Senior Design Program

2020-2021 Projects


Our senior design projects cover a wealth of fascinating engineering and science research. Each project features information about the research, a poster presentation, and a video.


Projects

Affordable Insulin Production

Students:

Erik,Borovilos, Rhys Kelly, Heather Kent, Camila Podominick, John Jaime
Insulin is one of the oldest biologics—with the first commercial production dating back to 1921. And yet diabetic patients in the United States face prices for the drug ten times higher than in other developed countries. This criminal pricing has many root causes, not the least of which are: 1) the existence of a near monopoly on its production by three companies, and 2) a vulnerable population willing (or having no choice but) to pay high prices. Among the solutions proposed by a doctor at the Mayo clinic is the establishment of a nonprofit entity to manufacture insulin. Our team is designing a commercial process for production of out-of-patent insulin analogs that could be used by such a nonprofit company. The process will use genetically engineered organisms to express human insulin analogs. It will also include subsequent steps for recovery and purification of the product. Based on our design, we will evaluate the capital and operating costs of the system in order to arrive at a base cost for providing insulin.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Back to the future—Breweries as a source of industrial chemicals

Students:

Ian Lea, Robert Morgan, Paula Mendoza Moreno, Jack Miera
The Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) fermentation process is one of the earliest industrial chemical processes developed and implemented on a large scale. During World Wars I and II, the ABE fermentation supported the production of synthetic rubber, which was vital to the war efforts. It was originally pioneered to produce butanol from biological sources and it was later discovered that acetone could also be produced by the same fermentation process. Another important discovery surrounding ABE fermentation was the isolation of Clostridium acetobutylicum, the strain of bacteria used still today for ABE fermentation. After World War II, the ABE fermentation process was displaced by petroleum-based production systems which were far less expensive to operate. In a world now concerned about both climate change and energy security, we may soon find ourselves going back to the future—producing these three industrial chemicals via fermentation of renewable biomass sugars. In this project, we take a second look at the ABE process in the light of these new concerns. We consider technical, economic and environmental aspects, all of which may influence the price and future demand for biologically derived chemicals.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan, Courtney Jahn, Ken Reardon

Clearing the air—Direct capture of CO2 from the atmosphere

Students:

Khalid Alanazi, Salem Badahdah, Bethany King, Roman Plano, Emily Ratdke, Tyler Sweet
In 2019, approximately 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere, and that value has been increasing exponentially since the 1950s. High levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere have led to an increase in Earth’s surface temperature, which has many catastrophic effects on the global climate. Many companies are implementing policies to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, but not enough. Nor is emission reduction alone enough. The increasingly imminent threat of catastrophic climate changes may require human society to remove greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. The goal of this project is to design a process for quickly and efficiently pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air—not an easy trick, considering the “low” concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, from the point of view of chemical process engineers. Our design incorporates recent research on technologies that absorb and concentrate atmospheric CO2, which can then be stored (a process called sequestration) or recycled to produce new products. Our challenge is to design a process that is affordable and sustainable.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

CO2 Capture - Chemical Absorption

Students:

Bassam Alabbad, Abdulrahman Alabede, Abdulkarim Aldhafeeri, Aziz Alzneidi, Ali Bukhedher
The City of Fort Collins has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. And yet Fort Collins and much of the surrounding area of northern Colorado will rely on coal to produce almost 40% of its electricity this year at the Rawhide Unit 1 generating station operated by the Poudre River Power Authority. Each year, the Rawhide unit dumps around 2 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Advocates for clean coal have promoted technology known as Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) as a way to reduce the contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere from coal-fired power stations like Rawhide. We are one of two teams evaluating the effectiveness of technologies that can capture the CO2 from Rawhide’s smokestack. We are focused on the use of well-established technology which uses chemical absorption to remove the CO2. In our design, the CO2 is further concentrated, so that it can be sequestered (stored) underground. Using chemical engineering principles, we will evaluate the cost and efficiency of this technology.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

CO2 Capture- Membrane

Students:

Carlie Rosenkrance, Nick Velasquez, Julian Wagner, Gavin Thomson, Cameron Kurtz
The City of Fort Collins has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. And yet Fort Collins and much of the surrounding area of northern Colorado will rely on coal to produce almost 40% of its electricity this year at the Rawhide Unit 1 generating station operated by the Poudre River Power Authority. Each year, the Rawhide unit dumps around 2 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Advocates for clean coal have promoted technology known as Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) as a way to reduce the contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere from coal-fired power stations like Rawhide. We are one of two teams evaluating the effectiveness of technologies that can capture the CO2 from Rawhide’s smokestack. We are focused on the use of “membrane separation” technology to remove the CO2. In our design, the CO2 is further concentrated, so that it can be sequestered (stored) underground. Using chemical engineering principles, we will evaluate the cost and efficiency of this technology.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Feeding our crops with wind energy: wind energy-derived ammonia fertilizer

Students:

Blayne Banghart, Sajad Al Hamoud, Joe Tallan
One of the biggest issues facing wind power is curtailment—the problem of unused wind power at night (or any time) when available power from wind exceeds demand on the electricity grid that supplies our homes and businesses. One of the biggest problems facing agriculture is the unsustainable use of fossil-based fertilizers—in this case, ammonia. In this project, our team evaluates a scheme for dealing with both problems. Today, ammonia is produced in huge, large scale factories that use natural gas as a feedstock. Our work involves the design of a novel scaled down ammonia fertilizer production process in which ammonia is produced from hydrogen and nitrogen, and the hydrogen is produced via electrolysis of water powered by electricity from wind that would otherwise not be used on the grid. We make use of available data and preliminary design information published by researchers at the University of Minnesota to determine the cost and sustainability of such a process.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Investing in the future with sustainable plastics

Students:

Alex Benitez, Ryanne Buck, Cody Hacker
The majority of plastics currently in use are petroleum based and not sustainable from a global perspective. Research from the National Renewable Energy Lab point to the option of bio-based polymers as a more ecologically efficient basis for plastics. While commercial bioplastics like poly lactic acid typically use microbes that grow on sugar to produce the chemical precursors of the plastic, our team is turning to an unusual class of single-cell microbes called Cyanobacteria. These organisms are neither plants nor bacteria. They are, essentially, bacteria that are capable of photosynthesis—meaning that they can turn sunlight and CO2 in organic biomass. Some strains are also capable of producing polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). These polymers can be used to make plastics. The Cyanobacteria are closely related to microalgae and can be grown using similar production schemes. Our team will design a commercial (large) scale production system to making PHAs from sunlight, waste CO2 and other nutrients. The heart of the production process is a photobioreactor capable of efficiently delivering sunlight and CO2. Subsequent steps are required to recover the PHA polymers for further use in plastics production.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Manufacturing of Cell-free Rapid COVID-19 test

Students:

Rachel Chayer, Zeus Alcon, Michael Kwolkoski
With the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid testing for the virus has become increasingly important as case numbers change and outbreaks need to be managed. Synthetic biology allows for the rapid testing of individuals using cell-free systems on a paper-based platform without needing complicated laboratory techniques. Within this testing assay are cell machinery components that are freeze-dried onto a disk of paper and cause a color change when certain conditions, such as having viral RNA in a patient’s sample, are met. The ability to manufacture such a testing system requires cell culturing in an industrial scale to obtain necessary cellular components and produce enough tests for it to be a viable option in places without access to laboratories or skilled technicians. Many cells containing the necessary proteins and cellular machinery must be grown in a bioreactor where they have time to produce those materials. From there, the components must be extracted without being destroyed, dried onto a piece of paper, and packaged.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
Christie Peebles

Natural flightpaths: Turning vegetable oil into jet fuel

Students:

James Brown, Jack Burns, Abdulrahman Masoud, Levi Robinson
While electric cars may represent the future of personal transportation, and there is a lot of talk about electrifying freight trucks, there is one segment of the transportation market that will always need an energy-dense liquid fuel—aviation. So, finding a substitute for petroleum derived jet fuel is critical to the future sustainability of the aviation sector. Aviation fuels are hydrocarbons consisting of relatively long chains of carbon and hydrogen. The closest equivalent to these molecules in the biological world are the natural or vegetable oils—also known as lipids or triglycerides. In their natural form, they are not quite right for use as a fuel. But the chemistry of converting them into molecules that look exactly like aviation fuel is well understood. Such fuels have already been tested—mostly as 50% blends with their petroleum counterparts—in commercial passenger jets. Bio-based fuels have many advantages compared to petroleum based fuels including their reduced emissions of fossil CO2 and their reliance on renewable raw materials. In this project, we design a commercial (large) scale production process for converting natural oils into jet fuel. Our goal is to assess the cost and technical feasibility of such a commercial operation. The big challenge we face is coming up with a design that is both environmentally friendly and economically competitive.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Satisfying our energy sweet tooth: ethanol Fuel from sugarcane

Students:

Nick Eyerman, Pramit Maskey, Casey Natsch, Jeremy Belin
Fermenting sugars to produce beverage alcohol dates back to the ancient Egyptians. But using that same process to make liquid fuel first gained momentum as an idea in Brazil in the '20s. Henry Ford also considered ethanol a good fuel for his Model T. In the early '70s, oil prices shot up causing Brazil to invest in sugarcane biofuel manufacturing technology. By the late '70s, Brazil was producing ethanol for fuel at a massive scale and its success is clear today. The US followed a different path to producing fuel grade ethanol, relying on its extensive corn grain supply. In this study, we consider a large-scale process for producing ethanol from sugarcane in the US. We assess the latest technology advances for both the fermentation process and downstream recovery of the fuel and potential byproducts, like heat and power. We address questions such as: 1) what is the cost of sugarcane ethanol in the US vs corn ethanol in the US?, 2) How sustainable (environmentally) is US sugarcane ethanol?
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Scaling up COVID-19 Vaccine production

Students:

