University of Louisville
CC Reporter

Above: Congratulations to the Chemical Engineering Team, which took first place in the 2012 Mickey R. Wilhelm Solar Flight Competition with their solar powered pneumatic rocket.

How far? How fast? – Using the sun for energy

A solar-powered air compressor launched a pneumatically propelled rocket the farthest and fastest of the other competing vehicles in the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research’s second annual Mickey R. Wilhelm Solar Flight Competition on April 13.

Students and faculty mentors start working in January on flight designs that incorporate solar energy. Their goal is to create a vehicle that will fly 100 yards. The Conn Center awards prizes for first, second and third places for the fastest 100-yard flights.

Competition was close, reported Andrew Marsh, Conn Center assistant director, but “in the end, the team that fused theory, creativity and strategy with execution was the winner.”

These are the results:

1st place – Chemical Engineering Team, assistant professor Eric Berson, mentor. Team members: Eli Wilborn, Cory Milligan, Tyler Dorsey, Robert Knear-Bell, Samantha Farmer.

Solar-powered air compressor launching a pneumatically propelled rocket.

2nd place – Engineering Fundamentals Team, assistant professor Jeff Hieb, mentor. Team members: Joseph Albrecht, Lukus Guhy, William Menkhaus, Jacqueline Orth, Caleb Sheehan and Nathalie Tapolsky.

Solar-powered battery charger for styrofoam airplane.

3rd place – Conn Center Team, research engineer Thad Druffel, mentor. Team members: Ezra Clark, Jason Absher, Sam Ellis, Gailen Wayne "GW" Bridges.

Solar-powered prop motors on scratch-built zeppelin.

Jerry Willing was the faculty director for the 2012 competition. Judges were Gamini Sumanasekera, associate professor of Physics; Matt Bohm, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering; and Steve Williamson, manager of technical services for Chemical Engineering.

by UofL Today

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Production of BioGas from Industrial Liquid/Solid Waste and Conversion to Electric Power

What do reducing water use, eliminating solid waste, reducing greenhouse gases, reducing wastewater generation, and increasing the use of renewable energy have in common? They are all sustainability goals for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

In 2009, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and his Executive Task Force on Biomass and Biofuels proposed the goal of a 25 million tons per year for Kentucky’s bioenergy industry. The development of a biomass and biofuels industry in Kentucky can create significant economic activity in every community of the Commonwealth. While many of the resources to generate renewable energy are traditionally derived from rural areas, the industrial wastes and waste streams from urban areas are equally viable. It is estimated that biomass and biofuels production can generate an estimated $3.4 billion of new value-added net output annually along with almost 14,000 new jobs statewide.

The Conn Center is taking a leadership role with waste to energy conversion strategies specifically for industrial and urban waste. Toward this, the Conn Center established a pilot plant facility to evaluate industrial wastes for producing biogas in an explosion-proof pilot area that has a working space of 700 square feet, a ceiling height of 25 feet. Pilot scale equipment to demonstrate and develop new biogas technologies can also be set up based on specific project needs.

The Conn Center is establishing an industry-university consortium for the state’s private industries with the following as key objectives:
• Advance biogas production from industrial waste and its conversion to energy through collaborative research and development.
• Serve as a clearinghouse and networking group to exchange knowledge, programs, and ongoing activities of the Consortium and related state and federal programs.
• Train university engineering and science students and industry professionals in biogas production and its conversion to energy through curricula, seminars, and research.

Current capabilities are in anaerobic digestion of waste waters to produce biogas. The lab has batch and continuous anaerobic digestion systems and analytical capabilities to evaluate various industrial liquid wastes. “Using these batch and continuous systems together, we can generate all necessary rate and process data for projecting commercial potential and developing process economics,” stated Dr. Jagannadh Satyavolu, Biofuels and Biomass Conversion Theme Leader at the Conn Center. “One of the short term goals is to enable a waste to biogas for power generation for the University of Louisville campus.”

According to Larry Owsley, UofL VP for Business Affairs, “UofL has made a major effort through performance contracting to reduce the university’s overall consumption. We have also set a goal to have 20% of the university’s power needs met by renewables by 2020. This biogas effort is an important part of meeting that commitment.”

The team includes Dr. Satyavolu, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Dr. Eric Berson, Dr. Berson’s Ph.D. student Mayhar Ghorbanian, and 50% of Post-doctoral Associate Robert Lupitskyy’s time. Dr. Berson remarks, “This is a unique opportunity for our students to significantly impact a project important to both the university and surrounding community.  The data they are generating directly affects decisions on project outcomes, such as reducing industrial waste discharged to the sewer and helping the university acquire energy from renewable resources.”

Within six months of operation, the R&D facility has already yielded tremendously valuable information on waste streams from two industrial customers. In addition to being end-of-pipe technology, i.e., converting waste to energy, the knowledge about such waste streams can also help with process modifications that can potentially yield much bigger benefits for processing plant operations.

