Making practical experience: Teaching thermodynamics, ethics and sustainable development with PBL at a bioenergy plant
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© American Society for Engineering Education, 2015. Bioenergy is a renewable energy made available from materials derived from biological sources. Today, it is important for the world and its future as well as for engineering students that are going to work in that field or related ones. At the same time, engineering students, especially chemical engineering students, need to learn about international issues related to energy such as ethics and sustainable development, preferably in a way that is natural to understand and directly related to their field. The aim of this paper is to present the experience of using Problem Based Learning (PBL) for teaching thermodynamics, ethics, and sustainable development by connecting this altogether with the student practical experience at a bioenergy plant. The students visit an energy plant that converts biogas from a landfill into electrical energy. By the time students are doing their PBL, they have to figure out how to improve the process in terms of ethics and sustainable development (biogas production, CO2 emissions, and the liquid waste that the plant produces). This allows the students to have practical experience on some topics such as thermodynamic cycles, measurements of composition at the site plant, knowing actual equipment of pumps, pipelines, and so on. The paper describes the innovative elements added to the PBL teaching strategy in order to connect all these issues. It also presents some of the research results, such as the engagement that is achieved by students, which lead them to the writing and publishing of papers with their own ideas. We are dealing with a new generation of engineers who are used to seeing, touching, and having first-hand experience more than they did ten years ago. They are highly motivated with the things they can see and understand. The results show some of these statements.