Feasibility of configuring the Fluor Pilot Plant as a novel water purification plant to remove micro/nanoplastics
This project seeks to determine the feasibility and potential benefit to students of using the Fluor Pilot Plant as a large scale facility for removing micro/nanoplastics from water. In particular, we will investigate to what extent we can operate the plant as a pollution control facility, and embed an environmental sustainability case study into the third year Process Operation and Management (ENG3190) module in the BEng/MEng programmes in chemical and process engineering.
This project also seeks to develop a small demonstration activity using dyed micro/nanoplastics and to explore links to other modules across the University’s sustainability theme.
The Fluor Pilot Plant located within the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, allows us to show students how their theoretical learning translates to large scale operation, by giving them the experience of operating and managing a fully integrated chemical process plant. In our ENG3190 module we present students with a hypothetical chemical company that produces high quality saline solution in the Fluor Pilot Plant.
As “employees” of this company, students operate the plant during a full week of production and perform projects to determine how the efficiency can be improved for various units (reactor, pumps, filters). The chemistry taking place at the centre of the plant is a reaction that precipitates calcium carbonate from an aqueous saline solution containing calcium chloride:
Recently, researchers at the National University of Singapore found that this same reaction can be used to entrap plastic nanoparticles with 99 per cent efficiency at the lab scale. Micro/nanoplastics pollution in waters is highly relevant to chemical engineers, as it is both a by product of the chemical industry and a global problem which will require engineered solutions. A recent study estimated 35-94 thousand microplastic particles flow down the Thames every second.
The University of Surrey has launched a University Global Partnership Network research programme just last year focusing on understanding the impact of plastics that leak to the environment. Considering the Department has already designed a large scale operational pilot plant that can perform the chemical reaction now shown to entrap nanoplastics from water, it is worth investigating whether this facility will be able to offer a real life solution to a growing pollution problem of global scale, and whether this concept can be meaningfully integrated into the ENG3190 experience.
Aims and objectives
- The pilot plant will serve as a demonstration of how chemical and process engineering can address relevant grand challenges in engineering (micro/nanoplastics pollution)
- A tangible link will be established between traditional chemical processes that students encounter in other modules to the design of environmentally friendly processes
- A bench scale demonstration of how chemical engineering can better the environment (by capturing micro/nanoplastics from water) will be created for use in ENG3190 and recruitment activities
- The updated module and demonstration will be unique to Surrey and aid in the recruitment of students passionate about environmental sustainability
- Student consultations will provide an opportunity for engaging the student community in teaching innovation, strengthening ties within the department.
- Om Sabnis.