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Jagannadh Satyavolu, PhD, Theme Leader in Biofuels and Biomass Conversion

The Conn Center welcomes Dr. Jagannadh Satyavolu as the Theme Leader in Biofuels and Biomass Conversion.

“Nadh” is focused on developing renewable feed streams for green fuel processing technology. Dr. Satyavolu has over 20 years of experience in commercial business leadership roles, product and process technology development, industrial application research, and academia. He has led projects in the development of non-wood fiber applications for paper and other industrial markets, wet-end additives, de-inking processes, membrane separations, and other work involving chemical, food, biotechnology, and value generation from co-product streams. Prior to joining Conn Center, he worked at Cargill, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Battelle Labs.

Dr. Satyavolu received his PhD (1989) and MS (1984) in Chemical Engineering from The Ohio State University and a BTech (1982) in Chemical Engineering from Andhra University in India. He had several publications and holds 13 US and European patents on food and paper processes. His focus at the Conn Center is to develop and promote business and commercial relationships among biomass producers and biofuel producers in such a way that the cost of biofuel production is comparable to costs from synthetic sources. To this extent, he identifies the most suitable biomasses and develops processes to produce C5-rich hydrolyzate to manufacture biochemicals and biochemical intermediates.

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Conn Center researchers win a prestigious grant from National Science Foundation

Conn Center researchers Mahendra Sunkara and Jacek Jasinski teamed up with Somnath Datta from the Department of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics at UofL, Krishna Rajan of Iowa State University’s Institute of Combinatorial Discovery, and Madhu Menon and Michael Sheetz of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Computational Sciences to win a $1.1M grant from National Science Foundation entitled “SOLAR: New Materials Search for Solar Energy Conversion to Fuels”.

The search for suitable, durable inorganic semiconductors that can convert solar energy to fuels is a grand challenge in the fields of chemistry, renewable energy, and materials science. There is no material available currently that meets all the criteria required for spontaneous water splitting with solar light for hydrogen production at appreciable efficiency and durability. Despite rapid advances with computing, the first principles-based techniques for predicting properties of materials are time consuming. In many cases, the search process itself requires some direction. One approach has been to utilize a combinatorial, high throughput sample creation from different elements as a means of screening materials; however, the search space that has been explored is relatively small.

This research project seeks to develop a fundamentally transformative strategy by using an informatics-guided computational and experimental approach for proposing and testing new materials. The team extracts design rules to systematically identify critical structure-property relationships in a quantitative fashion to determine the exact role of specific combinations of materials descriptors that govern a given property of interest. Statistical inference methods are used to identify and experimentally validate new materials with new properties. This information is then linked to a targeted first principles modeling step to provide a physical interpretation of mechanisms controlling opto-electronic properties. The predictions will be validated using electronic and photoelectrochemical properties of synthesized semiconductor alloys.

This project brings together investigators from chemical engineering (Sunkara), mathematical sciences and informatics methods (Datta and Rajan), physics (Menon, Sheetz, Jasinski), and materials science & engineering (Rajan) from the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, and Iowa State University.
On the multidisciplinary team, Datta says, “I think this project demonstrates the power of true collaboration by researchers from diverse fields, especially in such a new direction of investigation. This ‘materials genome’ approach has great promise.”

This SOLAR project will: (a) develop materials informatics-guided modeling for predicting band gaps and work functions for creating a new materials database that links structure with properties as a guide for both experimentalists and computational materials scientist/physicists; (b) advance new non-linear manifold learning methods in promoting informatics as a predictive tool for materials discovery; (c) utilize accurate first principles modeling techniques as a second step for refined prediction of physical and electronic properties of the new alloys; and (d) perform materials synthesis toward experimental validation of properties of promising materials systems and for validation of theoretical predictions and associated errors.

This SOLAR team's PIs leverage this effort through existing collaborations on energy materials and informatics by hosting visiting scientists and students from Slovenia, Greece, Poland, Germany, and the UK. The team will also involve a large number of high school and undergraduate students, which will expose them to solar energy and materials research, as well as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

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Conn Center-led faculty cluster receives renewal funding of implementation grant from US Department of Energy’s EPSCoR program

“Nanoscale Materials and Architectures for Energy Conversion” has been competitively renewed at $1.88M from DOE’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) for three years (2011-2014). In three key projects, research expertise in nanomaterial architectures and their synthesis will be applied to explore fundamental processes of light absorption, charge separation/transport, and electron emission within nanostructured materials to improve solar and thermal energy conversion processes.

