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BEE 4870

Sustainable Bioenergy Systems

Fall 2015

Instructor of record.  Lars Angenent, Ph. D.

Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering

Phone: 607-255-2480; E-mail: la249 [at] cornell [dot] edu

Office: 226 Riley-Robb Hall

Course Webpage.

Credits.  3

Time of Class.               Lectures: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:05 - 9:55 am

                                         Lab: Wednesday from 1:25 - 4:25 pm

Location of Class.          Lectures: Room B15, Riley-Robb Hall

                                         Lab: Room B15, Riley-Robb Hall


  • Lars Angenent (214 RR, 5-2480, la249 [at] cornell [dot] edu)
  • Norm Scott (216 RR, 5-4473, nrs5 [at] cornell [dot] edu)

Teaching Assistant.  No teaching assistant this year.

Office Hours.  Wednesdays: 1:25 – 4:25 pm during our design period, please let me know at 1:25 pm that you want to meet.

Pre-requisite.  BEE2220 or equivalent thermodynamics course.

Prerequisites by topic.  Engineering Thermodynamics.

Course Description.  Capstone design course for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students to understand energy systems that include a bioprocessing step (i.e., an engineered bioreactor).  Offers a system approach to understanding renewable bioenergy systems (biomass) and their conversion processes, from various aspects of biology, engineering, environmental impacts, economics, and sustainable development.  A large part of the course will deepen your understanding of bioprocessing with undefined mixed cultures, which I refer to as reactor microbiomes.

Overview.  This course, intended for upper level undergraduates and graduate students, will offer a systems approach to understand energy systems that include a bioprocessing step, such as anaerobic digestion, anaerobic fermentation, microbial fuel cells, and photobioreactors with Algae.  In general, this course focuses on biomass-to-bioenergy conversion, including introduction to major treatment steps, such as pretreatment steps, fermentation steps, and product separation steps.  The course integrates physics, engineering, environmental impacts, economics, and sustainable development.  Different energy generation technologies will be compared to gain an understanding of the advantages and limitations of these technologies.  Students are expected to be interested in and appreciate the need for quantitative aspects of energy systems.  In addition to theoretical knowledge, students gain empirical knowledge through a group design project and field trips to existing renewable energy systems (biomass systems) in New York State.  An emphasis of this course is technical and economic analysis of large-scale energy systems and their conceptual design.

Goals and Outcomes.  This course is intended to give upper-level undergraduate and graduate students the capabilities to:

1.  Use a systems approach to design renewable bioenergy systems.

2.  Explain the energy conversion processes for biomass systems.

3.  Evaluate the advantages and limitations of renewable bioenergy systems

4.  Assess a system by using nontechnical factors (environmental impacts, economics, and sustainable development) during the design phase.

5.  Identify which information is missing during the design phase.

6.  Excel in a team-oriented design experience, focused on the application of renewable bioenergy technologies.

7.  Design a “real life” renewable bioenergy system.

Required Text.  No required text.  Course powerpoint presentations and handouts [H] will be given to you as hard copies and/or posted on our course web site as password-protected pdf files (password will be given to you during the first lecture).

Class Design Project.  The primary effort is a comprehensive design project of a sustainable bioenergy system that includes a bioprocessing step.  The team can chose between several ideas given by the instructor, but if a student group is committed to a specific system of choice we can negotiate the project.  Periodic presentations and reports on progress of the design project are required during the course of the semester.  These three presentations/reports (Reports I – III) are scheduled on September 23, October 28, and November 18.  On these dates the student groups will make an oral and written report to the class during the Lab/Discussion session (Wednesday afternoon).  The comprehensive design group project (Report IV) will be due December 2 with a written report and oral presentation.

Report I and proposal (Sept. 23): 2-page, single-spaced report with introduction and small literature review (~0.5 pages), propose what you will design, and show questions that you have and that you will ask during your site visit.

Report II and site visit (Oct. 28): 5-page, single-spaced report with design progress and site visit outcomes.  Note which changes were made to the design and show pictures of the site visit in the appendix.  An initial flow diagram for your design should be shown and presented.  Initial calculations on the feasibility are requested.

Report III and feasibility study (Nov. 18): 10-page, single-spaced report that shows the feasibility of the project.  Final design decisions should be reported with the economic analysis and life cycle assessment.  Figures should show the flow diagram of the design.  Calculations may be presented in an appendix.

