July 7, 2008



Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269
Dr. Tom Hinthorne, College of Business, 657-2099


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Before this summer’s angst over rising fuel prices led to more discussion over alternative methods of energy development, a group of Montana State University Billings students developed a plan that could provide a piece to a multifaceted solution.


It was an award-winning effort that garnered some attention at a statewide competition in the spring and something that Hannah Reno hopes gets even more attention by potential investors and state leaders in the future.


Hannah RenoReno, a recent College of Business graduate at MSU Billings, developed a large-scale carbon sequestration business plan with fellow students Haley Clark, Kyla McCamish and Tracie Flotkoetter as part of their senior capstone work for Dr. Tom Hinthorne.  Each year, the professor and students connect with area business leaders in development of various business plans. In this case, they worked with Brian Kurth, an independent oil developer in Billings to expand a carbon sequestration concept and build it into a full-fledged plan.


Carbon sequestration technology has been around since the 1990s, but interest has picked up in recent months in conjunction with rising concerns about global climate change. It involves the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (through electrical generation or industrial processes) for storage underground.


Instead of simple storage, however, Reno and her colleagues want to put those carbon and oxygen molecules to work in producing more oil.


“There’s plenty of oil in the U.S., but we just can’t figure out how to get it out of the ground,” said Reno, who is constantly upbeat.

As conceived by the MSU Billings students and their theoretical company E& E Enterprises, the plan doesn’t involve drilling new oil wells, but giving under-producing rigs a new boost. It involves pumping carbon dioxide 110 miles from an oil refinery in Billings to wells in central Montana for enhanced oil recovery.


American oil companies have used CO2 for enhanced oil recovery since the 1970s, but the idea has not taken hold in Montana, Reno said.


“Central Montana is an ideal location for such a project due to its many stripper wells and favorable underground rock formations,” the group’s executive summary states.


Reno has knows all about solutions to energy challenges. She and her mother Becky Reno have been providing ample amounts of caffeine to customers through the City Brew coffee business for years now.


But as the price of a barrel of crude oil continues to fluctuate at more than $130 a barrel and conversations percolate about new solutions to an old problem, Reno has more than a passing interest.


And when the group put the final touches on the business plan for the 2008 John Ruffatto Business Plan competition at the University of Montana, they knew they had something that was much more than theory.


“The viability is clear, especially now with energy and environmental concerns,” she said.


The students realized that beyond the plan itself, more work needs to be done. For example, strategies need to be developed to obtain mineral rights, verify the viability of carbon dioxide injection for enhanced oil recovery in central Montana and finding an investor for the project.


Once those factors were on the table and the concept was presented, judges at the business plan competition were so impressed that the MSU Billings group was selected as the top undergraduate group and placed third overall in the “high growth” category of business plans. They won third place overall, and won $3,000, competing head-to-head with graduate students from around the state.


“It was a big project and they respected us for trying this,” Reno said of the judges and the experience. “I really learned a lot.”


The students have taken that knowledge and are moving on. This summer, Reno is working as a general manager at Enzo’s restaurant in Billings and classmate Haley Clark (who presented with Reno at the competition in Missoula) is working as an accountant in Sheridan, Wyo. 


But Reno is keeping an eye on the news, wondering if her idea will find a home with a potential investor. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency has released draft rules governing the use and underground storage of carbon dioxide. And this week, a consortium began a project that uses carbon sequestration to push methane out of coal fields.


It gives Reno hope, in more ways than one.


“It’s a good idea and we’re saving the world at the same time,” she said with a smile.