Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois

Engineering at Illinois student team wins BP challenge; taking its talents across the pond

Engineering at Illinois sophomores Nicholas Connolly and Michael Richards and senior Akash Moradia won the BP Ultimate Field Trip in Houston on Thursday, beating out other finalist teams from MIT, University of California-Berkeley and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

(l to r) Michael Richards, Nicholas Connolly, and Akash Moradia celebrate winning the BP Ultimate Field Trip in Houston.
(l to r) Michael Richards, Nicholas Connolly, and Akash Moradia celebrate winning the BP Ultimate Field Trip in Houston.

In July, Connolly, Richards, and Moradia will join the winning teams from the United Kingdom and Trinidad & Tobago for a two-week field trip at the BP operational hubs for North Sea oil and gas exploration and production in Norway and the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland.

The Ultimate Field Trip is BP’s flagship competition that asks teams of undergraduates to solve real world energy problems. This year’s participants were asked to address the growing demand for energy by developing a single technical innovation, which has previously not been demonstrated, to significantly reduce the cost of MPG per capita in their country by 2030. The innovation could focus on one mode of passenger transportation from the road, rail, water or air, or they could use a combination. The developed solution had to be technology-focused, practical and innovative.

The Illinois team geared its project toward the large price disparity between gasoline and natural gas, particularly with the domestic natural gas supply expected to exceed consumption by 2020. With the engine technology to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) already available, they identified the main issue preventing the usage of the cheaper, cleaner fuel was the infrastructure. They came up with a modular CNG fueling system called the “UniPump” to be efficiently implemented across American retail gas stations. To ensure adoption, they proposed working with the government to guarantee tax credits and incentives to consumers and suppliers for using the CNG fuel technology.

The team estimates that consumers could save roughly $1.83 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, or $5,000 over the lifetime of a vehicle from the cheaper fuel costs.

Writer: Chad Thornburg, Engineering Communications Office