Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Student Leads Caterpillar-Funded Combustion Project

Mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, Chris Van Roekel, standing in front of a G3304 Caterpillar engine in the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab at the CSU Powerhouse Energy Campus.

If you take a peek inside the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab, also known as the EECL, you’ll see mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Chris Van Roekel pushing the limits of a G3304 Caterpillar engine. Van Roekel has been working in the EECL under Dr. Dan Olsen’s direction for three years and is dedicated to advancing the combustion field.

His current project, funded by the Caterpillar Large Power Systems Division, has a threefold objective. First, to demonstrate the feasibility of implementing a dedicated exhaust recirculation, or EGR, on a stoichiometric natural gas engine; second, to upgrade the Caterpillar G3304 engine with modern controls and explore the operational limits of the engine by running with a dedicated EGR; and third, to understand the fundamental effects of a dedicated EGR on combustion products. In addition to upgrading this Caterpillar engine, Van Roekel is upgrading the test cell in which the engine was installed. He will collect data while the engine is running and write publications based on the results.

Van Roekel also completed his master’s degree under the direction of Dr. Olsen, where his initial interest in combustion began. “In the spring of 2011, I visited a number of university research facilities, one of which was the CSU EECL. The facility and research taking place were unlike anything I had experienced before,” remembered Van Roekel.

As a recent graduate, Van Roekel has plans to pursue an industry position in large-engine combustion research. After working with industry partners such as Caterpillar, focusing on natural gas combustion, and Cummins, during his master’s degree, focusing on diesel combustion, he feels ready to forge ahead with a versatile skill set under his belt.

Van Roekel sums up his time in Dr. Olsen’s lab with one word, opportunity. “During my time at CSU I have been able to work alongside brilliant graduate students and world-class researchers on novel projects that are driving the future of combustion. The knowledge and direction given by Dr. Olsen while working on these projects has been invaluable, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be working under his direction with an outstanding community of students and researchers at the CSU Powerhouse Energy Campus.”

Dr. Kurt Barth Investigates Advancements in Thin Film Photovoltaic Devices

Kurt Barth, associate director of CSU’s Next Generation Photovoltaic Center, received $1.3 million (the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory is contributing significant cost share) for a project titled “Advanced Module Architecture for Reduced Costs, High Durability and Significantly Improved Manufacturability.”

Barth’s project will investigate new materials and methods for enhanced durability and reliability of thin-film photovoltaic devices. One of the goals is refining a new manufacturing process for solar modules that’s faster and cheaper than conventional techniques. “We are very excited about this project and the opportunities to improve solar module manufacturing,” said Dr Barth. For the project, the CSU center is partnering with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the PV Manufacturing Corp. at the State University of New York.

Contributions made by Anne Manning.

Senior Design: Formula SAE’s First Electric Vehicle

FormulaSAE_RenderingStart your engines! This year’s Formula SAE – Ram Racing team is bringing something new to the speedway; an electric vehicle with a need for speed. In June, team members are hoping to achieve a top 10 finish at the national Intercollegiate Design Competition in Nebraska. They will present at CSU E-Days as well.

All previous models have been internal combustion vehicles using E85 ethanol, so the challenge was to build an electric motor to outdo previous models’ performance – and to complete it in one year. This talented and dedicated group of mechanical engineering and electrical engineering seniors joined forces on this new concept – overcoming both electrical and mechanical challenges.

The electric motor is powered by a 144 lithium cobalt oxide battery with a max 300 volt DC. It operates at 80 kilowatts max power, has about 236 lb-ft of torque at the crank and a 4:1 gear reduction through thFormulaSAE_Framee chain drive. 944 lb-ft of torque is available at the wheels. The total weight of the vehicle is 625 pounds, which is fair for the first
model of its kind at CSU.

The generosity of a variety of sponsors has played a huge role in the elaborate concept of this electric vehicle. Larger and long-term sponsors include: Woodward, Lenovo, Melasta Batteries, Remy Motors, HMS Motorsports, 3R Automotive, SRAM, PTC, Colorado Waterjet, and Pioneer Engineering. Other local businesses and private parties, including team members’ families, have also been extremely supportive. The team has received $15,000 in cash and between $80,000 and $100,000 in in-kind donations over the last two years.

Other team supporters include Ram Racing, an undergraduate student organization, initiated in 1996. Club members generally meet twice a week and dedicate as much of their spare time and energy as possible into designing, basic building, and racing the Formula SAE vehicle.

