(233g) A Flexible Membrane Experiment to Teach Gas Separations in the Laboratory and in the Classroom | AIChE

(233g) A Flexible Membrane Experiment to Teach Gas Separations in the Laboratory and in the Classroom


For the last few years, the department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin has committed efforts and resources to the renovation of its undergraduate teaching laboratory sequence in the Junior and Senior years. These efforts have pursued a problem-based-learning focus and a continuous improvement approach to improve the practical educational experience for every chemical engineer who graduates from the program. As part of this renovation, we have greatly benefited from our collaborations with and the input we receive from industry, and the participation of staff, faculty, and graduate students in the development of the new learning experience offered to our students. To this day, we have added, redesigned, and improved all the experiment stations in the laboratories with aims to enrich the learning experience in the chemical engineering program.

Chemical engineering laboratories are courses in which students solidify their knowledge and put theory into application by working in teams to solve challenging problems. In these laboratories, undergraduate students strengthen their understanding of fundamental chemical engineering concepts introduced in courses such as Transport Processes, Fluid Mechanics, Material Balances, Thermodynamics, and Separations amongst others. Many of these fundamental concepts can be demonstrated effectively when applied to gas separations and membrane systems applications.

Membrane gas separations are widely used in a vast array of applications as they provide advantages over other separation techniques such as small size and portability, long-term cost stability, and modular nature for future expansion. If applied inside the classroom, these industrial process advantages can be translated into experiments that provide a flexible and tailored laboratory learning experience. Thereupon, we have developed a gas membrane separation experiment that offers ample design flexibility for laboratory and classroom learning applications. The membrane system consists of 4 interconnected and easily exchanged small-scale membrane modules that facilitate the study, design and scale-up of membrane separation processes. The system is equipped with multiple gas sources to facilitate gas mixing on the fly, it has interchangeable rotameters and flow meters to scale up or down the process, and we have installed multiple gas analyzers to study different gas separation applications (e.g. O2/N2, CO2/Air, etc.). In addition, the experiment has been assembled in a mobile workbench (i.e. “on-wheels”) to facilitate its transport for use in classroom demonstrations and in engagement activities during recruitment events.

In this presentation, we will describe this newly developed gas membrane separation experiment station and its contributions to our continued development approach. We will detail the design and construction of the experiment, its relationship to chemical engineering core courses, its use as a flexible class project in laboratory courses, and its application in demonstrations outside the laboratory. We will also share example projects developed by students in our Senior Laboratory to highlight how the practical elements of this experiment contribute to the overall educational experience in the chemical engineering program.