Mehdi Rubaii, Lindsey Gilcreest, Sawyer Remillard, Aaron Hosack
The breakout of COVID-19 and the subsequent pandemic have caused many to look to engineers and scientists to solve the problem. A race to a vaccine has begun and seemingly, two companies have won. However, these vaccines were passed along under emergency circumstances so they may not be the most economically or environmentally efficient. Producing an environmentally and economically viable vaccine is urgent due to the huge and immediate market demand. Adenovirus and mRNA based vaccines along with different processes to produce them will be investigated to find the vaccine that is most beneficial to everyone. In this project, we design a large scale commercial vaccine production facility that meets the global and societal demands for cost-effectiveness, efficiacy and sustainability.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Stem Cell Spinal Cord Repair

Students:

Taylor Ausec, Katrina Brewer, Courtney Mack, Cailin Sullivan
Stem cell therapy is a quickly growing field in the pharmaceutical industry. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the capability of transforming into different cell types. Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) can be harvested from normal human adipose tissue, bone marrow, and the umbilical cord matrix of individual donors. Approximately 250,000 people in the United States suffer from life-changing acute spinal cord injuries each year, leading to neurological compromise through an inflammatory response and cell death within the spinal cord. With the use of hMSCs treatments, cell death can be limited in the spinal cord, stimulating growth of new cells, and replacing the injured cells. The aim of this project is to design a biomanufacturing process for hMSCs, from isolation of a a patient's individual cell line through the growth and replication process, separation of the hMSCs from the growth chamber, and packaging of the cells for shipping to the clinical site for use as a therapeutic.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

The new oil: using single-cell plants to feed our refineries with CO2 and sunlight

Students:

Tate Adams, Isabella Brandes, Erica Frank, Jacob Meyerholtz, Shelby Nook, Juan Venegas
Many plants—such as soybeans and oil palm—can turn sunlight and CO2 into energy-rich natural oils called lipids or triglycerides. But they pale in comparison to microalgae. These prehistoric, single-cell plants can be manipulated to grow on sunlight and CO2 and convert a large portion of their body weight to oil. And they can tolerate conditions that would be far too severe for conventional agricultural crops. In this project, we design a commercial-scale process based on microalgae’s superior ability to produce oil. It includes a “photobioreactor” designed to efficiently deliver waste CO2 and sunlight, along with other nutrients, to these microscopic plants under conditions that enhance their ability to produce oils. This is followed by a series of steps designed to recover and purify the oil from the reactor's mixture of water and plant cells. We envision replacing fossil petroleum with these natural oils as a feedstock to existing petroleum refineries. While such algal production systems already exist for producing high value oils and nutraceuticals, our challenge is to see if such a process can be built that is kind to the environment and yet economic—in other words, sustainable.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Turning waste CO2 and sunlight into ethylene—a path to green chemicals

Students:

AJ Booker, Tierney Johnson, Wit Stokes
Primarily produced from fossil fuel derivatives, ethylene is the single most produced organic molecule on the planet. Ethylene is used agriculturally as a plant hormone and industrially to produce plastics. Ethylene’s simple structure, the simplest possible alkene, makes it a perfect precursor for countless reactions. In order to wean society off of fossil fuels, a valid alternative production method for ethylene is essential. Cyanobacteria are a group of bacteria that have the unusual ability to grow on CO2 and sunlight using photosynthesis. They are strange creatures that do not wholly fit in the bacterial world or the plant world. In addition to growing on CO2 and sunlight, some cyanobacteria can be engineered to produce other chemicals, including ethylene. The use of cyanobacteria to produce ethylene has provided promising results and may eventually serve as this alternative method. In this project, we design a commercial scale facility based on photosynthetic production of ethylene from sunlight and CO2 using a genetically engineered strain of cyanobacteria. Our process starts with a photobioreactor that can efficiently deliver sunlight and CO2 (and other nutrients) followed by a series of steps for recovering and purifying ethylene. We evaluate both the economic and environmental aspects of the process, focusing specifically on the benefits of utilizing waste CO2 from other industrial sources.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan

Waste not want not—turning Fort Collins' food waste into fuel

Students:

Garrett Ruf, Finley Martinez, Alexa Jackson, Thamir Sindi, Jacob Tamani, Sydney Villers
The City of Fort Collins has established goals for reducing its discharge of solid waste and reducing its carbon footprint. In this project, we consider the design of a process that addresses both those goals simultaneously. We evaluate a process in which food waste collected by the city would be converted to a liquid fuel using technology called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL). During HTL, the carbon and hydrogen of the biomass feed is thermo-chemically converted into a “bio-oil” using high temperature and pressure conditions. The bio-oil produced can then be utilized as an alternative, eco-friendly fuel source. One of the advantages of HTL is that, unlike many other biofuels processes, it can efficiently deal with the presence of large amounts of water. Food waste is a perfect target for this technology. Biofuels produced from food waste may have a much smaller carbon footprint. At the same time, food waste processed with HTL avoids disposal of the waste in our local landfill. Our challenge is to design a process that is both cost effective and more sustainable relative to how the City of Fort Collins currently manages its food waste.
Department:
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Video presentation:
Link to project video
Advisors:
John Sheehan