CAREER: Synergistic Design, Analysis and Learning of Intensified Process Systems Grant uri icon


  • In this new era of highly dispersed and unconventional feedstocks and volatile prices, the Chemical Process Industry will likely evolve to include distributed chemical manufacturing performed in small-scale, modular systems. This CAREER project is motivated by the need for developing a methodology to expose and exploit synergy in the multiple steps of a complex chemical process. The ultimate purpose is to design intensified chemical processes that combine tasks into fewer units, resulting in higher product yields, higher energy efficiency and lest waste. This new methodology will be applied to design intensified processes for unconventional methane-to-chemicals conversions in remote locations for the production of high-value liquid chemicals using local sources of shale gas, biogas, or landfill gas. The research results will be integrated into educational and outreach activities, including a citizen science project focusing on intensification of shale gas activities in Texas and recruiting of underrepresented minorities into STEM careers through K-12 demonstrations of process design concepts.The proposed research will employ theoretical analysis and computer simulations to systematically locate intensification hotspots in complex chemical processes and re-orient the underlying physical and chemical phenomena while striking a balance between modularity and intensification within the overall design. Systematic methods and algorithms will be formulated for synergistic design and operation of intensified systems that are amenable to both centralized and distributed chemical manufacturing. Identification of hidden synergies will transform many chemical processes, especially where intensification is not obvious or deemed to be disadvantageous. Scaling down/out conventional processes without intensification could lead to poor economies-of-scale and high capital intensity. To this end, synergistic analysis provides a natural framework for studying the level of intensification of process designs. A graph theoretical representation of chemical processes is proposed based on phenomena-phenomena interactions (PPI) as new way to design processes with greater synergy. The PPI-based analysis can lead to innovative pathways and drastic improvements in energy, cost, emissions and waste to achieve sustainability in a resource-constrained environment. The change from the classic unit-operation-based representation into an interaction-based building block representation of chemical processes sets will enable design and intensification of complex processes without prior postulation of all plausible flowsheets. The generic block superstructure will essentially eliminate the need for problem specific designs and allow process synthesis, integration, and intensification in a single framework. The integration of research and education involves an assessment of chemical engineering curricula using a course-course interaction (CCI) graph to enhance synergistic learning and development of a new graduate course. The proposed project also includes a citizen science project to engage volunteers with diverse backgrounds in the intensification of a statewide Material and Process (MaP) network for shale gas utilization in Texas. The MaP project will provide an informal science education opportunity with a synergistic impact on participant knowledge. Women and minority students will be recruited through the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program and a building-block-based design concept will be included in projects designed for grades 1 to 4 to attract students into STEM fields.This award reflects NSF''s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation''s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • 2020 - 2025