Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois

U of I team reaches finals in BP energy competition

A team of University of Illinois Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students are among the United States’ finalists for BP’s Ultimate Field Trip 2013, the Global Competition for Young STEM Talent.

(left to right) Michael Richards, Akash Moradia, and Nicholas Connolly
(left to right) Michael Richards, Akash Moradia, and Nicholas ConnollyThe Ultimate Field Trip (UFT) is BP’s flagship student competition that asks teams of undergraduates to solve real world energy challenges. Nicholas Connolly, Michael Richards, and Akash Moradia, all undergraduates in chemical and biomolecular engineering, will represent Illinois as one of four teams in the U.S. final competition, joining teams from MIT, University of California-Berkeley, and Georgia Tech in Houston on April 25.

The UFT seeks to allow university Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the challenges facing the energy sector, specifically in oil and gas, and what a potential career may entail.

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 road, rail, water or air, or they could use a combination. The solution they developed had to be technology-focused, practical, and innovative.

Connolly and Richards (sophomores) and Moradia (a senior), geared their 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.

“These finalist teams worked very hard to develop thoughtful, detailed and innovative solutions to the challenge BP put forth this year,” said Simon Kho, head of U.S. University Relations at BP. “We look forward to their final presentations in Houston to select the U.S. winning team, but we know that all four teams have been very worthy competitors.”

“We are ecstatic to have the opportunity to represent the University of Illinois at the national level against other top engineering schools,” Moradia said.

The winner of that competition will join the top teams from the United Kingdom and Trinidad & Tobago at BP’s operational hubs for North Sea oil and gas exploration and production in Norway and the Shetland Islands north of Scotland for a unique two-week field trip in July.

Writer: Chad Thornburg, Engineering Communications Office