UB - University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Chemical and Biological Engineering

Design in the Curriculum

Design activities begin in the first semester as a component of EAS 140 Engineering Solutions.  The students, working in small groups, participate in various case studies.  In at least one of these case studies, they will be given a design task; one that is open-ended.  Recent examples include design of a portable shelter and power grid.  Sophomore-level material/energy balance and thermodynamics classes also present some problems in a design format.  The two Transport Processes courses (CE 317 and 318) introduce fundamental aspects of transport phenomena in addition to addressing constrained design of different types of process equipment, including heat exchangers and piping networks.  The Chemical Reaction Engineering course (CE 329) includes a design project with a very broad, open-ended problem statement, and the lecture material emphasizes design issues (e.g. matching the reactor type to the reaction properties).  In a similar manner, much of the lecture material for Separations (CE 407) addresses design issues and the students are routinely assigned homework problems that require the implementation of design principles (e.g. sizing distillation columns).  The Chemical Systems and Control course also contains a significant design element, equipping students with the fundamental concepts of process control design.  Finally, some laboratory experiments in the four unit operations labs are formulated in the context of accumulation of data for the purpose of equipment design or selection.

The curriculum includes a two-semester capstone design experience.  The two senior design capstone courses encompass concepts and design principles from earlier courses. Chemical Engineering Product Design adds to the undergraduate design experience by providing students with valuable exposure to issues of product design.  The product design course integrates the (1) general framework for product design and development (identify needs, create ideas/concepts, select concept, formulate/manufacture product; also intellectual property, safety, environmental, marketing and financial considerations), and (2) structure-property relations that guide the search for materials with particular properties, as well as modifications of materials that would improve properties.  These two themes are reinforced by (3) case studies of successful products with well-documented history of invention, development, production, and marketing.  The course culminates in (4) a capstone product design project.

The senior CE Plant Design course (CE 408) also includes a capstone design project.  In 2008 the assignment was based on the AIChE design project “From Coal to Methanol”, which provided a very timely topic for study given the high importance for alternative sources of energy.  The project selected in 2008 provides an illustrative example of the manner in which students utilize skills and knowledge acquired within earlier courses to design and optimize an integrated system.  The main objective of the project was the development of a process for producing methanol from coal in a cost effective and environmentally safe fashion.  Students had to analyze various processes involved in the synthesis of methanol from coal, become familiar with existing technologies and pertinent issues, and propose a design based on chemical engineering principles.  To that end, students learned about methods for gasification, processing of synthesis gas via Rectisol technology and the water-gas shift reaction, synthesis of methanol in an ICI reactor and separation of produced methanol from side products (e.g. ethanol) produced during the synthesis.

The annual capstone plant design project requires students to both analyze chemical processes and synthesize information obtained through various sources to develop economically viable processes.  Bringing the project to completion requires students to capitalize on skills and knowledge acquired in many of the CE courses.  Process analysis requires the application of mass and energy balances covered in CE 212 Fundamental Principles of Chemical Engineering.  Processes involving reactions, such as the water-gas shift reaction, requires tools (e.g. kinetic analysis) presented to the students in CE 329 Chemical Engineering Reaction Kinetics.  Separation processes (e.g. Rectisol, separation of methanol/ethanol) are analyzed with methods that students learn in CE 407 Separations and are reinforced within the chemical engineering laboratory courses (CE 327, 328, 427, and 428).  Skills acquired from other courses (e.g. math and basic science courses, CE Thermodynamics, Transport Processes I and II, etc.) are also employed during the capstone design experience.  Students are asked to make realistic assumptions accompanied by reasonable justifications and to avoid oversimplification.  For example, the AIChE-based project pursued this year involved finding the optimum temperature profile in a methanol reactor, which was accomplished by modeling the process as a train of adiabatic multistage reactors.  Overall, the capstone design project provides a unique opportunity for students to combine information and knowledge obtained in previous CE classes to assemble a collection of integrated processes that produce a meaningful product.  Students get a glimpse of problems which they will have to tackle routinely in their professional careers.