Team Orange Energy Headed to BP Ultimate Field Trip Challenge


Team Orange Energy: Kevin Kim, Thomas Bernhardt, and Grant Klobuchar
Team Orange Energy: Kevin Kim, Thomas Bernhardt, and Grant Klobuchar
The bright idea of recirculating natural gas flaring from oil drill sites to power oil rigs has won a group of Illinois students a spot to compete in the National Finals of BP’s 2014 Ultimate Field Trip Challenge.

Team Orange Energy – comprised of Aerospace Engineering student Thomas Bernhardt, Mechanical Sciences and Engineering student Grant Klobuchar, and Accountancy student Kevin Kim – will compete against other U.S. finalists in April in Houston. The team vied against five other Illinois teams.

“We were extremely impressed by the entries from the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, but ultimately Team Orange Energy was chosen because of its creativity and demonstrated knowledge of critical areas,” said Khymberly Booth, BP’s director of U.S. university relations.

The 2014 challenge asked students to identify an innovative solution that would significantly reduce energy consumption and could be implemented by 2025, with the potential to be deployed at scale across the energy industry.

If chosen as the Grand Prize Winners for the U.S., the team will join winners from four other participating countries – Angola, Canada, United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago – on a two-week field trip to BP locations in Alaska and Chicago.

Orange Energy’s winning solution would make use of otherwise wasted energy.

“We planned to take gas that would ordinarily be flared into the atmosphere and run it through a steam reformation process, turning it into a quality methane fuel source. This fuel would then be used in a combustion engine to power the rig,” said Klobuchar.

“We began working on the project in late October,” Bernhardt continued.  “Once we had an idea we spent most of our time building on the idea, making a business plan.  The last few weeks were when we began to put all the information we gathered into a presentation; we finalized our plan and worked on our speaking, making sure the presentation was balanced.”

The team members were glad for the experience. “We learned how to work on a team,” Kim said. “We learned how to think more completely, how to take an idea from inception to delivery. We needed to make sure that our solution would not only be new and innovative but also economically feasible and able to be put into use within a few years by a company.”

BP hires more than 700 university students for full-time, intern and co-op positions annually in the United States. It developed the Ultimate Field Trip Challenge to offer science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students the opportunity to gain experience working on real-world challenges in the energy sector.

An Illinois team won last year’s challenge, beating out U.S. teams from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California-Berkeley, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.