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Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

Renewable Energy
Energy & Thermofluids
graduate students working hard


Solar Energy 

Solar energy is a broad field and within that our research group focuses on Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), which is a method of producing electricity using heat from the sun. CSP is a rapidly growing field with several commercial plants in operation, many under construction, and more planned both in the US and throughout the world. California has historically been a leader in CSP with the first plants installed, and now some of the most aggressive renewable energy mandates of any state which are driving further development. All commercial plants built to date utilize a Rankine (or steam) cycle to produce electricity, but these suffer from medium efficiency and the need for large quantities of cooling water. Our research is directed towards developing a new type of receiver for use with CSP, one that will heat a gas to high temperature to drive a Brayton (or gas turbine) cycle. This has the advantage of higher efficiency and a lesser need for cooling water.

We have received a total amount of about $4.5M in funding from Google, the California Energy Commission, and recently the US DOE and are embarking on a four year effort to design, build, and test a prototype receiver. A second area within CSP in which we have a smaller effort is the study of high temperature thermal storage to allow operation during cloud transients and times of reduced solar insolation. This research has been supported by 13 graduate students, five foreign interns, and approximately 20 undergraduates.



Wind Turbine Blade Design based on Adaptive Motion 

Adoptive fin motion is an evolutionary means by which birds, fish, and various water dwelling mammals create a propulsive thrust to propel themselves either through air or water. During the last decade, this particular phenomenon of kinematic motion has been studied to gain an understanding of how and why the large relative efficiencies and body accelerations are attained by birds and fish. These studies are generally interested in gaining an understanding of the phenomena so that these motions and kinematics can be applied to engineering design efforts. Propulsive devices have been built to mimic motions of these highly efficient, adaptive motion propulsors with various degrees of success. We have developed an intensive research into morphing blades, varying the trailing edge angle for example, in a manner that mimics fish locomotion. It was anticipated that the resulting flexibility around an optimum angle will enhance the part-load performance of the turbine blade, where such flexibility can be adopted.

Our short-term plan is to develop a mathematical model of fish locomotion in order to compare it with a flexible turbine model. Initial analyses of fish locomotion indicate that fins possess a highly efficient variable geometry that adapts to the changing conditions of fish mobility. An attempt will be made in the short-term to vary turbine blade geometry as a function of the blade load. We expect that blade flexibility will considerably enhance the turbine blade efficiency, particularly in a part-load range. Preliminary results show that the performance improvement range as a result of such geometric variation exceeds that of other performance enhancing steps including variable pitch in monoplane turbines.

In the long-term, we will build a well-tooled fully functional low speed wind tunnel for testing and validating morphing blades for wind turbine application. We also plan to develop a computational tool for modeling such blades. We will build, test, and possibly commercialize a wind turbine blade with a morphing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) profile with superior efficiency at an affordable cost. 

Drs. Abraham, Beyene, Miller


Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, E-326

San Diego State University

5500 Campanile Drive

San Diego, CA 92182-1323