Friday, October 12, 2012

A World-wide Community of Energy Researchers

I’ve been thinking a lot about energy lately as the search for sustainable energy sources and more efficient methods for energy usage become more and more important drivers of engineering innovation. Just yesterday, LCS faculty received $450,000 to study two different aspects of energy: cooling technology for data centers filled with energy-hungry computer servers, and new nano materials which can dramatically improve the efficiency of heat exchangers (Click here for more about how heat exchangers work).  And today, the College was visited by famed combustion researcher Dr. Suk Ho Chung of King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), who is here to discuss his recent work on efficiency-limiting factors for gasoline engines.

These projects are only the tip of the iceberg (the melting iceberg, that is!). It is dizzying to consider the tens of thousands of engineers and scientists around the world engaged in energy research, with discoveries and improvements, new product development and the launch of energy-based technology companies occurring simultaneously in thousands of venues. Engineering schools are deeply involved in these efforts, sometimes independently and often in collaboration with industry partners or international groups of researchers. At LCS and elsewhere, researchers are exploring energy-related questions that impact all types of powered devices: What new lightweight materials can be developed to reduce the fuel requirements for aircraft? What software is required to minimize the power needs of wireless sensors used for everything from sensing pollutants in the environment to detecting intruders in secure facilities? How can sewage treatment plants be turned into energy generators rather energy consumers? Invention and ingenuity cross political boundaries; answers and new approaches to what is arguably the most urgent engineering concern of our time are coming from across the global community of energy researchers.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to explore how individuals view their own personal energy consumption. We know that consumers have poor intuition about how much energy they actually use in everyday life. LCS faculty member Cliff Davidson and colleagues have shown that people consistently underestimate the amount of energy consumed by commonhousehold appliances. Happily, studies of consumer behavior after the installation of smart grid systems show that when people are made aware of their energy usage in real time, they become much efficient in their energy usage. At LCS, our new smart grid laboratory serves as a training ground for engineering students to test energy-saving devices, while our other laboratories are learning centers for combustion and fuel cell technology and the thermodynamics of biofuel conversion. You can read more about our smart grid research in our Syracuse Engineer magazine and you can explore the latest international news on smart grid technology from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers here.