Papua New Guinea (PNG), in the southwestern Pacific, is best known for its dense rainforest, coral reefs and the Kokoda Trail. It's likely not somewhere you'd expect a university student to be keen to do his industry experience.
For Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student, James Zhang, the opportunity to visit the Oil Search Limited production facilities in the Southern Highlands of PNG was ideal for seeing the challenges of his thesis project firsthand.
As part of the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering's Student Internships and Industry Placements (SIPS) scheme, James has been undertaking a thesis project analysing pipeline networks in Papua New Guinea to develop a risk prediction model for low operational temperatures, hydrate formation and wax formation.
"My industry supervisor, Andrew Hay, was eager for me to get a comprehensive understanding of the environment and terrain of the project. These conditions are one of the main causes for the dynamic variations in the process conditions which often lead to problems", says James.
James was on site for a total of six days but the days were long – 6am to 6pm – with no weekends or public holidays. Most on-site operators and engineers work at these hours for 28 days straight before getting the following 28 days off.
"I spent most of the time with a senior process engineer at the production wellpads; each wellpad consists of two–four wellheads which produce the oil and gas, which are then sent off through pipelines to the processing facilities", added James.
"We travelled to around 20 of these wellpads, each with varying environmental and process fluid conditions, to examine the existing equipment and gather relevant data for my project."
Oil Search Limited engineers also took time out of their busy schedules to walk James around the Agogo Processing Facility, Central Processing Facility, and Oil Search Refinery, explaining in detail the operations of various equipment and units.
"Chemical Engineers combine chemistry and engineering concepts to help solve problems related to the pollution of our environment, meeting demands for energy, and creating new materials. This unique experience has enhanced my passion for engineering and innovation, and better prepared me for working overseas and my future career."
The SIPS program is one of its kind in Australia and has been a huge success over the years, helping students get a foot in the door at companies to secure positions after completing their degrees.
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