June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
23.69.1 - 23.69.14
A Modular Approach of Integrating Biofuels Education into Chemical Engineering CurriculumCurrently there is a pressing and immediate national need for skilled engineers and competent researchersin the biofuels technology field. Although many biofuels education programs have emerged in the past afew years, most of them target general public and non-engineering audience, which lack the technicaldetails for training engineers and scientists. Contrary to the lack of efforts in undergraduate biofuelseducation, there are many specialized research centers on biofuels technologies established recently.However, the papers and reports from these centers usually involve advanced research that only thespecialized scientists can understand. Consequently, there is a significant gap between advanced biofuelsresearch and undergraduate biofuels education in engineering.Among different engineering majors, chemical engineering is in a unique position to address thiseducational need. This is because most biofuels processes are chemical or biochemical processes and allthe underlying principles of biofuels processes, such as mass transfer, heat transfer and reactionengineering, are the same as those of traditional chemical or petrochemical processes. These similaritiesindicate a much easier transition from a traditional chemical engineer to a biofuels engineer compared toother majors. Of course, biofuels processes have their unique characteristics and challenges. Fro example,biofuels processes are more complex than the traditional chemical processes when lignocellulosicbiomass is involved. This perhaps is the major reason for the lack of comprehensive yet simple enoughmaterial on biofuels processes that can be easily adopted into chemical engineering curricula. Althoughthere are several excellent graduate textbooks on biofuels technology, undergraduates do not haveadequate background knowledge to understand them. Due to the lack of appropriate educational materials,existing undergraduate biofuels educational efforts are often too fragmented to achieve critical mass for avisible impact on students’ understanding of the biofuels technology when they graduate.We believe that a better approach of teaching chemical engineering students biofuels technology is toadopt a piecemeal (or vertical integration) approach by creating a set of comprehensive yet flexible andapprehensible biofuels learning modules that spread across the entire chemical engineering curriculum.This is because fundamental principles and concepts that involved in chemical processes (which are thesame for biofuels processes) are introduced gradually and cumulatively throughout the chemicalengineering curriculum. Specifically, instead of developing a separate senior course that is devoted tobiofuels processes, we propose to break down the biofuels processes into small pieces such as unitoperations, and each piece can be further broken down and simplified to illustrate different chemicalengineering principles or concepts. We believe this piecemeal or “spread-out” approach will result inbetter students learning outcome than the “single-course” approach.Currently, we are developing a series of classroom learning modules that can be easily integrated intoexisting chemical engineering curricula, which includes learning objectives, background information,example problems and solutions, as well as homework and design problems. In addition, inspired by thetwo recently emerged instructional strategies: computer-assisted instruction and visual learning, we arecreating a series of web modules to address different learning styles. The key components of each webmodule include: glossary, process introduction, process flow diagram, captured and animated processvideo clips, visual encyclopedia of equipment, reference shelf, etc. All the classroom and web moduleswill be hosted on our recently established website (address removed for blind review), which is the firstwebsite that is dedicated to chemical engineering undergraduate biofuels education. ∗ Preference: regular session.
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