The Intercollegiate Design Competition involves 508 teams from six continents. It was started in 1980 by engineers and automotive engineers as a way for students to participate in a Mini Indy race series. We wish Ram Racing best of luck at this national competition in June!


EcoCAR 3

EcoCAR3_photoDr. Thomas Bradley, faculty adviser for EcoCAR projects, and a group of more than 100 dedicated students, over the course of eight semesters, just completed the EcoCAR 2 competition in the summer of 2014. Now, it’s on to the next competition – EcoCAR 3!

Just as in past EcoCAR competitions, students have been given the task of reducing environmental impact while maintaining performance, safety, and consumer acceptability of the vehicle. For this competition, primary commercial sponsor General Motors donated a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro to each team. GM will also provide vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring, and operational support to each team. The competition is managed by Argonne National Laboratory who provides competition management, team evaluation, and logistical support. EcoCAR 3 is the latest U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition series and it is North America’s premier collegiate automotive engineering competition.

Colorado State University has been competing in EcoCAR competitions since 1988, and this year, we are one of hundreds of applicants that have been selected to participate once again. Sixteen total North American universities will compete.

Dr. Bradley has been the faculty adviser for EcoCAR since 2011 and was recently awarded the National Science Foundation Outstanding Incoming Faculty Adviser Award for EcoCAR 2. “CSU’s EcoCAR program is a great example of the type of research that College of Engineering undergraduate and graduate students can get involved in.  It is innovative, multidisciplinary, industrially relevant, and high impact.  This article recognizes the great work that over 100 CSU students put in to design and demonstrates our vision of the car of the future.”

The EcoCAR 3 team started the design process in the fall of 2014 and will be judged at different phases throughout the competition until a winner is selected in the summer of 2018. The group just returned from Seattle, WA where they competed in the first leg of the competition and earned two project management awards. The winning team receives cash prizes and international recognition. Students are split into groups based on their interests, each group being responsible for a different portion of the vehicle: mechanical, emissions, controls, batteries, or powertrain. At any given time, approximately 30 students are working on the vehicle, and these students will pass the baton to incoming seniors at the end of each school year.

Between 100 and 125 students will have had the opportunity to work on the vehicle over the course of the four-year competition. This year, the group is broken down into about four graduate students and 25 undergraduate students. Graduate student involvement is imperative as they provide guidance and stability when considering the high turnover rate of undergraduate students.

Clinton Knackstedt was an EcoCAR 2 team member as an undergrad and is now working on EcoCAR 3 as a grad student. “We meet and receive training from industry experts from across the U.S., get involved in innovative research in the automotive industry, and overall, the opportunities are endless. There is so much to learn, and it is an amazing experience.”

EcoCAR benefits students in a multitude of ways by encouraging hands-on engineering experience, exposure to world-class organizations, and knowledge-sharing in a competitive, team-oriented environment. Students will learn to incorporate innovative ideas, solve complex engineering challenges, and apply the latest cutting-edge technologies. Inspired EcoCAR students pursue careers in the automotive industry and other advanced technology sectors. Last fall, two students interviewed with GM and were offered positions at the Milford Proving Grounds in Michigan.

EcoCAR 2 student Kenny Inthiraj, was recently hired by GM. “By joining EcoCAR and gaining immediate hands on experience and full design freedom working with vehicles, gaining access to the automotive industry was a natural step forward.  Specifically, the EcoCAR project blends my propensity toward energy engineering and love of cars, and was directly involved in landing my first undergraduate career with General Motors.”

This year, competition organizers are ramping up the challenge by adding cost constraints and automotive innovation as additional judging criteria. We are so proud of our talented EcoCAR 3 students – keep up the great work and good luck!

EcoCAR 2

EcoCAR 2: Plugging in to the Future, is a three-year collegiate engineering competition and the only program of its kind. The competition’s mission is a vital one: offer an unparalleled hands-on, real-world experience to educate the next generation of automotive engineers. The competition challenges 15 universities across North America to reduce the environmental impact of a Chevrolet Malibu without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability. The CSU Vehicle Innovation Team (CSU VIT) was selected as a participating school in April of 2011.

During the three-year program, the CSU Vehicle Innovation Team will follow a real-world Vehicle Development Process (VDP) modeled after GM’s VDP. The VDP serves as a road map for the engineering process of designing, building and refining CSU’s advanced technology vehicle.

