Pilot plant designed by students, for students

July 16, 2012 5:45 AM

Kathryn Hobgood Ray

A pilot chemical plant on the campus of Nunez Community College in St. Bernard Parish, La., is helping students from both Nunez and Tulane University develop their skills and gain real-world experience.

Nunez plant

Students at Nunez Community College in St. Bernard Parish develop process technology operator skills in a pilot plant designed and built by Tulane students. (Photo by Kathryn Hobgood Ray)

The pilot plant, formally called the Nunez Community College Distillation Tower, is a smaller version of one that would be found at a corporate chemical plant like Shell or Domino Sugar.

Built to scale, the plant prepares students at Nunez College who are working toward their associate degrees in process technology, allowing them to practice daily operations and develop troubleshooting skills in a safe and controlled environment.

The Research Competitiveness and Education Enhancement Program through the Louisiana Board of Regents funded the project as a three-way grant between Tulane, Nunez and Xavier University to help recover regions of Louisiana affected by Hurricane Katrina. Vijay John, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Tulane, was the principal investigator of the project.  

“Setting up these facilities for process technology operator training is among the most rewarding outreach activities I have participated in,” says John. “The facilities have benefited not only the process technology students at Nunez, but also chemical engineering students who are able to get a firsthand training opportunity on mini plant scale systems.”

The plant was designed and built by chemical engineering students from Tulane, under the direction of John Prindle, another faculty member in chemical and biomolecular engineering.  

Tommy Warner, the chancellor at Nunez College, a Tulane alumnus, is delighted with the collaboration. “We teach the practical aspects of the program, and they get the theory at Tulane, so it’s a great partnership.”

About 40 students graduate from the program with an associate degree each year, Warner said. “They are able to go out into the world and get good, well-paying jobs.”


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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000