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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Civil and Environmental Engineering News – Fall 2015

Students design pulp mill retrofits for a future biofuels industry

WSU Integrated Design Experience students

WSU civil engineering students worked on a unique, interdisciplinary project to design a retrofit for a pulp mill, so it might someday produce the sugars that are needed to make aviation biofuels.

The project is part of a large WSU-led research effort to identify a supply chain for production of aviation biofuels from forest and wood waste. One of the big challenges in turning slash piles into commercials products are processing and transportation costs as well as the cost of building new facilities, such as sugar depots. Sugar depots turn wood debris into simple sugars for use in biofuels. Pulp mills are ideal candidates to accommodate sugar processing because they use the same infrastructure, resulting in lower capital investment and greater economic sustainability for the mill.

As part of the year-long project, the students identified existing wood processing facilities throughout Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, and worked to rank facilities that could best be retrofitted to be a part of a potentialsupplychain. Studentsthendesignedaretrofit for a selected facility.

This project was part of the Integrated Design Experience, which brings together industry professionals with faculty mentors who guide groups of students as they tackle design projects focused on sustainability. Students came from a variety of disciplines, including civil engineering, architecture, and construction management. The work was supported by the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), a WSU-led coalition of government groups, private industry, and universities centered on evaluating the feasibility of making bio-jet fuel and co-products from forest residuals.

“These students perform critical data gathering and analyses for the NARA project,” said Karl Olsen, clinical associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “At the same time, they’re getting invaluable hands-on and real-world experience that will help them become better engineers and designers.”