ChemE students win top prizes at the 69th CCEC

ChemE students performed extremely well at this year’s 69th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference (CCEC) hosted in Halifax from October 20-23, 2019.

Kimberly Watada (ChemE 2T2) took home first-place and Judy Xia (ChemE 2T2) second-place in the Robert G. Auld Student Paper Competition. This technical competition allows students to speak on any aspect of chemical engineering, including work experience, design or research projects.

Kim WatadaWatada’s presentation was titled, Extraction of Rare Earth Elements from a Canadian Ore using Supercritical Fluid Extraction. Abstract: Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are crucial elements that are widely utilized in many emerging and critical green technologies such as wind turbines and electric vehicles. Conventional REE processing methods rely on large volumes of acids and organic solvents and generate significant volumes of hazardous waste. Thus, an environmentally and economically efficient extraction method for REEs from primary sources has become increasingly paramount. Supercritical fluid extraction (SCFE) has emerged as a green alternative for the extraction of REEs due to the favourable properties of supercritical fluids as solvents. In particular, supercritical carbon dioxide (SC-CO2) is a promising solvent as it is inert, abundant, cost effective and easily recyclable. In this study, SC-CO2 along with tributyl-phosphate-nitric acid complexing agent is used to extract REEs from a Canadian ore. Utilizing fractional factorial design, the effect of temperature, solid to chelating agent ratio, pressure, time, and agitation rate on the extraction efficiency are studied. An empirical model for the REE extraction was constructed to optimize process parameters. Approximately 60% and 75% REE extraction are achieved from ore and pretreated ore samples, respectively. The results of this study demonstrate the feasibility of SCFE as a sustainable alternative for REE extraction from primary resources.

Judy XiaXia’s project was on, Validating Fenton’s Reagents as an Organic Digestion Method to Aid in Microplastics Extraction in Stormwater Samples. Abstract: Microplastics contamination in marine environment has emerged as a global issue with more than 300 million tons of debris floating on sea surfaces. Recently, stormwater run-off is hypothesized as a major pathway for transporting microplastics from land-based sources to the oceans. To elucidate this relationship, stormwater samples are collected, and density separated to extract microplastics for quantification and characterization. While the density separation works effectively on marine samples, stormwater samples contain a large quantity of organic substrates that mask the density of the microplastic particles (MPs), resulting in a low extraction yield. The present study aims to modify and validate Fenton’s reagent, an iron-catalyzed oxidation reaction commonly applied to organic-rich wastewater, as an additional organic digestion step before the density separation. The study consists of 2 phases. Phase I ensures Fenton’s reagent does minimal damages to the MPs by comparing the surface area of the MPs before-and-after the digestion. Phase II tests the reaction’s efficiency in removing organic contents. Soil replicates are used to approximate the organic profile of the stormwater samples. Replicates are then treated with the Fenton’s reagent and Loss-on-Ignition (a benchmark standard) respectively and the two organic removal rates will be compared. Currently, the study has passed both phases with support from statistical tests and is on the final validation process. Soil samples spiked with a known number of MPs will be sent through both digestion and density separation to determine the combined MPs recovery rate. The findings of this study will not only aid in determining the fate of the MPs in stormwater run-off, but also contribute to the current literature to develop a systematic approach to microplastics extraction in organic-enriched samples.

Namya SyalIn addition to our students success in the Robert G. Auld Student Paper Competition, we also excelled in the Reg Friesen Competition. This non-technical competition is intended to encourage students to present papers of general interest concerning the following: critical evaluation of their educational experiences; innovative learning/teaching strategies and materials; other topics that address chemistry or chemical engineering education. Namya Syal (ChemE 2T0) took home first-place after presenting her paper, Development of modular problem-based distillation project to integrate core chemical engineering concepts and principles. Abstract: To improve vertical and horizontal integration of engineering concepts taught in second and third years and across the same year and reducing the cognitive load in students, we have developed a modular problem-based learning approach in which students will conduct the experiments in multiple weeks to achieve the project objective. Although problem-based learning and multi-week laboratory experiments have been developed for high schools, and other engineering disciplines and outcomes in student engagement and comprehension are positive, little research and practice have been done for Unit Operations Laboratory in Chemical Engineering. The breakdown of the weekly laboratory objectives and anticipated outcomes are presented and discussed.

Anton MeierLast but certainly not least, our student chapter of the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSChE) took home the Student Merit Award, presented to the year’s best student chapter. Anton Meier (ChemE 2T0), chair of our chapter, accepted the award on behalf of the entire group.

A big congratulations to all our student winners. Thank you for representing us so well and being such great ChemE ambassadors!