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Rice undergrads win BP Ultimate Field Trip

Engineering students at Rice University devise method for reducing and reusing water in fuel production.
Rice undergrads win BP Ultimate Field Trip

Three juniors in chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University, known collectively as Team Owls, took first place in BP’s 2015 US Ultimate Field Trip competition.

Sun Ji, Ruth Long and Benjamin Zhang bested six other university finalists in a contest challenging them to devise a method for reducing or reusing the volume of water consumed by fuel transportation and production.

“Refineries use enormous amounts of water, from industrial processes to transportation. BP wants to be environmentally responsible while making good business decisions,” Zhang said.

Team Owls competed against teams from MIT, Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. They won a two-week field trip in July to BP’s natural gas operations in Trinidad and Tobago. With the winning teams from the UK, Canada and Angola, they will visit two onshore facilities and an offshore platform, and will complete the Tropical Basic Offshore Safety Induction.

Zhang and his teammates entered the contest last fall, submitting PowerPoint and video presentations of their research into biofuel production from algae. Their idea includes research from Michael P. Harold, professor and chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston. Sharon Rynders, BP commercial manager for the Energy Biosciences Institute, served as their mentor.

In December, the team was questioned by BP about their research proposal and the following day they were named among the finalists. For the final round they produced a second video, this one, Zhang said, “much more polished—more like a film pitch.”

“At BP, we place a premium on innovation, teamwork and the thinking that keeps us at the forefront of technology. Team Owls displayed all of those characteristics and more as they offered a realistic and feasible solution to our water challenge and emerged as the clear winners in this elite competition,” said Khymberly Booth, BP’s university relations director.

BP’s Ultimate Field Trip started in 2010 in the U.K. and was extended to the U.S. in 2013. More than 4,000 students from the participating countries have taken part in the contest.

Image from Rice

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