(238d) Steal This Project: Solar-Thermal Conversion of Biomass to Methanol As an Introduction to Chemical Engineering Design

Majlinger, C., University of Colorado
Weimer, A. W., University of Colorado Boulder
This project introduces the fundamentals of engineering design over the course of a semester by asking students to design a solar-thermal plant for the production of methanol from biomass. The project involves the gasification of lignocellulosic biomass at high-temperature to produce synthesis gas, which is converted and purified downstream. The high-temperatures are achieved via solarthermal heating during the day, and natural gas combustion at night, requiring students to design a hybrid reactor system.

This project introduces several topics in chemical engineering design that students have likely not encountered before such as life-cycle analysis and solids handling, in addition to common concepts such as reactor design and process heat integration. Students individually perform work on the project in three phases throughout the semester in the form of take-home exams as pertinent topics are introduced. During the final 6 weeks of the semester students break off into teams of 4 or 5 and complete the project. Teams are required to build three different simulations, two in Aspen HYSYSTM and one in Aspen PlusTM, thus familiarizing the students with both software packages. Students must also incorporate textbook design calculations, kinetic modeling and cash flow analysis.

This presentation will describe the project, the unique way in which it was taught, and show sample results from students.