University of British Columbia student wins prize for simulation competition

Process designed using simulation platform would convert plastic waste into liquid fuels. Video: Meet Bryan Gene, Design Challenge winner for 2012.


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Peter Welander talks to Bryan Gene, the design competition winner.

At its user meeting earlier this month, Honeywell Process Solutions recognized a University of British Columbia engineering graduate who used advanced software to enhance a new process for plastic waste disposal. Bryan Gene was named the winner of the 2012 UniSim Design Challenge, an annual university student competition held in conjunction with the Honeywell Users Group (HUG) Americas Symposium.

UniSim is Honeywell’s software used by industrial manufacturers to design and test manufacturing processes before they are implemented in refineries, chemical plants, power plants, and other industrial facilities. It also is used to improve production and safety by training personnel offline to operate these processes.

Gene, who received his chemical engineering degree last month from the university, used UniSim to model a pyrolysis process that can be used to convert plastic waste that ordinarily would be sent to landfills into a synthetic crude oil. This process, however, is still emerging and manufacturers face challenges in making it more economical. Using the software’s existing database, Gene characterized non-conventional plastics and produced preliminary models for all major units of the pyrolysis process. Gene had an opportunity to present his winning design to over 1,000 industry experts and manufacturing companies at HUG.

“Many people view our customers’ industries as traditional areas that employ the same processes for decades, but the truth is that they’re constantly looking for innovative ways to perform their daily jobs more effectively,” said Bradd Schneider, vice president of sales, Honeywell Process Solutions. “Bryan Gene’s proposal embodies the type of innovation our customers want and need. Production demands will only continue to rise, so finding ways to continuously improve plant safety, reliability and efficiency will continue to be a top priority.”

The UniSim Design Challenge is one of several Honeywell Process Solutions initiatives designed to encourage engineering studies. In addition to the Americas, Honeywell Process Solutions also holds annual student competitions in conjunction with annual HUG conferences in the EMEA and Pacific regions.

“By submitting designs in the competition, students had the opportunity to work with actual tools used on a day-to-day basis in manufacturing facilities,” said Dr. Dusko Posarac, chemical and biological engineering professor at the University of British Columbia. “The design challenge gave our students a hands-on experience to apply the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom to address real-world issues facing manufacturing companies today.”

In the description of his process, Gene goes into greater detail:

“The process of pyrolysis is simply a thermal decomposition of the long polymer chains into shorter hydrocarbons within the petroleum grade range. This process takes place in an inert atmosphere to avoid unwanted combustion reactions. Pyrolysis does not only prevent plastics from reaching landfills and incinerators, but produces a high value synthetic crude oil that can be sold to refineries at price parity with traditional crude oil.

“Pseudocomponents created from TBP data, bulk properties, and light end analysis can be effectively used to represent synthetic crude produced from the pyrolysis reaction. A high molecular weight, dense mock oil can be used to represent the melted plastic feed stock to the pyrolysis reactor. The properties of this oil can be validated by modeling the pyrolysis reactor as a “black box” model. By restricting the inlet and outlet streams to a mass balance in the balance block, the difference in each stream’s heat flow represents the amount of energy required to convert the mock oil into the synthetic crude oil. Modifying the mock oil bulk properties to ensure the simulated heat flow across the balance block matches a known reaction energy (from literature, experimental, or other model based values), one can verify that an adequate approximation of the plastic feed was made. From there, the synthetic crude can be passed through an atmospheric distillation column to separate various cuts. The light gases expelled from the distillation column can then be used as a fuel source to a fired heater combustion system which can calculate the amount of heat that can be generated to power the pyrolysis reaction and other auxiliary operations.

“An advanced model can be developed by measuring different product properties and their respective energy requirements with varying feed stock compositions. This will allow for a predictive model which can anticipate downstream consequences based on upstream disturbances in feed composition.”

Edited by Peter Welander,

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