In only his first year as a University of Texas at Austin petroleum engineering student, Karan Jerath has already created a potentially game-changing device for offshore oil spills.
The invention landed him on the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 Energy list as the youngest recipient.
“It feels amazing to make the list – the call from Forbes took me by surprise,” said Jerath. “I’m incredibly honored to receive such a prestigious award.”
The Forbes editors noticed Jerath's impressive resume, which he began building early in his high school career. A native of Friendswood, Texas, Jerath used his high school’s science fair as an avenue for discovering what aspect of science most intrigued him. After dabbling in several different areas starting his freshman year, he finally came to the conclusion his junior year that petroleum engineering and the oil and gas industry is the best fit for him.
Karan Jerath participating in Itel's International Science and Engineering Fair (photo courtesy of Intel India).
“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in my backyard, so it inspired me to create a solution that would fix spills in subsea environments,” said Jerath. “I want to ensure the marine life is protected in case of another spill.”
The journey to developing the subsea wellhead containment device required a lot of hard work and dedication on Jerath’s part as it took two years and 800 hours.
“My mentor, who works in the oil and gas industry, provided me with a lot of support,” said Jerath. “During my high school’s vacations and holidays, we would drive into downtown Houston and I would spend eight to nine hours a day in my mentor’s office. I was working on testing the device in a sophisticated 3-D modeling software program.”
The device, created for his science fair, has the potential to contain large flow rates and combat the formation of methane hydrates. Taking it one step further by separating oil, water and gas as homogeneous mixtures at the source, provides the option for them to be recycled immediately. The pressure, temperature and density sensors located within the device automatically send signals to the valves, which adjust accordingly to optimize the separation process.
Once the device was complete, Jerath presented it at his school science fair. He won at the local level, advancing on to receive the first place prize at district, regional and state levels, qualifying him for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). Intel ISEF, which took place in Pittsburgh, Pa., is similar to a scientific Olympics. Only the best young minds from around the globe are invited to participate. Approximately 1,700 students, representing 75 countries participated in the 2015 competition in May.
Jerath’s project gained a lot of attention and credibility from the judges, earning him the Intel Foundation's Young Scientist of the Year award. Not only did Jerath receive $50,000, but also a global trip of his choice for a cultural and scientific experience supported by the Indo-US Science & Technology Forum – a partner of Intel.
“I selected a trip to India, which I took over my winter break,” said Jerath. “It was an amazing opportunity as I met with scientific leaders, visited the president’s palace as well as the Taj Mahal.”
As a next step for Jerath, his plan is to see if he can put the device into the field.
“I’m working with a patent lawyer to ensure I have the rights to it,” said Jerath. “Once that is complete, my hope is to bring it to commercialization through the financial support of an oil and gas company.”
Although Jerath is gaining recognition as a young leader in the energy sector, he is just now enrolled in his first petroleum engineering class for the spring semester, PGE 301, which provides an overview of the industry. He is excited to learn more about the subject, which will likely spur new ideas and additional distinction.