Published: 20 April 2016

New chemical engineering facility to give students real-world industrial experience

Construction has begun on a new £1.7m facility which will include a fully operational pilot process plant, due to open in September 2017.

The new facility will become the flagship area for undergraduate teaching within the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, giving students access to state-of-the-art equipment that replicates what they will eventually use in industry.

The facilities will underpin Surrey’s chemical and process engineering degree programmes, which were updated and re-validated by the IChemE last year, increasing the level of practical application throughout the three years and enhancing the student experience. The new facility is being part-funded by a generous donation of US$1 million from Surrey alumni Neil and Elizabeth Chapman. Neil Chapman is a Chemical Engineering graduate and currently President of ExxonMobil Chemical Company and Elizabeth is a Human Health and Biology alumna.

Featuring an open plan, light-filled learning space, the new facility includes:

  • Fully operational pilot plant replicating industry practice to demonstrate chemical reaction, solids handling, filtration, and CO2 capture. Modelled on a simple and safe process – producing table salt – the plant will enable students to experience different unit operations commonly found in process plants

  • High spec control room, situated on a mezzanine floor overlooking the plant

  • Stand-alone equipment enabling students to understand key chemical engineering operations and conduct simple experiments before using the full pilot plant, including a refrigeration plant, gas absorption unit (to remove CO2 gases) and a crystallisation unit

In addition to equipment for hands-on learning, the facility will house a new computer lab aimed at offering students a range of immersive, innovative learning experiences. This could include virtual plant simulations (where students use virtual reality headsets and specialist software to discover processes in highly hazardous plant environments, for example), and possibly even computer-based programmes allowing them to run experiments remotely.

Director of Teaching Dr Esat Alpay said, “The new pilot plant and upgraded laboratory facilities will provide students with a highly engaging environment for the application of theory to real process plant, and the experience of industrial-type operations. The lab development has coincided with the recent IChemE re-accreditation of our Chemical Engineering programmes, allowing us to ensure that the technical content and skills development aspects of the lab work carefully complement the modules within each year of study. This should really enrich the student learning of chemical engineering and its real-world practice.”

In the future, a second phase of building will include the creation of new research laboratories within the facility.


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