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PDEng trainees design new chemical processes

The highly innovative Dutch process industry operates at a large scale and meets the highest standards. Chemical companies demand a lot of their employees. A master’s degree in chemical engineering is a decent start, but truly valuable young employees also have a good amount of practical experience, so they can immediately get started at a high level. The kind of experience, for instance, that they gain during a two-year PDEng program such as Process and Equipment Design at the Delft University of Technology (TUD). 

PDEng trainees are valuable because they can start working on a complex technological design project without a lot of additional training. These trainees already have a master’s degree and have already learned a lot from their PDEng courses about designing processes for the chemical industry. Take PDEng trainee Panos Efstathiou, who obtained his master’s degree from the University of Athens in 2015. Panos: “As a PDEng trainee, you quickly develop a way to approach problems that goes beyond what you learn during your master’s degree studies. That means you can take on much more complex internship projects than a master’s degree student can.”

Innovative production process for methanol compound
During his PDEng studies, Panos worked on several interesting real-world problems. After taking theoretical courses in the first trimester, Panos and three fellow students were brought in by Belgian university KU Leuven. The university was looking for a production process design for the production of a new methanol compound. Methanol is often used in fuel or coatings, but it can also be used to produce a sustainable fuel by linking it to hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO). “CO is a waste product of the chemical industry. If it is emitted, that damages the environment and costs money. By bonding it – in a microwave plasma reactor – these emissions are prevented, resulting in a sustainable type of fuel,” Panos explains. Panos and his fellow students made a draft process design for production on an industrial scale. “Very challenging, because you are designing something completely new. You don’t have data from earlier processes available to base your calculations on when determining the scaling limits of the production technology.”

New gas transfer system for MARIN
Panos did his individual research project, the entire second year of his PDEng studies, at the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) in Wageningen. With the project ‘Sloshing of Liquefied Natural Gas’ (SLING), MARIN was looking for a way to map the hydrodynamic behavior of NLG in tankers at sea. Due to the ship’s movements, the liquid gas – stored at a temperature of 160 degrees Celsius and a pressure of 250 bar – continuously and violently sloshes against the sides of the tank. This causes faster corrosion, which means the tank has to be replaced sooner, costing millions of euros. With new insights into the behavior of NLG, it is possible to design tankers shaped to reduce the impact of the sloshing, keeping them in operation longer. For MARIN, Panos designed an innovative gas transfer system for experiments. “Another great assignment, since such a system had not been built before.” Since then, Panos has obtained his PDEng degree and has started a job as process engineer with Jacobs in The Hague.