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Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

Graduate student places first in national poster competition

Photo of Kevin BultongezGrowing up in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kevin Bultongez recalls the many power blackouts that affected his daily life. Rolling blackouts to converse power are still a common occurrence in the DRC. Sometimes they are scheduled, allowing people to work around the inconvenience, but they can happen at any time without advance notice. When blackouts occur, the city anxiously awaits the moment when the power is restored. As a child, Bultongez knew when power was being reestablished because he could hear the cheers go up around the city as power was restored in different areas. This experience helped him appreciate the importance of power and was a contributor, in part, to his desire to pursue a career in renewable energy.

Bultongez and his family came to the US when he was 13 years old. Having grown up speaking French, he found that taking French in high school was beneficial in helping him to quickly learn English. Fortunately, languages came easily to him and never posed a barrier in the pursuit of any of his many varied interests, which ranged from artistic to analytical.

Bultongez began his K-State journey as an art student. However, learning about the science of thermodynamics with Dr. Melanie Derby sparked a new fascination and prompted him to change his major to engineering. After successfully completing his undergraduate degree, he chose to stay at K-State for graduate school. As an undergrad, he held numerous part-time jobs to help pay for his education. The graduate teaching assistant stipend enabled Bultongez to quit his part-time jobs and fully dedicate his time to his studies.

Recently, his technical research poster recently took first place out of 400 entrants at the National Society for Black Engineers' national conference in Boston. His previous experiences presenting with the Cooling and Heating Innovation Lab helped his confidence and his ability to communicate with people who are not necessarily knowledgeable in the field.

Bultongez's project looked at current oil-water separation techniques used in the oil and gas industry. He described the current technology as "only accessible at the surface or on land and using electrostatic and gravitational forces. While being effective at separating the fluids, these techniques are inefficient in regards to energy use, time and overall cost. Gravity alone is not sufficient, especially in cases of heavy crude where oil densities reach comparable values to that of water."

The solution proposed in Bultongez's study initialized the oil-water separation inside the tube, as fluids are being pumped, by using surface tension forces and achieving annular flow. In annular flow regime, oils with higher viscosities and lower surface tension occupy the core region of the tube, and higher-surface-tension water forms an annular ring around the oil core. In application, this technology could be used to implement subsea oil-water desalting systems to minimize the distance at which salt water is pumped, decreasing pipe corrosion and prolong major equipment life cycles.

The National Society of Black Engineers is a 31,000-member organization that helps prepare black college students for careers in engineering. It also supports pre-collegiate students' budding interest in working in STEM fields.