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Biomass As An Alternative Energy Source: An Illustration Of Chemical Engineering Thermodynamic Concepts

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Innovative Topics in ChE Curriculum

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.260.1 - 10.260.16



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Paper Authors

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Nicole May

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Marguerite Mohan

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Marco Castaldi

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Nada Assaf-Anid

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Biomass as an Alternative Energy Source: An Illustration of Chemical Engineering Thermodynamic Concepts

Marguerite A. Mohan1, Nicole May1, Nada M. Assaf-Anid1,2 and Marco J. Castaldi3 1. Chemical Engineering Department, Manhattan College, Riverdale, NY/ 2. Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University, New York, NY/ 3. Earth and Environmental Engineering Department, Columbia University, New York, NY


The ever increasing global demand for energy has sparked renewed interest within the engineering community in the study of sustainable alternative energy sources. This paper discusses a power generation system which uses biomass as “fuel” to illustrate the concepts taught to students taking a graduate level chemical engineering process thermodynamics course. The students were asked to propose solutions as to how a bioreactor might be used to decompose the biomass anaerobically and subsequently generate power. The purpose of the assignment was to give the students a better understanding of chemical thermodynamics by incorporating abstract thermodynamic principles, such as fugacity, solubility, and multi-phase equilibrium and to give them a chance to apply these principles to a relevant, practical, and open-ended situation. Specifically, the students were required to provide a full understanding of the bioreactor, and to develop the appropriate thermodynamic relationships to determine preferred system conditions which would accelerate the decomposition process. Among the characteristics examined were the types of byproducts formed, how these byproducts distribute themselves between the liquid and vapor phases, and the preferred concentration of carbon in the feed stream as a function of residence time, temperature, and pressure.


As discussed in an earlier paper1, the overall objective of the thermodynamics course sequence at Manhattan College is to allow the students to become confident enough about their understanding of the theoretical material taught and familiar enough with mathematical manipulations to properly and accurately set-up solutions to problems involving thermodynamics. Towards the end of the semester, students have a chance to explore and propose feasible solutions, and conduct what-if scenarios to contemporary problems such as Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) contamination of groundwater1, or biofuels2, or thermodynamics of power plants3. The desired outcome is to develop the students’ engineering judgment and capabilities along with their mathematical skills in solving fairly complicated equations with many inputs. This major assignment introduces the students to a practical and current problem that they can tackle somehow intuitively rather than by a direct application of formulas as presented by Cengel4. The only requirement for a solution is the use of some sort of computer programming, a spreadsheet, Mathematica, or MathCad®, and the thermodynamic principles taught in class (i.e., as phase equilibria, solubility, fugacity, etc). Such an open-ended

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

May, N., & Mohan, M., & Castaldi, M., & Assaf-Anid, N. (2005, June), Biomass As An Alternative Energy Source: An Illustration Of Chemical Engineering Thermodynamic Concepts Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14636

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