Conn Center’s Interim Director, Mahendra Sunkara led the first implementation grant (~$2M from DOE; $0.51M from KY) from 2007-2011, which involved seven UofL faculty, Sunkara and Gerold Willing of Chemical Engineering, Robert Cohn and Bruce Alphenaar from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Gamini Sumanasekera from Physics, and Frank Zamborini and Heather Rypkema from Chemistry, and four UK faculty, Steve Rankin and Eric Grulke from Chemical Engineering, Bruce Hinds from Chemical and Materials Engineering, and Madhu Menon from Physics.

The EPSCoR funding is a prestigious award, according to Menon, who says, “This grant is a recognition of the prominent role researchers in Kentucky are playing in the field of renewable energy.”

This project enabled an inter-university, multidisciplinary energy-related research cluster in nanomaterials to explore conversion of solar radiation and residual thermal energy to electrical energy and hydrogen. This DOE-EPSCoR program supported the development of facility infrastructure, research studies in photoelectrochemical solar and thermionic energy conversion, linkages to the DOE and other related research groups, and recruitment and success of junior faculty and student researchers.

The current project will function much in the same way. The unique partnership allows six faculty members and senior research scientist Jacek Jasinski at UofL and four faculty members and a senior researcher at UK to provide mentorship to ten graduate students and a group of about fifteen or more high school and undergraduate students over a three-year period. The DOE-EPSCoR program will enhance the annual Kentucky Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Workshop, held in Louisville on August 26-28, and make a positive impact on several new energy research and development infrastructure initiatives.

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Jinjun Liu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Chemistry

The Conn Center welcomes Dr. Jinjun Liu, Assistant Professor in Chemistry, who will conduct his research in the Ultrafast Transient Absorption Spectroscopy facility at the Conn Center as well as in the Department of Chemistry. The goal of his Conn Center research is to contribute to the advancement of renewable energy science and technology through basic spectroscopic studies. Currently, he is focused on characterizing solar cell materials of interest to understand their fundamental dynamic processes and interfaces. This information is essential to developing their functions and applications toward renewable energy applications.

Dr. Liu received his B.S. in optoelectronics at East China Normal University in 1999 and worked for two years in the State Key Laboratory of Precision Spectroscopy in Shanghai. For his Ph.D., he studied Chemical Physics at the Ohio State University in Dr. Terry A. Miller’s research group. At both laboratories, he examined transient molecular species or “free radicals” using various high-resolution spectroscopic techniques. He also conducted experimental and theoretical studies on the so-called “Jahn-Teller” effect, which causes spontaneous distortion of the symmetry of polyatomic molecules and crystal structures. Jinjun received his Ph.D. degree in 2007 and then served as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Frederic Merkt at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich. He studied atoms and molecules in the highly excited Rydberg states using a home-made Ti:Saphire-amplifier-based laser spectroscopy system. Using this system, he also determined the energies of the hydrogen molecule with unprecedented precision and invented a novel method to generate broadly tunable narrow-bandwidth terahertz radiation.

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Professor Sam Park wins international funding for developing fuel cells for rescue and search missions

Congratulations to Y. Sam Park, Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering, who received grant funding for his project, “Development of fuel cell stack and renewable energy systems.” The award was made by Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST), Korea, for 3 years. Dr. Park will be collaborating in fuel cell design processes, fabrication, and materials characterization for use in a search and rescue robot. In this project, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University join the University of Louisville and DGIST for a truly international collaboration.

Earlier, Dr. Park co-ordinated the visit of administrators from DGIST to UofL and with help of his chair Dr. Glen Prater, Conn Center Director Dr. Mahendra Sunkara, and Speed School Dean Dr. Neville Pinto accomplished a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two institutions. This MOU lays out strategy for enabling cooperative academic and research activities for the next five years. Specifically, the institutions have agreed to encourage visits by faculty and researchers between the universities and to facilitate the admission of qualified students into their graduate programs. Most importantly, DGIST and JB Speed School of Engineering found many common research areas of interest and they include renewable and sustainable energy, materials science, and bioengineering.

The first visits between DGIST and UofL have already begun. Distinguished Professor Gyeung Ho Choi, PhD from DGIST visited UofL in January and spoke to Mechanical Engineering seminar students on R&D in Sustainable Energy Systems. While at UofL, Dr. Choi and Dr. Park made progress toward their collaborative project to design a fuel cell for the proposed rescue robot. The search and rescue unit will be deployed in dangerous areas such as fires, structurally unstable buildings, and “dirty” sites. The prototype demonstration is scheduled for 2015.

Dr. Choi’s student Sun-wook Hwang visited UofL in February. He worked with Dr. Park on a foundation level approach to fuel cell stack development and with Dr. Jacek Jasinski in the Conn Center’s materials characterization facility on specialized materials characterization techniques, which will be put to use in the collaborative project. The design of the fuel cell is complex, as it must adhere to weight, size, and durability standards that match those of the robot. Sun-wook spent most of his time working in the Conn Center labs, but enjoyed a trip to the Louisville Slugger museum. Sun-wook and his co-worker, Ph.D. student Ms. Jisun Jang, will visit UofL again this June to fabricate and test a 500-watt polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack. For simulation analyses, COMSOL and ASPEN Plus software are used to simulate the fuel cell stack and robot system parameters.

