17 November 2015

Plants to fuel project wins design prize

Macnab Lacey Winners 2015
A team from Imperial College, London, have been named winners of the 2015 Macnab-Lacey Student Design Prize, for their design of a biomass-to-liquid technology which turns plant waste into fuel.

The prize is awarded annually, by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), to the design project that best demonstrates how chemical engineering practice can contribute to a more sustainable world.

The nine-strong team of Uzo Nwachukwu, Olumayowa Okulate, Priyank Shah, Leona Y S Tan, Yash Dongre, James Ellis, Joseph Wilson, Jaipal Sachdev and Richard Chang, are all final year chemical engineering students at the college. Mentored through the project by Dr Denis Dugwell, Distinguished Research Fellow at Imperial’s Department for Chemical Engineering, the team were announced the winners for their biomass-to-liquids plant design.

The concept tackles a real-world issue of a possible fuel crisis, as well as the need to reduce CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.

IChemE’s Sustainability Special Interest Group, which administers and judges the medal, were impressed by Imperial’s strong analysis of alternative processes, using sustainability principles throughout.

Malcolm Wilkinson, chair of the group commented: “The principles were evident across the entire project - in the team’s choice of gasifier, their reactor designs and in their life-cycle analysis, which highlighted areas for improvement.”

When asked what they had taken from the project, the team said, “We wanted to consider the wider implications that a biomass-to-liquid plant would have on society, if commissioned. It was an intimidating and challenging task initially, but we quickly learnt how important it is to create a conducive environment and work together in a fun and productive way.”

Imperial College won against stiff competition from the University of Manchester (Dimethyl Ether from Shale Flare Gas), Monash University (Production of Furfural from Biogas), University College London (Ammonia from Natural Gas), University of Sydney (Coal Seam Gas Freeze Crystallisation Pilot Plant) and Heriot-Watt University (APIs from Controlled Substances).

Colin Webb, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Manchester University, said: "It is fantastic to see that this award is becoming more established, and to have new and worthy winners. We will of course enter again."

Gill Garnier, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Monash, added: "This is a great activity to help our graduating engineers rise to another level of excellence. IChemE should be commended for all their hard-work in organising this award for students."

The winning students will share the £750 prize money, which is partly funded from the Lacey Fund and partly by the Sustainability Subject Group.

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IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).