281380 Integrating Active Research On CO2 Capture in Traditional Process Design

Tuesday, October 30, 2012: 10:15 AM
Shadyside (Omni )
Omkar Namjoshi, Paul Nielsen, Matthew Walters, Bo Lu, Siyun Wang and Gary T. Rochelle, Department of Chemical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

The typical capstone design course in most chemical engineering curricula integrates material from heat and material balances, unit operations, engineering economics, and reaction engineering.  At the University of Texas at Austin, we also incorporate aspects from sustainable engineering and from our research program in the design class.  Students who take this class are tasked with completing a preliminary design of a post-combustion carbon (CO2) capture process (capturing CO2from a point source) using amine-based solvents or physical solvents.

Themes from sustainable engineering are incorporated at the beginning of the course and reinforced throughout the semester.  Students are first given an introduction to climate change (framing the problem) and, in groups of two to three students, submit a proposal outlining their choice of CO2 point source (e.g. coal fired plants, natural gas combined-cycle power plants, oil refineries, synthesis gas, cement plants), capture solvent (e.g. activated MDEA, MEA, concentrated Piperazine), and also a semi-quantitative economic incentive for building the plant (e.g. taking advantage of CO2 trading programs in the EU, use of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery).  The choice of source is noteworthy as students have to be specific in which source they select.  For example, merely choosing a generic coal fired plant is not enough; students need to submit a proposal for a specific coal power plant based on publicly available data, feasibility, and (if possible) discussions with company officials.  These themes are reinforced throughout the class as detailed design progresses and economics are finalized (students must answer what price CO2must be “sold” for the plant to make a profit) and gives students valuable insight regarding energy and environmental policy, which is not commonly encountered in a traditional “core” chemical engineering class.

One major aspect of our research program is the development of rigorous thermodynamic frameworks and mass transfer models applicable to unit operations encountered in post-combustion carbon capture processes.  These models, developed by graduate students using AspenPlus, are often used by the undergraduate students for finalizing heat/material balances, equipment design, and economics for their proposed plant designs.  The results from the undergraduate students’ design cases have given graduate students valuable insight regarding model accuracy, validity, and feasibility. 

The design course is also organized differently than most at UT-Austin.  Graduate teaching assistants (who are specifically recruited for this class), who report to the professor assigned for the class, supervise three to four student groups for the duration of the semester; the TA’s are responsible for mentoring the student groups, ensuring that project deliverables are met, and evaluating individual student performance.  With this arrangement, the graduate teaching assistants have the opportunity to develop and hone management skills very early on in their careers.

These aspects – making sustainability a key focus of the class, integrating current research with process design, and promoting development of teaching assistants – will be discussed in detail during the presentation.

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