Figuring out the best ways to recover solvents

Chemical and pharmaceutical industries use solvents during their production processes. These solvents are often discarded after a single use or incinerated to generate energy, but there are many ways to recover and reuse the solvents instead.

Clinic Project: Systematic synthesis of solvent recovery processes

Sponsor: AstraZeneca

Kirti Yenkie, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering

Michael Mackley, Liela Clarke, Brandon Jarrett, Austin Lehr, Emmanuel Aboagye,  Jake Stengel, John Chea

The question is, which methods are most efficient, economical and environmentally friendly for a particular industrial process?

With support from AstraZeneca, three undergraduate chemical engineering students and a graduate student working under the direction of Dr. Kirti Yenkie spent a year developing a user-friendly computational tool to help companies determine the answer. Using methods that were developed with support from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Pollution Prevention Program, the software predicts the most cost-effective and greenest methods for solvent recovery.

The team developed a beta version of the software and will continue to refine it after consulting with AstraZeneca. Yenkie expects the work will be completed by December 2022.

Hands-on clinic projects give students an idea of what it means to be a chemical engineer, said Brandon Jarrett, a junior who plans to pursue an industry job immediately after graduation. 

“With many of my other courses giving me the background knowledge I need to be an engineer, none of these classes give me the same insight of what engineers actually do like a clinic does,” Jarrett said.

Austin Lehr, a graduate research fellow in the Sustainable Design & Systems Medicine Lab, is guiding the undergraduates on the team. He viewed junior and senior clinic projects as “internships that were built into the curriculum.”   

“These students were very motivated to work on the project and have presented their work at multiple conferences and meetings,” Yenkie said.