P19318: Thermochemical Conversion of Food Waste

Problem Definition

Table of Contents

The Problem Definition phase was the first phase in our project. When being presented with a new problem and asked to figure out a solution, certain steps need to be taken to full understand the task and reach the goals at had. This phase included reading the provided Project Readiness Packet (PRP), interviewing the customer, laying out the use scenarios, understanding customer requirements, compiling an extensive engineering requirement list and from that building a house of quality. All of these steps will help our team satisfy the customer's needs.

Some of the important documents that were used and created during this phase can be found here. Feel free to explore this directory to get a better understanding of the process used during our problem definition phase.

Team Vision for Problem Definition Phase

Team Plan


Project Summary

RIT acquired a biogenic refinery system which was initially designed with the intent of treating human waste in areas without centralized wastewater treatment infrastructure. This idea is extended to thermochemical processing of food waste into biochar and hydrogen rich syngas. The current system has a minimal amount of sensors, sensor inaccuracy, limited data acquisition system abilities and low quality biochar.

The goal of the project is to establish a better understanding of the Biogenic Refinery’s capabilities in regards to disposing of food waste. This will be accomplished by adding sensors that have the capabilities of withstanding high operating temperatures and can be used for data collection during the length of the run. The expected end result is to have a data acquisition system installed that has real time display capabilities and to collect data for a variety of runs with different operating parameters for later analysis.

The link to the one page summary can be found here.

Use Cases

Use Case

Use Case

Project Goals and Key Deliverables

The customer, Tom Trabold, has the goal of disposing of food waste while also producing high quality syngas and biochar. To aid in the goal, our deliverables will be as follows:

With this temperature profile, Tom will be able to change operating parameters and continuously improve the quality of the biochar and syngas. With each iteration of the test run, and understanding of the temperature profile, we will be able to aid in the creation of biochar that could potentially be used in soil amendment and syngas that could be used in junction with a fuel-cell for energy production.

Customer Requirements (Needs)

Customer Requirements

Customer Requirements

In addition to a snapshot, a link to the live document is here, on Tab 2.

Engineering Requirements (Metrics & Specifications)

Engineering Requirements

Engineering Requirements

In addition to a snapshot, a link to the live document is here, on Tab 3.

After a conference call with Biomass Controls and Tom, our project scope changed to only measure the temperature profile and no longer measure the oxygen profile.


House of Quality

Relationship Matrix

Relationship Matrix

In the matrix above, the priority of the customer requirements are seen directly to the right of the customer requirements. The ranking goes '9' being of highest priority, '3' is medium priority, and '1' is low priority. The numbers in the middle of the matrix show the relationship between the customer requirements and engineering requirements. For example, there is a strong relationship between the customer requirement, "Records data for length of test" and the engineering requirement, "Storage Capabilities". That is why this relationship is denoted with a '9' ranking.

Correlation Matrix

Correlation Matrix

In this matrix above, the correlation between engineering requirements is defined. A '+'means there is a positive correlation, a '-' means there is a negative correlation, and a '/' means there is a correlation but it is neither positive or negative. For example, the engineering requirement, "Temperature Sensor Accuracy" has a negative correlation with the engineering requirement, "Temperature Sensor Range". In general, as sensor's range increases, the accuracy decreases. This is why it was given a '-' correlation.

In addition to these snapshots, a link to the live document is here, on Tab 1.

Design Review Materials

With every phase of the project, a review will be held with the customer, Tom Trabold, the guide, Sarah Brownell, and our team. For this design review, we sent out a couple of documents to read before hand. Also in this list of links is our presentation and the notes taken during review. The notes were suggestions from Tom and Sarah.

Plans for next phase

(Use the individual 3-week plan template for this)

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