- 4:05 PM

Alternative Fuel Feasibility Study as the Process Engineering Senior Design Course

Katsuyuki Wakabayashi, James E. Maneval, William J. Snyder, and Michael E. Hanyak. Department of Chemical Engineering, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837

As the chemical engineering discipline continues to transform and expand, there is a need to introduce problems that have a scope beyond the traditional chemical engineering. This is especially true for the senior design courses. Bucknell University offers senior design in two parts, where the first semester “process design” deals with simulation and plant design, while the second semester “project design” offers real-world chemical engineering problems. Both courses are based on open-ended problem teaching, co-instructed by three faculty members with diverse background and expertise. .

The process design course at Bucknell has recently focused on a feasibility study on the production of an alternative fuel that can serve as a primary energy source in our economy. The design course structure on this topical issue of renewable, sustainable fuel gives a good overview of the design/problem-formulation process, and allows the students to see the big picture of "alternative" fuels production, leading to a better comprehension of the surrounding studies and debates.

Unlike most institutions where the capstone senior design course is solving one common design problem with all the students or working from a prescribed list of industry-consulted/ sponsored design problems, we offer a truly open-ended problem; the students select their own fuel types, processes, and assessment metrics virtually from scratch. We set the production goals based on the most recent national and state initiatives for developing alternative sources of energy, and partner with a regional development agency as our client to oversee the work of the students. The course puts major emphasis on technical communication (both oral and written) as well as teamwork skills.

Although this new format of senior design is overall beneficial, the effort does have its shortcomings, especially on the ineffectiveness of process simulation software on non-petroleum chemical processes. Both the positive and the negative outcomes will be discussed, from the educational and logistical perspectives.