Chemical and Process Engineering



Project Number: 2019-37

Project Leader: Peter Gostomski

Host Department: Chemical & Process Engineering

Project Title: Development of a solid-phase microextraction technique for gas chromatography analysis of low molecular weight alcohols and organic acids.

Project outline: Solid-phase microextraction (SPME) coupled with gas chromatography takes advantage of the sensitivity of gas chromatography while protecting the GC column from contamination from non-volatile components in the liquid sample. A current research project is investigating the concentration of low molecular weight alcohols (methanol, ethanol) and organic acids (formic, acetic, propionic) produced by methanotrophs (methane-consuming microorganisms). Since these compounds are consumed by other organisms in the system as they are produced, the compounds do not accumulate. The current HPLC assay is limited to ~0.5 mM in sensitivity.  SPME-GC should be able to go much lower but the analytical parameters need to be optimised (time, temperature, pH, solid phase, salt conc.). The student will develop the technique to determine the sensitivity, repeatability and concentration range and then perform some initial analysis of reactor samples.  The student will gain experience with gas chromatography, methods development and experimental design.

Specific Requirements: The student should have completed ENCH395 or a similar course.


Project Number: 2019-38

Project Leader: Peter Gostomski

Host Department: Chemical & Process Engineering

Project Title: Investigate the impact of low flow rate on trickle bed performance for biological air pollution control

Project outline: A recently completed PhD project had an unexpected observation that low liquid flow rates in a biotrickle bed greatly enhanced performance, by almost a factor of 10. The observation needs to be confirmed and explored in more detail. The student will operate biotrickle beds that are biologically removing toluene or methane from contaminated air. They will operate the reactors at different liquid addition rates and in different configurations to try to improve the understanding of this initial observation. The student will gain experience working with biological reactors, gas chromatography and other analytical techniques. This project will suit a CAPE student that has completed ENCH395 and has an interest in bioprocess engineering.

Specific Requirements: Student must have completed ENCH395 or the equivalent.  While not required, an interest in bioprocessing and completion of ENGR407 is an advantage.


Project Number: 2019-76

Project Leader: Matthew Cowan

Host Department: CAPE

Project Title: Flexible composites

Project outline: Develop flexible composites

Materials synthesis, mechanical and physical characterization as required.

Specific Requirements: Chemical engineering courses


Project Number: 2019-77

Project Leader: Matthew Cowan

Host Department: CAPE

Project Title: Prototype scuba tank

Project outline: Develop prototype SCUBA tank with 150% capacity of current models.

Chemical synthesis, physically building prototype, analytical tests as required.

Specific Requirements: Chemical engineering or chemistry student with interest in applied science.


Project Number: 2019-118

Project Leader: Thorn, Cowan, Gostomski

Host Department: Chemical & Process Engineering

Project Title: Develop chemical engineering teaching activities for the WiECAN summer experience.

Project outline: WiECAN will run for the second time in 2020 at the end of January. Approximately 60, Y12 girls from around the country will spend a week on campus experiencing engineering at Canterbury. One of their activities is doing actual experiments in the labs. This project will involve taking existing experimental gear used for 1st and 2nd Pro labs (e.g. reactor, spray drier, distillation column, bio-experiments) in CAPE and developing appropriate teaching activities for these students. The ideal scholarship student will have completed ENCH395 and have a passion for developing activities suitable for high school students. The activities need to be visual and engaging but recognise what their background has prepared them for. The scholarship candidate will potentially have the opportunity to actually work with the girls when they are campus.

Specific Requirements: The candidate must have completed ENCH395



Project Number: 2019-136

Project Leader: Aaron Marshall

Host Department: Chemical and Process Engineering

Project Title: Electrochemical filters

Project outline: The galvanizing industry produce large amounts of waste acid which contains many metals which are harmful to the environment. We have developed a method to treat this waste acid and are in the process of building a pilot plant to prove our technology at an industrially relevant scale. As the final effluent from our process contains Zn, Mn and Fe at levels which exceeds typical discharge regulations, we wish to test a new filter to remove these remaining metals from the effluent. This project will be largely experimental based, and will use techniques such as UV/Vis, AA spectroscopy and ICP-MS to analyze the composition of the effluent before and after our new filtration system. Process parameters such as flow rate and pH will be used to optimize the filter performance.

Specific Requirements: Chemical Engineering or Chemistry students will be considered.