Established by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors (GM), EcoCAR 2 builds upon a successful 23-year history of DOE Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) that exemplify the power of public/private partnerships in providing invaluable experience and training to promising, young minds entering the North American job market. EcoCAR 2 follows the widely-acclaimed competition series EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.

Shaped by the greatest design changes in the history of the automotive industry, EcoCAR 2 requires the CSU team to explore a variety of powertrain architectures focusing on electric drive vehicle technology. The CSU team will utilize a Chevrolet Malibu, donated by General Motors as the integration platform for their advanced vehicle design.

EcoCAR Projects

EcoCAR 3 Between 100 and 125 students will have had the opportunity to work on the vehicle over the course of the four-year competition. This year, the group is broken down into about four graduate students and 25 undergraduate students. Graduate student involvement is imperative as they provide guidance and stability when considering the high […]

Making Algae Biofuels a Reality

photoOne of the major issues facing the algal biofuels industry is development of a low energy, scalable means of harvesting microalgae cells from ponds or bioreactors, in which microalgae is cultivated under very dilute conditions.

At CSU, Prof. Anthony Marchese and his students in the Advanced Biofuels Combustion and Characterization Laboratory are developing a new, energy efficient microalgae harvesting technology in collaboration with Solix BioSystems and Los Alamos National Laboratory.   This technology uses high frequency, ultrasonic standing waves and fluid mechanical forces to direct the microalgae cells into a concentrated stream to enable the design a scalable, continuous flow harvesting system.

CSU Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student Esteban Hincapie was recently awarded the Young Algae Researcher Award by the Algae Biomass Organization for his work on this device.

Professor Marchese’s $1.9M EDF Study

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and industry partners have poured millions of dollars into investigating methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas industry over the past few years and the results could have the potential of significantly influencing the EPA into changing its emissions regulations.

Mechanical engineering professor and director of the CSU Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, Anthony Marchese, led a $1.9 million EDF study that assessed emissions from gathering and processing facilities, which are potentially major sources of methane emissions.

EDF’s overall goal is to quantify the amount of methane leaking into the atmosphere from the natural gas supply chain. Identification of the sources of methane emissions will suggest the measures that can be taken to reduce future emissions. Currently, the net leakage rate in this sector is not well known, which poses a problem when understanding its effects, if any, to global warming, human health and society.

On an intense timeline, from October 2013 to April 2014, Marchese and his team collected and assessed data from 114 gathering facilities and 16 processing plants across 13 states to determine if methane leakage occurred at higher rates than anticipated. Other sectors, also supported by the EDF, evaluated other phases of the supply chain process. “This is an exciting study because it is, by far, the largest and most comprehensive data set ever collected on direct methane emissions from the gathering sector,” Marchese said.

The results determined that 30 percent of the gathering facilities accounted for 80 percent of the methane emissions measured, and methane loss rates at processing plants were much lower than that at gathering facilities. Marchese noted that, “Processing plants are generally much larger and permanently staffed, and are required to report methane emissions to the EPA. They are also required by federal law to repair any leaks within five days of detection. Most gathering facilities aren’t subject to those federal regulations.”

With this knowledge, Marchese believes that the EPA will reevaluate the need to regulate methane emissions in gathering facilities, just as they do in processing facilities, to eliminate higher loss rates.

Once the results are captured from all 16 of EDF’s emissions studies, a more accurate estimation of how much methane is actually being released into the atmosphere via the natural gas supply chain will be published. Marchese and his team are currently completing a publication on a Monte Carlo simulation that uses the methane measurement results to estimate the total methane emissions from all U.S. gathering and processing facilities. However, a large chunk of data is still missing – leakage from the hundreds of thousands of miles of gathering pipelines that lie between the wells and the gathering facilities.

Stay tuned for up-to-date information on this developing research.

CSU Energy Faculty Investigates VW ‘Dieselgate’ Scandal for Denver’s CBS Channel 4 News

When the story broke, Denver’s CBS News Channel 4 approached the Mechanical Engineering Department’s energy-focused faculty, Professors Anthony Marchese, Shantanu Jathar, Bryan Willson, and Dan Olsen to carry out their own VW emissions testing to see if their results were consistent with the reports.

Professor Jathar proposed an experiment and each professor also took it as an opportunity to introduce the story into the classroom – presented alongside combustion, engines, and air pollution lessons which also sparked essential ethics discussions.

