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BSIC Director Has Big Plans for Bulk Solids Research

November 30, 2015
John Lawrence, research director, Bulk Solids Innovation Center
John Lawrence, research director, Bulk Solids Innovation Center

John Lawrence wants the Bulk Solids Innovation Center to be seen as an international resource for bulk solids education and research.

Hired in October to serve as the research director for the Center, Lawrence sees the facility as a place to offer the type of bulk solids training that is found in similar research institutions in the UK and Australia. "We want to make this a global institute," Lawrence said. "If a bulk solids company hires an engineer who has had no previous exposure to this type of particles handling, he or she will be able to come to our center and comprehensively learn about the process through our hands-on training. Kansas State Polytechnic also is discussing options of incorporating a few bulk solids classes into its engineering technology programs and developing a master's degree in bulk solids that could be taught through the center."

Lawrence, a native of Nagercoil, India, was previously the lead researcher and director at IntelliFarms, a Missouri grain management company. He has a bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering and a master's degree in agricultural processing from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India. He earned a doctorate in agricultural and biological engineering from Purdue University. Lawrence did postdoctoral research at the University of Arkansas and at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

Located in Salina, KS, the Kansas State University Bulk Solids Innovation Center opened in summer and is a research, testing, and educational facility dedicated to the science and understanding of bulk solids materials handling. The center is the only one of its kind in North America, housing six laboratories for university and industry-sponsored research, training, conference and lecture rooms, a material properties test lab, and a full-scale bulk solids test bay.

Powder & Bulk Solids recently interviewed Lawrence about the future of the BSIC and some of the educational programs and research expected to be conducted at the Center.

One of the first steps the Center will take is to launch its first instructional courses from Jan. 26-29, "A Refresher Course on Bulk Solids." The three-and-a-half-day course is designed for engineers who have industry knowledge but may not have a grasp on bulk solids, Lawrence said. Some mechanical engineers may not have the chemical engineering background to handle bulk solids or conversely chemical engineers may not have the mechanical engineering background to handle bulk material, and the Refresher Course is designed to fill in that gap in knowledge.

One of the challenges in working with powders or bulk material in a process is that the product can be evolving. For instance, an engineer may add a new ingredient to a product mix – moving from a bench scale test to a full scale test and the new ingredient is adding a problem to the material flow such as bridging. “Something is missing,” Lawrence said. “And that missing part is highly complicated.”

The Center plans to offer more courses throughout the year in more specific areas, such as pneumatic conveying or feeder design. Additionally, Lawrence said he may also visit companies as well to provide training if there is a demand.

Part of his role at the Center will be to write research proposals. Since it is still early in his hiring, it’s unknown about what research grants and funding will come into the Center. “You can see after two years in what direction we are going in,” Lawrence said.

Although the center received $2.5 million in equipment donation, Lawrence said the center is always looking for donations in other areas. “If any company was interested in donating, we could do some kind of trial and create knowledge for the public,” Lawrence said.

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