2015 University Case Competition

Fuels Institute Executive Director John Eichberger (far left) and Chairman Jay Ricker (far right) present a $5,000 check to University of Wisconsin students (from left) Michael Lyons, Justin Goninen and Daniel Schmidt, this year's winners of the inaugural Future of Transportation Case Competition.
In the inaugural Fuels Institute case competition, my team and I were challenged to imagine the future of fuels. The three of us are industrial engineers who had interned together the summer before at a national retailer. We like to think of ourselves as problem-solvers and were excited to dive into a new industry.

We quickly learned that the ostensibly familiar fuels industry is something like a vehicle is to the average person: We know what it does and generally how it works, but the complex details of its inner mechanics proved to be difficult to understand. We also found that learning about the cross-organizational fuels supply chain was like working on an assembly line. As soon as we felt comfortable that we knew how one stage of the process worked, we realized that we would need to study another process in order to grasp the bigger picture.

The Fuels Institute also announced its election of officers. Bill Douglass was elected chairman of the Board, Jay Ricker was elected treasurer and John Eichberger was elected as secretary.

Considering the challenges of the case really made the competition for our team. We spent many nights enjoying Wisconsin’s finest fermented beverages and “what-if-ing” some spectacular scenarios. Yet, we recognized that delving into the unachievable was a pointless exercise.

What our team was after was a concept that was bold but realistic. We challenged ourselves to be conservative and grounded.

In our case, we argued that electric vehicles driving alongside traditional petroleum vehicles are the future of fuels. Moreover, we made the case that electricity will be consumed through an infrastructure of switchable battery stations. We suggested that industry and customers would be best served if organizations throughout the value chain collaborated in a few key ways to facilitate the transition into a multi-fuel world.

Our team took away much from our experience. Certainly, we grew together and can leverage our experience as we begin our careers together at the same company. More than this, we developed an appreciation for the impact that the fuels industry has on our everyday lives. I find myself thinking about this every time I stop for gas. We look forward to reading the ideas of next year’s winning team.

Justin Goninen
University of Wisconsin

The 2016 University Case Competition will take place at the Fuels Institute Spring Meeting on April 27, 2016, in San Francisco, California. If you would like to be involved in this project, or would like additional information, contact Donovan Woods, director of the Fuels Institute, at dwoods@fuelsinstitute.org.

Read more from the August Issue of our Fuel for Thought newsletter.