Petroleum prices are high, and in few places on Earth is the population more keenly aware of the price of oil than we are in the Permian Basin. Hydrocarbon fuels, however, aren't always just pumped out of the ground! Using the Fischer-Tropsch process and other methods, synthetic fuels can be created right here on the surface. The process has been around for many decades, Germany and Japan even used it to create diesel fuel during WWII. The various methods under investigation for creating such synthetic fuels (synfuels) generally all require one thing to drive them...heat! One thing a High Temperature Teaching and Test Reactor will have an excess of is heat, we hope to drive the process heat output upwards of the initial operation planned for 850o C (over 1550o F, hot enough to fuse art glass).
This temperature presents significant engineering challenges for engineering, and in a research environment that means more opportunities to learn! High temperature industrial processes are a hot (pardon the pun) topic of research right now, such as hydrogen production, geothermal energy, and reactor materials studies. Chemical and mechanical engineers with exposure to these topics will be a hot commodity in tomorrow's job market.