UTEP Students Headed to Texas Energy Innovation Challenge

Last Updated on May 20, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Originally published May 1, 2015

By David Chavez

UTEP News Service

A trio of University of Texas at El Paso students is headed to the Texas Capitol with their game faces on. Oluwaseye Owoseni, Stephanie Ray and Sam Simon will be competing as a team at the Power Across Texas 2015 Texas Energy Innovation Challenge on Friday, May 1, at the Capitol Building in Austin, Texas.

The 2015 Texas Energy Innovation Challenge is the third annual competition run by Power Across Texas in which graduate students from interdisciplinary academic programs at major universities in Texas are challenged to bring research and imagination to help solve an existing energy problem in the state.

Three UTEP graduate students will take part in the Texas Energy Innovation Challenge at the Texas State Capitol building, pictured here, on Friday, May 1. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Three UTEP graduate students will take part in the Texas Energy Innovation Challenge at the Texas State Capitol building, pictured here, on Friday, May 1. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Climate change, global warming, drought conditions are some of the hottest science topics,” said Ray, a geological sciences graduate student. “As a Texan and as a person in this place in time, I feel a social responsibility to make the world just a little bit better than we found it.”

UTEP will be competing against teams from The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and the University of Houston. Each team will have a chance to win a scholarship grant ranging from $1,500 to $10,000.

This year, the competition will challenge each team to research, evaluate and develop the most creative and economic use for water produced from hydraulic fracturing of wells. The solutions can vary and can include recycling, disposal or discharge.

Oil and gas production is vital for the U.S. and the Texas economies, and water use by the industry is expected to increase as a result of the shale revolution. As water-intensive drilling techniques spread throughout the state, water used by the oil and gas industry also increases.

Since 2011, Texas has experienced drought conditions while the population has continued to increase. The potential for energy self-sufficiency will largely depend on industry’s success in developing integrated and sustainable water management practices.

Each team’s proposal will include a new method or technology to help solve the problem and also integrate a business and financial model that demonstrates the viability and sustainability of the proposal. The teams also must have a well-rounded understanding of the problem and the impact their proposed solution might have.

The competition makes it mandatory for each team to be interdisciplinary in order to be able complete the different aspects of the proposal. It also helps students expand their knowledge in different areas of study.

Simon, a graduate student in Latin American and border studies, was responsible for the legal research and assessing the human impact their proposal could have. He felt the Texas Energy Innovation Challenge could help him expand his horizons.

“I went into this blind, not knowing about the technology or field,” said Simon. “In a short time span, I have learned a ton about the science behind it but mostly just how complex the industry and its regulations really are.”

The Texas Energy Innovation Challenge also will help Ray and Owoseni continue their academic careers in areas of study they are familiar with. Owoseni, an environmental engineering graduate student, plans to enroll in a doctoral program that focuses on oil and gas mining waste treatment.

The challenge will help Ray continue her research in a topic that centers around her master’s thesis, which focuses on the geochemistry of basinal brine water.

UTEP’s team is striving to win the competition, but also note the importance of their work regardless of their placement in the Texas Energy Innovation Challenge.

“We have already won, regardless of our competition placement,” said Ray. “All the teams in the competition have made great strides to solving a problem and making our home a better place. On a personal level, if we help with just the smallest portion of the problem, we are winners.”

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