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.

Dr. Olsen’s Group Contracted by Siemens to Investigate Vessel Fuel Consumption

Dr. Daniel Olsen and his lab are known for their top-notch work in investigating and minimizing fuel consumption and emissions by reconfiguring engine systems. Their latest project, funded by Siemens, accomplished just that.

Marine vessels are huge consumers of fossils fuels and are inherently inefficient, both in terms of quantities of fuel burned and resulting emissions to the atmosphere.  Marine power systems designed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions can have a significant effect in reducing environmental impact and lowering operating costs.

Left to right: Kirk Evans (Lab Manager), Mark James (Technician), James Tillotson (Test Engineer), Daniel Olsen (ME Faculty), and Josh Moothart (Senior in ME).

Conventional diesel-electric propulsion plants produce power at constant frequency which requires operating their diesel engines at constant speed, regardless of the power demand which can vary widely depending on what the task the vessel is performing (e.g. open ocean transit vs. slow speed maneuvering). The requirement for the engines to always run at constant speed prevents optimal (most efficient and cleanest burning) operation.  Additionally, a conventional diesel-electric vessel must have enough engines in operation to be able to respond to any situation immediately in the event of an emergency on board that results in the loss of one engine. This requirement forces the inefficient practice of placing a redundant, “just in case,” engine in service which is consuming fuel and producing emissions without contributing to the vessel’s operation.

Siemens is addressing this issue with cutting edge technology that incorporates variable speed power generation and stored energy via their Blue Drive PlusC© system. These systems have been installed globally on nearly 40 operating vessels, including offshore support vessels, construction vessels, large commercial fishing boats, ferries, and oceanographic research vessels, to name a few.

The Blue Drive PlusC© system has been a commercial success, well- recognized and lauded in the marine industry over the past few years; however, no independent, third party evaluation of the system had been conducted to actually quantify the fuel consumption savings and emissions reductions achievable.

Siemens reached out to Dr. Olsen’s lab to conduct testing that mirrors the conditions experienced at sea, contrasting the performance parameters of a constant engine speed power generation system to that of a system allowing variable engine speed (variable frequency) to optimize engine efficiency. Further, Dr. Olsen’s team was able to build a simulation of available energy storage so that the savings realized with eliminating the redundant engine could be effectively modeled.

Comparison of brake specific fuel consumption for constant speed and variable speed control. There is a significant reduction in fuel consumption for variable speed, especially at low engine power.

The testing protocol was developed by Dr. Olsen’s team utilizing a Cummins QSK50 Tier 4 engine located at the CSU Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory. The test sequence duplicated a notional ship operating profile, first with constant engine speed and then followed by variable engine speed operation that replicated the Blue Drive PlusC© system. Additionally, the imposition of the variable frequency fuel consumption and emissions on stipulation multi-engine operation scenarios was conducted. This modeling was able to predict the impact of including an energy storage capability.

“Having access to the Cummins QSK50D in the EECL at CSU really benefited the study since the engine accurately represents engines used in marine diesel applications,” said ME senior and project lead, Josh Moothart. Their findings showed that the variable speed system was 5-7% more fuel efficient for each engine on average resulting in reduced emissions and the potential to also reduce engine maintenance costs. The multi-engine model incorporating energy storage showed possible savings of up to 15% in fuel consumption. Emissions reductions were even more promising with up to 40% reduced NOx emissions.

“It has been a privilege to work with Siemens on a project that has such a large potential for reductions in worldwide fuel consumption and pollutant emissions,” said Dr. Olsen.

Dr. Daniel Wise, Director of Federal Marine Programs for Siemens added, “Siemens has been delighted with the professionalism and responsiveness of Dr. Olsen’s team. The results of the testing conducted at CSU offer independent confirmation of the viability and merit of the Blue Drive PlusC© system which was obviously great news for Siemens. We are confident that the system will continue to enjoy success in the marine industry and are looking forward to opportunities to work with CSU in the future.”

