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SASOL donation kicks off Unit Operations Lab renovation

A contribution from South African Coal and Oil, SASOL, is the first to help Lamar University upgrade the aging Unit Operations Laboratory in the Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering. The company’s North American headquarters is in Westlake, La.

“SASOL is the first to step up to plate to help renovate the Unit Operations Lab,” said Jack Hopper, dean of the College of Engineering. “We are very appreciative of SASOL and this gift of $15,000.”

SASOL check presentation“We’re glad to make this donation to Lamar because working in the Unit Operations Laboratory is one of the key things to make students successful when they go out into industry,” said David Mullenix, a 1986 Lamar graduate and regional growth and process development manager for SASOL Olefins and Surfactants.

The laboratory created in 1978 has introduced scores of chemical engineering students to various types of industrial units, including distillation, absorption and cooling towers, as well as heat exchangers and gas separation membrane unites.

Advances in technology and automation, and the need to simulate the challenges facing the chemical process industry today, make upgrading the laboratory an urgent need, said Thomas Ho, professor and department chair.

Joining Mullenix in making the afternoon presentation were Gary Keers, senior principal engineer, and David Nguyen, a recent Lamar chemical engineering graduate who joined SASOL in 2011. After the presentation, Nguyen and Keers shared insights on working in the industry with senior chemical engineering majors in the chemical engineering seminar room.

“David Mullenix came to an open house in 1981 from Goliad, Texas, and I helped recruit him to Lamar,” said Jack Hopper, dean of the College of Engineering. “He now serves as the chair of our Chemical Engineering Advisory Council and is very supportive of Lamar.”

“I chose Lamar because when I looked around I saw plaques with the names of industry leaders who were supporting the university,” Mullenix said. “When I looked out the back door and saw what was then the Mobil refinery and saw the many other chemical plants in the area I knew that after I graduated I was going to go to work for one of those industries. So, what better place to go to school than the place that already had the support from the industry where you’ll work?”

New processes planned for the lab include a $150,000 distillation system with automated controls to teach mass and energy balance, yield, tray efficiencies, vapor and liquid rate profiles and process control.  A new $150,000 shell and tube heat exchanger with steam generator and automatic controls will be used to teach heat transfer coefficients, pressure drops versus baffles, unsteady state behavior and process control.

A new $100,000 gas absorption system, with gas chromatograph, is planned for teaching mass transfer coefficients, packed column dynamics, column efficiency and absorption exothermic effects. Modification of the existing fluid flow system with DCS instrumentation, estimated at $100,000, will allow students to explore flow restriction analysis, equivalent pipe lengths, and pump curves versus impeller diameter.

A new $75,000 membrane ultrafiltration system with online oxygen sensor analysis will present studies in membrane permeability, flux, and process variables versus separation efficiency. And a new $75,000 CSTR reaction system with online FTIR analysis will provide lessons in kinetics analysis, residence time and conversion.

SASOL’s global business interests include mining, energy, chemicals and synfuels. In particular, SASOL produces petrol and diesel profitably from coal and natural gas using the Fischer-Tropsch process.