Four chemical engineering students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are among the best in the world at ensuring refineries are safer.
Ashton Castete, Gavan Courville, Matthew Ronkartz and Drew Sikat placed third in a "ChemE-Sports" competition to reduce hazards inside a simulated environment for separating potentially combustible chemicals. Ashley Mikolajczyk, an instructor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, is the team's adviser.
The strong showing came at the 2023 American Institute of Chemical Engineers student conference held recently in Orlando, Fla. College and university teams from across the world operated a simulated distillation column, implementing software similar to the kind used for training people who work at refineries.
Chemicals such as crude oil are refined inside such distillation columns. When crude is heated inside a column, its elements with lower boiling points – gasoline, for example – are converted to vapor and rise. The vapor, which is collected in a condenser, is cooled, converting it back to liquid. The process creates the risk for accidents such as explosions since the columns hold a large volume of boiling, pressurized liquids.
Student researchers, who conducted their work in mock environments, evaluated distillation processes and proposed solutions for a range of potential issues, including equipment malfunctions and human error. They were judged on their speed and effectiveness in identifying and analyzing problems, devising and implementing solutions, and mitigating hazards.
The "ChemE-Sports" contest combined aspects of chemical engineering, virtual reality and esports. Virtual reality is an interactive experience that happens within a simulated environment via computer-generated animation. Esports, or electronic sports, are video game competitions played on computers and broadcast on screens.
Other competitors included teams from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; Lamar University; the New Jersey Institute of Technology; New Mexico State University; Northeastern University; Obafemi Awolowo University; San Francisco de Quito University; Stony Brook University; Texas A&M University; Texas A&M University at Qatar; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Trine University; the University of Technology Malaysia; the University of Tulsa; and the University of Virginia.
Read more about the competition at the College of Engineering website.
Photo caption: UL Lafayette chemical engineering students, from left, Ashton Castete, Gavan Courville, Matthew Ronkartz and Drew Sikat placed third in a “ChemE-Sports” competition at the 2023 American Institute of Chemical Engineers student conference held recently in Orlando, Fla. At right is Donald Glaser of PetroSkills - Simulation Solutions, an event sponsor. Submitted photo