Lars Hov Odsæter - Vista scholar since 2013

Ever since he was a boy, Vista scholar Lars Hov Odsæter has enjoyed two things: skiing and maths. He made great strides in his research and a professional career in cross-country skiing, but finally it was maths that came out on top. Lars took his civil engineering degree in six and half years, specialising in industrial mathematics. He wrote his project paper and his master's thesis for Statoil.

Text and photo: Maria Amelie

Lars Hov OdsæterLars Hov Odsæter

"I've always liked maths. Ever since primary school, I've had good inspirational teachers who were able to engage me and give me exciting challenges", says Lars Hov Odsæther.

"What about cross-country skiing then?"

"I've been doing cross-country skiing ever since I was a little boy. It's a good idea to start early. When I started at university I continued with the skiing while I was studying physics and maths in the civil engineering course at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

I was training a lot at the national level, and on good days I was in the top 20 in Norway. I even had a shot at the World Cup in the national team."

But in 2011 it was time to shelve his cross-country career.

"It got to the point where I had to make a choice. It was tiring to carry on with both things. I had almost no spare time, and spent a lot of time training and travelling to skiing competitions. I began to stagnate in some areas and needed to train more. So finally I decided to focus entirely on my studies."

Lars took his civil engineering degree in six and half years, specialising in industrial mathematics.

"What is industrial mathematics?"

"Industrial mathematics covers quite a lot. It's about developing and applying mathematical methods to study and solve problems from other disciplines. In my case, there's a lot of modelling physical processes with differential equations, and then developing methods to solve these on a computer."
Lars wrote his project paper and his master's thesis for Statoil, and often visited the Statoil Research Centre at Rotvoll in Trondheim.

"My first summer job at Statoil was a statistical analysis of oil well data to find out how unlikely it was that oil wells would collide in drilling for new wells. There's a lot of uncertainty in the data because they're only based on measurements, such as seismic measurements."

Most of the organic material on the Earth's surface degrades, although in some cases it gets buried with mud and clay. A limited supply of oxygen to an area like that will help to form an oil and gas reservoir. Lars' master's thesis and parts of his PhD are about the upscaling of oil reservoirs and the development of methods to better understand their properties.

"The reservoirs we use in our calculations may be very large, typically several kilometres deep and wide. At the same time, the reservoir models may include variations in their rock properties on a much smaller scale, actually right down to millimeters and below. When calculating the flow in an entire field, we don't have the capacity to include all this information in our simulations. However, the geology on a smaller scale may be crucial to how the fluids flow, so it's vital to take small-scale effects into account.

Upscaling is one way to solve this; here you study a heterogeneous section of the reservoir and attempt to find a kind of advanced average. We hope that the results obtained using these upscaled properties will be comparable to those you would get using the detailed data."

The rock in most reservoirs is sandstone, and between individual grains of sand, there are small pores filled with water. If the rock is very porous, it can store large quantities of petroleum in these pores. Hydrocarbons are lighter than water, and they move upwards in this type of porous rock. At the top of a reservoir we find sealing rock, often claystone.

"The equations I work on are aimed at the petroleum industry. But obviously they're general equations that can be applied to other areas. For example, I studied currents in porous media, and similar currents can be found in body tissues, groundwater modelling and so on."

Lars Hov Odsæter

"Why is this type of research important for the petroleum industry?"

"From an industry perspective, the main aim is to increase oil recovery, to extract greater percentages from reservoirs in existing fields."

Later, Lars' research took a different turn and now involves studying cracks in reservoirs.

"What the industry wants is to break up the rock around the wells to increase the inflow. This is partly achieved by injecting liquid at high pressure into the wells. This fracturing enhances oil production." 

"Is there any danger involved?"

"Yes, in fact there is. From an environmental perspective, you don't want the cracks to extend too far and outside, causing leaks down into the depths. It's a bit alarming, so it's important to calculate correctly." 

"Is anyone else using what you've found out?"

"At Statoil, they use some of the upscaling methods I've worked on, but I don't know if there are any others. It takes a long time to implement new solutions."

"Which programming languages do you use?"

"I use c++. You learn it on the degree course, but in a rather basic way."

"Did you have to learn a lot about programming by yourself?"

"Yes, I had to learn quite a lot on my own and by working with the others. The project I'm working on now is on the borderline between programming and mathematics."

"What do you do when you get stuck then?"

"Well, sometimes I suddenly manage to figure out something when I take a break and do something else, like exercising. Then you go around chewing on a problem and ideas pop up that might work. I also do various projects with third and fourth year civil engineering students. It's really nice to do that kind of work because it's something quite concrete, unlike my research."

"Where are the best researchers in your field?"

"There are some in Germany, and in Norway and the US. I met some of the US researchers when I was a visiting researcher in Austin, Texas. I hadn't thought of going there, but my supervisor had good contacts there, so I went. And when I got there, I really liked it.

I got new ideas and inspiration, and met many people doing interesting research in my field. And then Austin was an incredibly exciting place with concerts every day of the year and the big music festival South by Southwest.

I think it's pretty important to travel, both as a visiting researcher and to conferences to meet other researchers. It's great to meet well-known researchers who have written a lot of good stuff in the field, easy to get starstruck," Lars laughs.

"Do you still enjoy cross-country skiing?"

"I do train, but I've been getting less time for it."

"What have you learned from cross-country skiing that you use in your research?"

"Well, it's a matter of identifying the main areas with a potential for improvement, and planning how to improve both in research and in training, step by step. You must have the ability to dig into the details and maintain a broad overview. The last part is often the most difficult."

Facts about Lars Hov Odsæter

  • Vista scholar from: 2013
  • Research Area: Improved Recovery
  • Topic: Reservoir Simulation in Challenging Reservoirs
  • Education:  Degree in Civil Engineering from NTNU, specialising in physics and mathematics
  • Host institution: Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)


Go to Lars Hov Odsæter's VISTA-Scholar page

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