Incorporating Process Synthesis into Introductory Chemical Engineering Courses
Regina M. Murphy, Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Wisconsin, 1415 Engineering Drive, Madison, WI 53706
Several years ago the chemical engineering faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided that its introductory class, Chemical Process Calculations, was in sore need of an overhaul. In the traditional course, material and energy balance equations were taught and a few concepts in thermodynamics were introduced, and by the end of the semester, students, given a well-defined problem, could set up and solve steady-state process flow calculations. But they had little understanding of how these calculations were related to actually designing processes and making products. In redesigning the course, we set the goal of teaching students so that, by the end of the semester, given a poorly-defined problem with a minimum amount of information, they could synthesize a chemical process flowsheet that would approximate real industrial processes. This includes not only calculation of material and energy flows but also selection of separation technologies, determination of reasonable operating conditions, and integration of energy needs. We believed this would be possible at the introductory level through the use of limiting cases, approximations, and heuristics. Further, we believed this approach would motivate and engage students at a much higher level than the traditional. We also believed that this approach would greatly enhance students' understanding of the connection between the chemistry and the process, as well as their appreciation of the influence of economics, history, and geography on process design. Finally, we wanted students to learn that the principles of chemical process analysis, and the strategies of chemical process synthesis, can be applied to an enormous diversity of problems, from intracellular trafficking of a drug to accumulation of pollutants in the ecosystem. A new course led, by a long and winding road, to a new text, Introduction to Chemical Processes: Principles, Analysis, Synthesis, that was published by McGraw-Hill about two years ago. In this talk I will discuss some of the unique features of the text and present a few examples of the kinds of design problems that sophomore students have tackled in recent years.