Students Design Petrochemical Process to Address Shale Boom Demand
Teams of chemical engineering seniors at The University of Texas at Austin are competing to design an ethylene manufacturing process to pitch to industry leaders to address demand from North America’s shale boom. Ethylene, derived from Ethane, is a byproduct of shale gas, and is the basic building block of the petrochemical industry. Ethylene is used to create a slew of materials from plastics and packaging to detergents and antifreeze.
The project is part of the Process Design and Operations course, commonly known as Plant Design, in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering and has 27 student teams developing designs throughout the spring semester. In May, the teams give a 45 minute presentation, including an economic analysis to minimize cost and maximize efficiency, to judges from corporate partner companies, Ineos Olefins & Polymers USA (INEOS) and FLUOR. Judges select a winning design that could deliver a new ethylene unit to serve the gulf coast market.
“Recent developments in shale gas within Texas and around the country have created an abundant supply of low cost NGL (ethane and propane) feedstocks recovered from shale gas,” INEOS CEO Dennis Seith said. “We are experiencing a manufacturing renaissance in the petrochemical industry with new plants, debottlenecks and facilities being announced almost daily to take advantage of this low cost feedstock. In a tremendous example of industry and academia partnering together, INEOS put forward a framework for this semester’s Plant Design project.”
INEOS is recognized as a global leader in the production of chemicals and polymers and FLUOR is a FORTUNE 500 company that delivers detailed engineering and construction in the petroleum industry. The companies’ production networks span across the world with INEOS delivering front-end processes and FLUOR constructing back-end infrastructure. INEOS has supported the student Plant Design project for 5 years and FLOUR got involved in 2012.
“This project is a way for us to engage with engineering students, and it offers a real-life problem to solve,” said Jim Harris, VP of operations for INEOS and a UT Austin chemical engineering alum. “We’re challenging students to discover ways to simplify operations with novel technologies, optimize energy consumption and increase product recovery. This is a great supplement to our campus recruiting effort and has contributed to us hiring 12 UT Austin chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering graduates over the last 5 years.”
Students are given a detailed technical brief at an introductory Q&A session and throughout the semester judges are available in a mentoring capacity. The project showcases student talent to industry leaders and gives INEOS and FLUOR representatives, many UT Austin alums, a chance to come back to campus and give back. The project counts as 60 percent of the final grade for Plant Design, a senior level course that provides training in the design and optimization of process equipment used to manufacture chemicals. Student designs are judged on the process design, cost benefit analysis and energy efficiency.
“This is a fantastic collaborative project,” said Professor Michael Poehl, Plant Design instructor. “Students get to apply their skills and demonstrate their talents in a real-life scenario. Corporate partners get fresh, creative design improvements and interaction with quality candidates for employment. Everyone wins. It’s a great stepping stone into the real world and offers a glimpse of challenges students will encounter in their careers.”Tags: byproducts of shale gas, chemical engineering, ethane, ethylene, ethylene manufacturing, FLOUR, INEOS, petrochemical processes, plant design, seniors, shale boom, shale gas, The University of Texas at Austin, UT Austin