Report IV – final report (Dec. 2): 25-page, single-spaced report.  According to guidelines shown below with calculation and other information in the appendix.  Structure of report: 1. Executive summary; 2. Description of the problem; 3. Potential designs that you have considered; 4. Actual design – in detail; 5. Benefits/costs of the design; Appendices with details.

Each summer, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers holds a conference called the Northeast Agricultural/Biological Engineering Conference (NABEC). There is a student design competition.  Below are the rules and guidelines for the competition and we also use them for our final report.  When you are preparing your final reports, please keep in mind the format guidelines (see below) as I will be choosing the best final reports and submitting them (with your permission) to NABEC in the spring.  If you would like further information on this program, please go to

The deadline for submission is in the middle of May, 2016.

The guidelines for the final report are:

The design projects must include: 1) A written report (see format for entries). 2) Drawings and/or specifications that describe the design and 3) Extensive or substantial test or performance data obtained from a) a prototype or physical model of the machine or critical component, and or b) a computer simulated test of the system or process.


1. Title Page

The cover page of the entry shall state:

a. Title of the paper b. Full Name(s) of the contestant(s) c. Name of the department and school d. Name(s) of the adviser(s) for the paper e. Expected date(s) of graduation f. Date on which the paper is submitted for the regional contest g. Signatures of contestant(s), adviser(s), and the student branch Faculty Adviser (department head if no student branch exists) h. The date of signing

In the case of multi-authored papers, all correspondence will be directed to the first author unless otherwise requested as a footnote on the cover page.

2. Second Page; The second page shall contain the following:

a. A statement of how the subject was chosen b. An abstract of the paper c. Acknowledgements

3. Third Page; The third page shall contain the Table of Contents.

4. Organization; Each paper shall be organized under appropriate headings. The presentation shall follow a logical pattern and conform to good technical writing standards. Drawings and/or specifications and test data should be entered as appropriate.

Site Visit.  We are planning to visit one location in Ithaca with the entire group: 1.  the Ithaca Wastewater Treatment Facility, where digesters generate methane for combined heat and power (CHP); Depending on which project you will be involved with, individual groups will also visit this latter facility again; and in addition you may visit: 2.  the Saranac Brewery in Utica, NY; 3.  a corn-to-ethanol plant; 4.  a biodiesel plant; 5.  a farm-based anaerobic digester; or 6.  a composting facility.  For the latter visit locations the group will present their visit to the rest of the class.  These visits are required and will most likely occur during the Wednesday afternoon lab section, more information will be given during the course.

Individual Review Paper.  Students are required to write (individually) a review paper on an engineering system that is needed for their group project.  This can be a small aspect of the overall renewable bioenergy system that the group is designing.  The students are encouraged to find their own topic and to keep the scope limited in order to go into depth.  The instructor may be consulted to find a possible topic.  A short proposal (500 words) for the topic of the review paper is due on September 30.  The students should be critical and point out possible advantages and disadvantages.  At least 15 references from peer-reviewed publications are necessary for such a review.  Web pages on the innovative process are allowed, but do not count towards the 15 references.  Make sure that you include a minimum of three references that were published during the first energy crises (1970s-1980s).  Individual reports are due on November 11.  Writing assignments are required to be typed with 1.0 line spacing, 1" margins, and font 12 points Times or Times New Roman with a total of 5 pages (references not included, but figures are and they should be nicely embedded in the text).  Writing assignments are primarily evaluated for content, but writing effectiveness is also important (e.g., organization, style, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and neatness).  Examples of text that can be consulted for writing effectiveness are:

•     W. Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. 1979. The Elements of Style. 3rd Ed. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York.

•     J. G. Smith and P. A. Vesilind.  1996. Report Writing for Environmental Engineers and Scientists. Lakeshore Press, Woodsville, NH.

Figures are encouraged!

To improve your communications skills and to understand how to improve your own communication by evaluating other’s work, you will be asked to cross-grade two individual review papers of your peers.  You will, therefore, give and obtain comments to and from your peers.  You will have to write a summary of the graded paper of 200 words, comments on what you liked and what could be improved, and a grade (between 10 and 100).  Your grading is due on November 24.

Quizzes.  The quizzes are designed to evaluate the knowledge that you have gained during reading and lecture periods (Tuesdays and Thursdays).  These quizzes are scheduled during three changes in topics and the dates are September 29, October 20, and November 5.

Grading.            Announced quizzes (3)                                            15%

Individual Review Paper                                          20%

Team-based Design Project                                     65%