Project Number: 2019-43

Project Leader: Aaron Marshall

Host Department: Chemical and Process Engineering

Project Title: Scale up of novel electrodes for redox flow batteries

Project outline: Carbon felt is widely used as the electrode material in redox flow batteries (RFB). While standard carbon felt has many useful properties, it can have relatively poor electrochemical activity towards the charge/discharge reactions which decrease the performance of the RFB. It is proposed that superior electrodes can be developed by tailoring the surface chemistry of the carbon felt to increase the rates of the RFB reactions. This hypothesis is based on a wide range of literature indicating that surface functionalisation influences the behaviour of redox reactions on carbon electrodes. Despite this evidence, there are very few reports of using this approach in RFB systems. Our functionalisation approach will use a combination of chemical, electrochemical and thermal methods. So far we have proved that our functionalisation process should improve the performance of flow batteries based on measurements made at single carbon fiber electrodes. This project will explore the scale up of these measurements to full carbon felt electrodes in our bench scale flow battery.

Specific Requirements: Chemical Engineering or chemistry student



Project Number: 2019-44

Project Leader: Aaron Marshall

Host Department: Chemical and Process Engineering

Project Title: Photocatalytic syn-gas production

Project outline: Efficient photocatalytic reduction of CO2 into syn-gas (CO + H2) has the potential to “revolutionise green energy technologies”. This would solve many of the challenges associated with utilising renewable energy sources by providing carbon-neutral energy storage. CO2 can be converted to syn-gas (CO + H2) by photocatalytic reduction, although there are significant challenges, which must be overcome before this technology is economically viable. Specifically, while the photocatalytic reduction of CO2 having surprisingly low thermodynamic energy requirements, (similar to that for photocatalytic water splitting), large activation barriers substantially increase the energy demands of the process. These activation barriers are mainly caused by the instability of the adsorbed intermediate and can be overcome by well-designed photocatalytic systems. Currently we are investigating the use of homogeneous catalysts (e.g. transition metal macrocycles) that have the potential to be highly selective for CO production in the photocatalytic reduction of CO2. This project will begin by testing the photocatalytic reactor that we are building with some well-studied hydrogen producing photocatalysts before conducting measurements on the newly synthesised macrocycles.

Specific Requirements: Chemical and Process Engineering student



Project Number: 2019-132

Project Leader: Daniel Holland, Daniel Clarke

Host Department: Chemical and Process Engineering

Project Title: MRI measurements of flow through 3D printed porous media

Project outline: Recent research has demonstrated the potential of additive manufacturing (3D printing) to revolutionise chemical and process engineering by providing detailed control of the microstructure of porous systems including reactors, heat exchangers and chromatography columns. However, the relationship between the geometry and the fluid flow characteristics is not yet known. The purpose of this project will be to design and print 3D structures that are compatible with an MRI system and then to image the internal microstructure and flow through these.

Specific Requirements: ENCH495




Project Number: 2019-32

Project Leader: Daniel Holland, Richard Hartshorn

Host Department: Chemical and Process Engineering

Project Title: Characterisation of superphosphate strength

Project outline: Superphosphate is one of the key fertilisers used to sustain New Zealand's agricultural sector. However, there are increasing pressures on farmers to minimise the quantity of fertiliser applied and to apply the fertiliser with high precision. In order to distribute fertiliser precisely across a farm, it is granulated to produce particles that are between about 2 and 8 mm in diameter. These fertiliser granules are then distributed onto farms using spinner trucks that rapidly accelerate the granules to high velocities. In order to achieve accurate distribution across the farm, it is critical that the fertiliser granules are sufficiently strong. This project will experimentally investigate how changes in the microstructure and composition of the granules influence the granule strength.

Specific Requirements: nothing noted.



Project Number: 2019-81

Project Leader: Heon Park

Host Department: Chemical and Process Engineering

Project Title: Process to extract oil from whole mussels using supercritical fluid

Project outline: New Zealand has a strong industry of mussel products. Among these, mussel oil is the most popular and expensive product for people expecting releasing joint pains. Mussels are dried by freezing and ground into powder, and then oil is extracted from the powder using supercritical carbon dioxide. This whole process is quite energy and time consuming so that the price of the oil products is quite high. Even so, that method has been used because no efficient method to extract oil from whole mussels is available. Thus, the demand to develop technology to extract oil from whole mussels is very high, and this process will have a strong impact on the mussel industry.

In my previous preliminary research, it was found that loosening mussel tissues by a couple of different methods enhance oil extraction from whole mussels. More investigation will be performed in this project as an early part of the developing a process to extract oil from whole mussels using supercritical fluids. Research tasks include identifying the following matters: locations of oil in tissues, how to break the bonding of the oil to the tissues, diffusivity of supercritical fluids in mussel tissues, additives helping extraction, optimized extraction conditions such as temperature and pressure of supercritical fluids, how to analyse extracted oil, and overall design of the process. If time allows, an actual system will be built, and dead mussels from a local supermarket will be used.

Meanwhile, a student will learn and apply learnings for heat & mass transfer, control of flow, temperature control, pressure control, chemical analysis, thermodynamics, handling supercritical fluid, and designing a process. Step-by-step guidance will be given.

Specific Requirements: nothing noted.



Project Number: 2019-59 (2 projects available)

Project Leader: Matthew Watson, Aaron Marshall, Catherine Bishop

Host Department: Chemical and Process Engineering

Project Title: Molten oxide electrolysis to produce metals

Project outline: Based on recent research we have discovered a novel way to produce titanium metal by electrolysing a low melting point (eutectic) mixture of the titanium ore with another metal oxide.  In this project, the techniques that were used to identify the electrolyte and the mixture composition for titanium dioxide will be leveraged to explore the feasibility of electrolytically producing other metals.  Specifically, we will use the methods developed by the high temperature electrolysis research group at UC to look for other eutectic mixtures to produce the metals tantalum and niobium. 

The research will involve two students and there will be both a theoretical and an experimental aspect to the project.  The theoretical aspect will use the thermodynamics modelling tool FactSage coupled with Python scripts to search for candidate molten oxide mixtures.  The thermodynamic predictions will be experimentally validated using methods such as thermogravimetry, x-ray diffraction, high temperature viscosity, electrolysis of the mixture, and analysis of the electrodes using scanning electron microscopy couple with spectroscopic techniques.  As a result, the students will become familiar with predicting and interpreting phase diagrams, while gaining experience carrying out and interpreting the validation experiments.  The validation experiments will involve gaining familiarity with high temperature equipment, preparing complex oxide mixtures, and using materials characterisation experimental apparatus and both ambient and high temperatures.

Specific Requirements: We are looking for two (2) students who are completing the final year of their BE Honours in Chemical and Process Engineering.  Preference will be given to high GPA, and having taken either ENCH484 (Advanced Modelling and Simulation) or ENCH483 (Advanced Energy Processing Technologies and Systems).




Project Number: 2019-40

Project Leader: Bill Heffernan/Nurzhan Nursultanov, Clemens Altaner, Shusheng Pang

Host Department: EPECentre (with School of Forestry and CAPE)

Project Title: Thermodynamic and economic evaluation of veneer log conditioning processes: a comparison of current and new heating methods

Project outline: The production of laminated wood products, such as plywood and LVL, is achieved by peeling logs on a lathe into thin sheets of veneer, which are subsequently dried, glued and laminated. The process is energy intensive with most of the energy being consumed in thermally conditioning the logs, to soften them before peeling, and then drying of the resulting sheets of veneer. The thermal energy is currently derived from burning wood waste (bark, sawdust, woodchips, veneer waste etc.) to produce hot water and/or steam. The green logs are heated either in hot water bath or in a steam chamber; however, it is observed that both processes have significant heat loss. In some overseas operations the waste wood boilers may also be used to produce electricity, which may be used within the plant, or exported to the grid.

The EPECentre has developed a process for heating freshly felled logs, employing Joule's effect, in which electric current-flow directly heats conductive parts within the timber with subsequent heat flow to less conductive parts. Computational models which predict and control the process reliably have been developed, validated experimentally on full-sized radiata pine logs and reported in the literature.

The result is an energy-efficient and relatively fast process (logs ready to peel for veneer in under 2 hours) compared to existing hot water bath (approximately 20 hours) or steam (of the order of 5 hours) processes. This results in time and energy savings, as well as changing the conditioning process from a batch to a continuous operation, which may also provide some logistical benefits. The energy savings result both from inherently reduced losses from the faster heating process and improved control of the individually tailored final temperature profile of each log.

The purposes of this project are:

  • to model both existing and new processes thermodynamically (heat and mass balance calculation) and economically,
  • to establish the net benefits that could be achieved from adopting this new technology,
  • to identify under what scenarios of equipment investment, electricity cost, alternative uses for currently-burned wood waste and carbon dioxide emissions pricing, economic benefits can be realized.

Specific Requirements: 3rd professional year student - ideally a student considering studying towards a higher degree.

Good knowledge of thermodynamics and process engineering (e.g. from ENCH292, ENCH392/393 and ENCH494, or from ENME215, ENME315 and ENME405/415)

Knowledge of process modelling techniques (heat and mass balance calculation is essential), process simulators (e.g. HYSYS), and scientific coding (e.g. MATLAB or Python)