VW was recently accused by the Environmental Protection Agency of equipping millions of their diesel engines with software programmed to detect when undergoing the prescribed EPA chassis dynamometer test, then activating equipment to reduce emissions, falsifying performance and emissions output results.

In 2009, VW introduced a new generation of light-duty diesel vehicles to meet Tier II (EPA) and LEV-II (California) emissions standards. The European Commission and West Virginia University found compliance on chassis dynamometer tests but found 10-40x emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in on-road tests. As a result, the U.S. VW fleet has emitted an additional 42,000 tons of NOx, resulting in 5 premature deaths, $13 million in health costs, and environmental damage.

Along with comparing and analyzing CSU’s VW emissions results, CBS News Reporter, Rick Sallinger, aimed at answering the question of why the Colorado State Vehicle Inspection program was unable to expose the VW violations. The team tested 3 VW Jettas: a 2009 model with 20,000 miles, a 2011 model with 80,000 miles, and a 2014 model with 50,000 miles. On-road experimentation was conducted using a portable emissions monitoring system, courtesy of Lightning Hybrids in Loveland, Colo.

The results were consistent with original reports tested by West Virginia University. The 2009 and 2011 models always exceeded the standard, and the 2014 Jetta exceeded the standard about 60 percent of the time. On-road NOx was 3-20x higher than the Tier II standard. Sallinger and his crew took part in one of the experiments, which was conducted using a VW Jetta owned by CSU mechanical engineering graduate student, Christopher Page. Furthermore, it was confirmed that the Colorado State Vehicle Inspection program wasn’t able to expose the violations due to the software in question preventing their testing devices from picking up on the discrepancies. The story aired on CBS affiliate KCNC Channel 4 in late November 2015, and can also be found here:

VW has since apologized and said it will recall all of its diesel-powered vehicles in Europe. Consumers in the U.S. however will have to wait more than a year for recall strategies to be put in place.

Senior Research Associate, Daniel Zimmerle, Leads Initiative to Electrify Rwanda

About 2.5 years ago, senior research associate for the Engines and Energy Conversions Lab at CSU’s Energy Institute, Daniel Zimmerle, began investigating Rwanda’s electrification issues in collaboration with an agricultural sciences graduate student, Peter Means, who has worked extensively in Africa. Zimmerle’s passion for microgrid initiatives led him to what is now, a large-scale electrification project in Rwanda, Africa.

Community infrastructure requires agreement among village members. Here, the CSU researcg team is presenting the microgrid proposal to members of a pilot project village.

Community infrastructure requires agreement among village members. Here, the CSU researcg team is presenting the microgrid proposal to members of a pilot project village.

Currently, Rwanda’s grid expansion strategies don’t reach several thousand remote villages. The residents of these villages don’t have the luxury of flipping a switch to receive light or the ability to charge a cell phone. Limited access to electricity hinders these villages’ ability to develop their economies, and that’s where Zimmerle and his team want to make an impact.

With the support of the Rwandan government, Zimmerle’s team will design, build, and install Smart Village Microgrids. Cooperating with the University of Rwanda and technical training centers, the joint Rwandan-American team will train locals to operate the systems once complete. Initially, this model will be piloted in 2 villages consisting of 100-200 households each, with the hopes of eventually expanding to more than 3,000 villages. Establishing this project could take a decade, but Zimmerle and his team are determined.

Villagers sometimes must walk long distances to refill jerrycans with water.

Villagers sometimes must walk long distances to refill jerrycans with water.

“The goal isn’t electrification,” said Zimmerle. “The goal is development, and that is an inherently broad, cross-disciplinary challenge.” To tackle the complexity of this project, faculty from across campus have joined forces. Dr. Dale Manning, assistant professor in Agricultural and Resource Economics, is leading efforts to understand desired and optimal uses for electricity as well as electrification impacts. Eric Aoki in Communication Studies and Juyeon Park in Human Factors Design are looking at the challenges from a human-oriented perspective. Contributions from agriculture include identifying how energy and water can improve crop yields and farmer’s incomes. Dr. Thomas Bradley, Associate Director of Systems Engineering, is mapping out an international education program including both Rwandan and American students.

The project has received seed funding from the Catalyst for Innovative Partnerships offered by CSU’s Office of the Vice President for Research, funding streams initiated by the Rwandan Government, and sponsorships from non-governmental organizations.

Stay tuned for developments on this story.