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UK Team Wins National First Prize in 2018 AIChE Student Design Competition

A student design team from the University of Kentucky student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) has won the William Cunningham Award (first prize) in the team category of the AIChE 2018 Student Design Competition.

Robert Brooks, Ryan Hines, T. Jaye McCalla and Alex Ross, all chemical engineering students who graduated from UK in 2018, placed first nationally. As a result of this recognition, the team will receive a cash award, a plaque, free registration to the 2018 AIChE Annual Student Conference, October 26-29 in Pittsburgh and recognition during the conference at the Student Awards Ceremony.

Each year, AIChE creates a design problem and receives student solutions from schools across the U.S. The problem statement devised for spring 2018 was to design a plant that could produce 250,000 gallons per day of dimethyl ether (DME) to be used as a clean alternative to diesel fuel. Students had 30 days to complete the project.

The UK team completed the design problem as its senior capstone design project. Members gathered information about various topics that the design included, such as properties of DME and other chemicals required, types of catalysts, market conditions, health and environmental concerns, etc. Next, they identified two viable options that could work for their process and used computer modeling, as well as economic analysis, to determine which design was the most feasible and profitable.

Once they selected their design technology, they added final details and initiated several rounds of optimization of the process to ensure costs were minimized. Throughout the project, the team had to incorporate health, safety, environmental, market, regulatory and operational elements into the design.

“Our chemical engineering program has always been populated with outstanding students. This team has distinguished itself on the national stage,” said chemical engineering professor Eric Grulke, who taught the senior design class and mentored the team.