Final-year students of BTech (Chemical Engineering) at the Coimbatore campus, Dharani Sundara Rajan, Mythreyi Unni and N.S. Santhosh recently won the second prize in the 7th edition of the prestigious Young Innovators Choice Competition.
Organized annually, this year the competition was part of the Young Researchers Conference at the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai during January 10-13, 2013.
“In the competition, we were expected to solve real-life technical challenges. Eleven industry participants together defined twenty-one problems for us to solve. We could pick any one,” shared the winning Amrita students.
The problems embraced varied disciplines of pharmaceuticals, materials science, biotechnology, in addition to chemical engineering. Mentors from companies such as Reckitt Benckiser, Reliance Industries, Aarthi Health Care, United Phosphorus Industries, etc. helped guide the students.
A total of 147 teams from across the country participated in the competition.
The Amrita students chose a problem related to the isolation and large-scale production of a compound, hydroxy-methyl-furfural (HMF). The compound is of growing importance in today’s world due to its potential availability from carbohydrates such as fructose, glucose, sucrose, cellulose and insulin.
“Renewable energy is the need of the hour and various derivatives from biomass might play a major role in substituting petroleum resources. HMF has the potential to serve as a sustainable supply for fuels and chemical intermediates,” shared the Amrita students.
The students conducted an extensive literature search using the library and internet facilities that were provided. On Day 3, they proposed their winning solution to a panel of experts from Reliance Industries.
“We proposed the use of a solid acid catalyst, HBEA zeolite (Si/Al = 15) in ethylene glycol as the reaction medium. The catalyst would play the dual role of facilitating the dehydration of the fructose as well as retention of water within its network, thus reducing the formation of Levulinic acid and Humins that could arise due to rehydration of HMF,” the students elaborated.
Their solution hinged on two steps; process intensification of the reaction and product isolation. An extractive reactor was proposed that would integrate both steps.
“We took care to choose a catalyst that would have good reusability until the need arose for its regeneration. We proposed cyclic catalyst regeneration via the thermal swing process using two packed beds of the same material which could function in a cyclic and alternating manner, thus allowing simultaneous reaction in one and regeneration in the other. Considerably reduced formation of byproducts (Levulinic acid and humins) was anticipated due to the use of the zeolite catalyst. HMF yield up to 91 % was reported by researchers who had investigated this under optimum operating conditions,” the students explained further.
“Final step of purification of the HMF could be carried out using a pure silica bed,” they finally noted.
The winning students received a cash award of Rs. 10,000, medals and certificates.
“We are happy to have received the second prize in this contest. This achievement is not only ours but also that of the faculty of our department who trained us to think out of the box. We received much encouragement from them. We felt as if we were on the top of the world when we received the award,” they joyfully added.
February 23, 2013
School of Engineering, Coimbatore