Waterloo co-op students have been making an impact in the workforce for more than 50 years now. Their success is one of the reasons the University of Waterloo has been consistently ranked as one of the top universities in Canada. Genevieve's story is just one example. You'll find other stories in the e-zine for co-op students - the Inside sCo-op.
On a co-op work term at a Shell Canada refinery in Fort Saskatchewan, 3rd-year Chemical Engineering student Genevieve LeBlanc took on "red death" - and won. So did Shell Canada.
In the process of manufacturing gasoline, crude oil is passed through a machine called a hydrocracker, which breaks the large molecules down. When these pass through the hydrocracker, a red waxy build-up that can damage pipes and valves accumulates at the bottom of the reactor. To avoid "red death" - the industry term for such clogging - a certain amount of the bottom product is diverted as waste using a bleed stream. The remaining material is recycled back to the reactor for further processing.
During an 8-month work term, Genevieve took on the task of determining exactly how much material could be safely recycled back to the reactor without fouling the processing equipment. "I was intrigued by the project," she admits. "I nit-picked, researched, and questioned everyone until I found a solution. I guess I just like problem-solving."
Genevieve analyzed historical data and the workings of the equipment, then developed a correlation equation specifically designed to optimize the bleed rate. After conducting tests and completing a trial, she convinced management that the bleed rate could be lowered even more than originally predicted.
The refinery is now salvaging an additional $400,000 worth of product annually. All in a day's work, according to Genevieve: "Really, I was just doing my job."