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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Undergrads take third place in PepsiCo/SWE challenge

Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students who competed in the PepsiCo Student Engineering Challenge at the annual Society of Women Engineers conference this fall.

The University of Illinois team, comprised of ChBE students Sahana Belagur, Sasu Tuladhar, and Joy Hensold, plus Adithi Murthy from Industrial and Enterprise System Engineering, came in third place overall.

“We learned a lot about teamwork, process design and all the factors that go into designing a new product, such as environmental and economic drivers. While it took a lot of time, it was really fun!” said senior Sahana Belagur.

Illinois students won third place in the national Pepisco/SWE Challenge at the Society for Women Engineers Conference this fall. From left to right are Sahana Belagur (ChBE), Sasu Tuladhar (ChBE), Adithi Murthy (IE) and Joy Hensold (ChBE).
Illinois students won third place in the national Pepisco/SWE Challenge at the Society for Women Engineers Conference this fall. From left to right are Sahana Belagur (ChBE), Sasu Tuladhar (ChBE), Adithi Murthy (IE) and Joy Hensold (ChBE).

For the challenge, students could choose from among several prompts. The Illinois team chose the Zero Waste one. Tropicana orange juice processing results in a significant amount of orange peels each day which can be made into a variety of byproducts. The company challenged students to design a process to extract more value from the peels.

“We chose the zero waste prompt because it was the most interesting of the three and we thought it was the most directly related to chemical engineering. We chose to create a water filter because of its uniqueness as well as its environmental impact, because the peels would theoretically no longer be degrading in landfills. We also liked the adaptability of it, because dependent on the certain ground/wastewaters in different regions, the chemicals used for modification can be changed in order to fit the regions requirements,” Belagur explained.

Based on a research paper they read, the students learned of two methods for modifying the orange peels in order to increase their metal adsorption capacities: an induced pressure drop process or a chemical modification.
“We decided to design a process based on the chemical modification using ethanol, sodium hydroxide, and citric acid. We said the process would include a lot of equipment such as continuous stirred tank reactors and centrifuges. The pH of the peels would decrease as they went through the chemical reactions so that it can adsorb more of the heavy metals in water. In the end, the finished filter (orange peel media) would be placed in a packed bed reactor to filter incoming water,” she said.

After submitting a poster to the competition, the Illinois students were selected to present at SWE’s annual conference in California this October. The team gave a 30-minute presentation on their design to a group of PepsiCo engineers.

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