.
Family is also an important part of Dr. Hakala’s life. She values her heritage and looks up to her mother and Puerto Rican grandmother for providing her with a tight-knit Latin family and all the ideals that come with it. The relationship she shares with the women on that side of the family makes her feel closer to her roots in the Latin community. Her experiences dancing with her family at special events and the two years she spent living in Chile are among her most treasured memories.
While living in Chile, Dr. Hakala developed a passion for both snowboarding and geology, which continues to be a part of her life today. As a champion amateur snowboarder, she is able to balance her body and mind. She finds snowboarding to be challenging and tranquil, and yet another way for her to explore the many aspects of the local geological landscape.Dr. Hakala is a rising star in the shale gas research arena, developing innovative technology that improves the way we extract energy resources and monitor our wells. Her research is another step toward securing safe energy extraction techniques that also keep energy cost-effective for consumers. She has been prolific with conference presentations and papers, she has provided students of all ages with inspiration, guidance, and encouragement in pursuing their scientific goals, and she shows promise as a leader among research scientists. Unique, insightful, and motivational, Dr. Hakala is certain to make great contributions to energy research.
Submitted by DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory