259357 A Distillation Experiment Linking Classroom with Industrial Processing

Tuesday, October 30, 2012: 4:06 PM
330 (Convention Center )
Tracy J. Benson, Chemical Engineering, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, Peyton C. Richmond, Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX and Weldon Leblanc, Lamar Institute of Technology, Beaumont, TX

A pilot-scale distillation column was used as a unit operations experiment to provide a link between classroom lectures and real world applications.  A 20-foot tall, 1-foot diameter packed distillation column, complete with reboiler, pumps, holding tanks, fin fan, control valves, and DCS control board, was used to separate a mixture of propylene glycol and water. The distillation unit is used as a teaching tool by a 2-year technology school (Lamar Institute of Technology) that is adjacent to Lamar University.  Senior-level chemical engineering students were presented with an open-ended distillation experiment where they defined the experimental conditions to solve a generalized problem. Teamwork, chemical process safety, increased communication skills, and sensory awareness were the main objectives of this experiment.

Each of the four teams (each team had 4 -5 members) was tasked with a different testing parameter (feed flow rate, column vacuum pressure, reboiler temperature, and feed location) to help identify operating parameters for optimum separation and energy efficiency.  The teams were further divided into sub-team groups with one sub-team at the DCS control board and the other “in the field” reporting instrument readings via 2-way radios.  After performing the experiment, students used a combination of Excel and Aspen simulation to analyze and explain their results.

Each team was required to give a 15 – 20 minute poster presentation to disseminate their findings.  As every student within the team was required to speak ~3 minutes, students had the opportunity to develop oral presentation skills.  An assessment revealed that students were better able to comprehend the intertwined facets of typical chemical processes, developed increased communication skills, and were more aware of process safety than the typical unit operation experiment.  Future plans for this experiment will include statistical design of experiments, other uses for old or existing columns, and multi-component distillation.

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