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Energy & Thermofluids

Computational Thermodynamics

The short-term goal of this research which is conducted in the Computational Thermodynamics Laboratory of the Department is to enhance the existing thermodynamic portal that is accessed by more than 200 universities around the world for computations ranging from chemical equilibrium analysis through evaluation of properties of super critical fluids. This area of research brings together graduate students from Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. One Ph.D. dissertation and 15 Masters theses have resulted from this work to date. The work is supported by funding from NSF and Pearson Publishing.

The long-term goal of the research in this area is to develop efficient algorithms for thermodynamic property calculations and to create an easily accessible toolbox for the research and educational community.

Microgravity Flame Research

The short-term goal is to improve the design of several experimental facilities such as the Narrow Channel Combustion Tunnel, the 8-meter tall Flame Tower, and the Flame Stabilizer that have been built by our faculty and students to study flames. Two Ph.D. dissertations and at least 20 MS theses have been written on microgravity flame research at SDSU.

Flame image taken by the flame tracker
Flame image taken by the flame tracker

NASA has funded this long term research at SDSU (with a cumulative funding of over 2 million dollars) to characterize flame propagation in a gravity free environment. The long term goal of this program is to make space voyage, or long term stay in space, fire safe. To help achieve this goal, we plan on designing appropriate experiments that could be performed onboard the Space Station in the coming years.

Wildfire Research

In recent years the severity of wildfires as measured in acres burned or property damage costs has risen dramatically. There are a variety of causes for this increase, such as a build-up of flammable material on wild lands due to past fire-fighting practices, prolonged drought or climate change, and increased construction in areas prone to fires. Of particular concern is the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), where developed areas abut natural land. The WUI is a unique blend of vegetative and structural fuel that has not received as much research attention in the past as have those fires involving either only structures or only vegetation. Our research focuses on the effect of wind on wildfire in the WUI, an area of great importance to San Diego where in the last decade hundreds of thousands of people have had to be evacuated due to fires, and thousands of homes have been lost in high Santa Ana winds conditions. To date, fire spread models are mostly empirical, and only recently with the advent of higher speed computers is it possible to develop physics-based models. Our near term goal is to validate a model of wind prediction in areas of uneven terrain and structures developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The long term-goal is to use the model to recreate the devastating fire in 2007 in Rancho Bernardo and ultimately to develop a predictive tool that can be used by firefighters and others to estimate how fast and where a fire will spread under varied conditions. This work has been undertaken by 4 Masters students and one undergraduate to date, with funding from NIST.

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.

Sintering of Solar Cells
Solar cell CAD drawing

Low-grade Thermal Energy Recovery

The increasing consumption of fossil fuels has led to a dramatic increase in environmental issues such as global warming, ozone depletion, and atmospheric pollution. Since energy use continues to grow as a result of population increase and expanding economies across the world, search for sustainable energy sources and the improvement of energy efficiency have to be addressed simultaneously in order to meet this expanding worldwide energy demand coupled with environmental challenges. In fact, there is a great potential for reducing the use of fossil fuels by recovering low-grade waste thermal energy sources. It has been estimated that more than 50% of the heat classified as “low-grade waste” in the industrial processes is directly rejected to the atmosphere. In general, a thermal energy source is considered to be moderate to low grade if its temperature is lower than 500°F.

Low-grade thermal energy recovery from industrial processes, from solar irradiation, or from geothermal sources may be an eco-friendly resource for power generation as well as heating and cooling purposes. Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) is one of the candidates to exploit low-temperature thermal energy sources, otherwise difficult to access using conventional power generation systems. We will develop a test bench as well as modeling tools to assess the thermodynamic model of an ORC, with the final short-term goal of optimizing the conversion efficiency, especially for micro-CHP applications. The simulation model will be developed in the Matlab®/AMESim® environment to allow system modeling both for steady and transient analysis. The model predictions will be validated both numerically and experimentally.

We plan to build, test, and possibly commercialize an ORC system with reasonable efficiency at an affordable cost. To facilitate this long-term goal, as an offshoot of this signature area, we plan to develop research projects that deal with selection of suitable working mediums for selected thermodynamic cycles targeting low grade thermal energy recovery. We also plan to develop a logistic regression-based classifier to predict the probability of any working fluid as a desirable candidate for the ultra-low grade heat driven organic Rankine cycle. Criteria such as global warming abilities, ozone depleting potentials, toxicity, flammability, atmospheric lifetime, as well as thermodynamic properties of the working medium will be used as parametric classifiers. As a validation, we will cover over 80 working fluids to be screened and rated.

Sintering of Solar Cell Components 
Sintering of solar cell components by the Thermal Science

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.

Micro-gravity Combustion Experiment and Modeling

Micro-gravity Combustion Experiment and Modeling

Renewable Energy-Deformable Turbine Blades

Computer design of Renewable Energy-Deformable Turbine Blades

Smart Health Institute

SDSU awarded $10M NIH grant

ME Professor, Dr. Kee Moon is one of the PIs on a $10M NIH award entitled "Building Capacity and Infrastructue for Population Health and Health Disparities Research at San Diego State University".

1000 publications

1000+ Scientific Publications by SDSU Professor

Congratulations to Dr. Randall German, ME Professor, for exceeding the milestone of 1,000 scientific publications in powder-based materials and sintering, including 16 books. He is currently the most cited author in his field.

Olevsky-Multi-Layer-Sintering

Modeling Sintering Anisotropy

Dr. Eugene Olevsky has received a $630k NSF award to conduct a multi-scale fundamental investigation of sintering anisotropy.

This conceptual schematic shows a small particle solar receiver.

Concentrating Solar Power SunShot Research Award

Dr. Fletcher Miller is the PI on a $3.8M DoE grant for developing a Small-Particle Solar Receiver for High-Temperature Brayton Power Cycles.

Brain Picture

$18M NSF Engineering Research Center

PDF file: download Adobe Acrobat Reader

Dr. Kee Moon leads SDSU's efforts in the NSF Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. Partner Universities include UW and MIT.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering Job Opportunities

  

  • Part-Time Faculty (Lecturer) 
  • Instructional Student Assistant
  • Graduate Assistant
  • Teaching Associate