“This is an excellent example of the benefits we expect to derive from the collaboration between DGIST, one of South Korea’s leading graduate education and research institutes, and the University of Louisville,” explains Dr. Pinto. “We are excited with the potential to grow this important new relationship through additional international educational and research opportunities for students and faculty at both institutions.”

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University of Louisville-led team selected to compete in Energy Department’s Solar Decathlon 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the University of Louisville-led Solar Decathlon Team has been selected to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. The “Kentuckiana Solar Decathlon Team” is a collaborative effort between students and faculty at the University of Louisville, Ball State University, and the University of Kentucky. The team’s design was selected for this worldwide competition to build solar-powered, highly energy-efficient homes that combine affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence. The 20 selected teams from colleges and universities across the United States and from around the world will now begin a two-year process to design, construct and test their homes before reassembling them at the Solar Decathlon 2013 competition site in Orange County Great Park in Irvine , CA. As part of the Solar Decathlon, teams compete in 10 different categories – ranging from best architecture and engineering to energy production for heating and cooling – while gaining invaluable real-world experience in a growing global industry.

“As President Obama made clear in the State of the Union address this week, we need to ensure that the next generation of America’s architects, engineers and entrepreneurs have the hands-on experience and training they need to lead our nation’s clean energy future,” said Secretary Chu.  “The Solar Decathlon will unleash the ingenuity, creativity and drive from these talented students to demonstrate new ideas for how families and businesses can reduce energy use and save money with clean energy products and efficient building design.”

In fall 2013, the Kentuckiana Team will showcase its solar-powered house at Orange County Great Park, highlighting renewable energy systems and energy-efficient technologies, products and appliances that are already available to homeowners. The team is comprised of faculty and students from schools of Engineering, Architecture, Project Management, Landscape Architecture, Business and Communications at the three universities.

Dr. Mark McGinley, the project’s faculty leader, says, “We’re really excited about the opportunity. Our multidisciplinary team is building the skills to solve the challenges our country faces in the future. We are grateful for the support of the DOE, UofL Speed School of Engineering and Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, Ball State, UK, and GE. This is a real team effort across multiple programs, institutions and states!”

Engineering and design of the structure aren’t the only challenges, as the team’s total project costs will exceed $500,000. DOE provides $100,000 toward the expenses, so the team must raise the additional funds to successfully complete the design, build, and transport phases of the competition. So far, GE has given $50,000 in cash and appliance donations as well as support from their engineering experts. The J.B. Speed School of Engineering at UofL has pledged to fundraise with the team and provide support via the Conn Center. At this time, Team Kentuckiana seeks cash and in-kind donations. Specific time donations from certified electricians and construction personnel during the build phase in Spring 2013 are also critical. To make a donation, contact Jason Amore in the Speed School Development Office at 502-852-4756.

Dr. Mahendra Sunkara, Interim Director of Conn Center at UofL, says, “Through the 2013 Solar Decathlon Competition, the Conn Center hopes to develop and introduce low-cost housing solutions with very low energy bills for low-income and rural living within the state of Kentucky.”

Ms. Kelsey King, the project’s student leader and Mechanical Engineering senior at UofL, is ecstatic about her team’s selection. “This is an awesome opportunity to apply everything we’ve learned in the classroom toward a project that reaches into the real world.”

Since 2002, the National Mall in Washington, DC, has been the venue for five successful Solar Decathlons. For 2013, Solar Decathlon organizers decided to extend the competition’s reach beyond Washington and showcase energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to a new group of visitors, sponsors, and major media markets. Orange County Great Park is a dynamic venue that can accommodate the 20 competition houses and the special needs of the Solar Decathlon event—featuring flexible space, ample visitor parking, existing facilities for large special events, and nearby services for visitors. With direct freeway and rail access and generally favorable weather conditions, the Irvine location will also ensure that residents in southern California have an opportunity to experience the Solar Decathlon.

This team intends to design a viable, affordable, and sustainable house that can be further adapted to suit disaster recovery and rebuilding efforts. Once the competition is complete, the structure will be also featured on UofL’s campus as an energy education outreach center, where it can continue to serve as a testing ground for new renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies developed at UofL and the Conn Center.

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Upcoming Features

• Conn Center Post-doc profiles

• Brown-Forman funding for biogas/biofuels/biomass conversion R&D

• Renewable Energy Challenges class develops exhibits for new Capital Energy Education Center in Frankfort, KY

• Conn Center research breakthrough!

• Faculty Spotlight – Dr. Bruce Alphenaar

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