Texas Tech University

Department of Chemical Engineering Installs Distillation Plant to Give Students Real-World, Hands-On Experience

Glenys Young

December 14, 2018

Distillation plant

The plant was made possible through a $1.2 million donation by Morrow Energy.

Thanks to a $1.2 million donation by Morrow Energy in Midland, the Texas Tech University Department of Chemical Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering installed a distillation plant on campus today (Dec. 14) that will give students firsthand experience with equipment they would not normally see in a classroom.

The Morrow Energy Pilot Plant is a skid-mounted facility composed of two 40-foot distillation columns, one trayed and one packed, a steam heat exchanger to heat the feed, and an air cooler to cool the distillate before sending it back to the feed storage tank. The unit also has a large Double T piping system with a variable speed pump that can be isolated so students can study fluid flow, friction loss and obtain pump curves.

The plant mimics part of a refinery, and its installation makes Texas Tech one of only a few universities in the country with the capability for chemical engineering training in a real-world setting.


"This facility will provide our students with a unique hands-on experience operating and controlling industrial-size equipment," said Sindee Simon, Horn Professor and Whitacre Department Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. "Texas Tech chemical engineers are known for their common sense and practical knowledge. The Morrows' generous donation will ensure that the next generation of chemical engineering Red Raiders follows in this tradition.

"I also must give credit to one of our alumni, Trey Porter, who spent a lot of time doing the preliminary designs for us for free. Those were really important to getting the project moving and making renderings that showed our vision."

Porter, who earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 2009, now works for Fluor Corporation, a multinational engineering and construction firm with subsidiaries in oil and gas, industrial and infrastructure, government and power.

Morrow Energy is led by three Texas Tech alumni. President Paul Morrow earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and his master's degree in business administration; Luke Morrow, a principal with the company, earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in business administration; and David Morrow, the company's lead consultant, earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and his master's degree in engineering.

So when the department sought a pilot plant to give students the hands-on experience they were lacking, the Morrows decided to donate one.

"One of the things we've always suffered from is that our students don't really get to see process equipment, so they don't really even know what things look like," said Mark Vaughn, an associate professor of chemical engineering and director of undergraduate studies. "In the classroom, we represent these things with boxes. Now we have a piece of equipment we can bring students out and show them."

Paul Rogers, a project manager for Morrow Energy and a 2016 Texas Tech chemical engineering graduate, said the plant was intentionally designed to give students the widest possible exposure to different types of equipment they may see in the field.


"It's got all the bells and whistles: a bunch of different types of pumps, different types of heat exchangers, different types of industrial equipment people might use in industry, so we really decked it out," Rogers said. "Wherever we could fit a transmitter or an instrument or a gauge, we put it on there so you can get all kinds of readings and you can learn more."

Vaughn said the equipment will be used from the first freshman-level course in which students learn how to recognize equipment all the way up through senior-level courses where students learn equipment design. The plant also will be used as a real-world example in the process safety course in which students perform hazard and risk assessments then learn how to mitigate such risks through their unit design.

The plant is not merely a scale model, however; it is a functional tool that can dry gas by extracting water from it.

The plant's signature Double T, which doubles as a teaching tool, is also fully functional.


"One of the things we do as engineers is size pumps, and you size them by how much resistance there is to the flow path," Vaughn said. "The Double T is a pipe. Each turn is an L and that contributes to the load of the pump. Students will have to come in, look at the size of the pipe, count the number of Ls and do the calculation to predict how much extra energy is needed to pump through this Double T."

One benefit of having the plant is that students can learn skills they otherwise might not experience until their internships, Rogers said. That difference could put them a step ahead of other students in the job market.

"You get a firm grasp on thermodynamics and do projects in class to understand the process, but understanding the process and physically putting it together are totally different," Rogers said. "Being able to put your hands on it will make a big difference, I hope."

The plant is located just west of the Chemical Engineering building along Canton Avenue. It is expected to be operational in mid-January.

"Our institution is so grateful to Morrow Energy and to the other corporate donors who have offered their funding and expertise to provide Texas Tech engineering students with outstanding hands-on learning environments," said Joseph A. Heppert, the university's vice president for research. "Texas Tech chemical engineering students will graduate with experiences that will set them apart from their peers and prepare them in a unique way for their future careers."