Dr. Olsen is currently in discussions with Siemens about a potential field project where the Blue Drive PlusC system would be evaluated on a ship servicing a US inland waterway.

Dr. Quinn’s Sustainability Expertise Recruited for Multi-Million Dollar DOE and USDA Grants

To say Assistant Professor Dr. Jason Quinn has been busy since he joined our Department last fall, would be an understatement. The Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture have each recognized and funded Dr. Quinn’s unique expertise in sustainability, and rightfully so. His knowledge in the topic is astounding and it’s paving the way for a greener tomorrow.

“It is an exciting time for me to work with great collaborators on a diverse set of challenges focused on bio-based fuels and products,” said Dr. Quinn.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy Grant

Earlier this year, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy, invested $5.9M in seven projects to advance novel CO2 utilization strategies. Six U.S. universities and research labs were selected to research and develop and test novel approaches that convert CO2 captured from coal-fired power plants to useable products, and to explore methods of capturing CO2 in areas where high-volume uses may not be optimal. About $1.3M of this investment went directly to the University of Kentucky Research Foundation who recruited Dr. Quinn’s expertise.

Kentucky’s project, entitled, “CO2 to Bioplastics: Beneficial Re-Use of Carbon Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants Using Microalgae,” is focused on capturing CO2 from coal flue gas through the cultivation of microalgae. The microalgae is then harvested and converted into a variety of bio based products including plastics and fuels. Developing a process to optimize this system and decrease the cost while maximizing value is also part of this project’s objective.

The Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office Grant

Dr. Quinn is also a partner in another Department of Energy grant aimed at improving how algae-based biofuels and bio products are produced. The project entitled, “Rewiring Algal Carbon Energetics for Renewables,” is funded under a three-year, $3.5M grant by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office. The overall goal is to double the yield of biofuel precursors from algae to about 3,700 gallons per acre per year.

Dr. Quinn along with Drs. Ken Reardon of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Graham Peers of Biology are tackling algae strain development, researching and improving the efficiency rate of algae sunlight absorption and converting that energy to biomass, and fermenting carbohydrates in the algal cells into ethanol and a fuel precursor. The final element of the project, researched specifically by Dr. Quinn, addresses predicting how strain modifications affect the eventual product’s environmental impacts. Dr. Quinn’s proficiency in sustainability assessment, and experience in simulating advancements of other scientists into working models made him the ideal candidate to research this portion of CSU’s project.

Other partners including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado School of Mines, Arizona State University, and industry members will work mainly on the algae-to-bioproduct life cycle.

“We’re excited to leverage the strengths of all our partners on this important project,” said project lead Lieve Laurens, senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “From building on the work already done by Sapphire with the D. armatus strain to Arizona State University’s manipulation of optimal outdoor conditions and Colorado State University’s research to improve photosynthesis in the strain and fermentation of the sugars – each team member is playing an integral role.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grant

Last but not least, the USDA’s NIFA sector has awarded $21.1M to several institutions to support the development of a new jet fuel, bio based products, and biomaterials from renewable sources. The University of Arizona recruited the help of Dr. Quinn on their project, entitled, “Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions;” a multi-level research project that includes the cultivation of two desert-dwelling crops to create a sustainable bioeconomy.

This project includes the University of Arizona, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, Iowa State University, New Mexico State University, Bridgestone Americas, Inc. and Mecurius Biorefining, Inc. all working towards the development of a sustainable bio-economy in the desert southwest. The project focuses on developing domestic sources of natural rubber from guayule and guar gum from guar.  The project is driving towards enhancing rural economics through scientific research dedicated to diversifying crop options for the desert southwest.

What’s next for Dr. Quinn?

Dr. Quinn is looking forward to two additional projects coming down the pipeline, both sponsored by the DOE ARPE-e. The first is the assessment of a new macroalgae cultivation concept and the second is looking at the potential of dynamic wireless power transfer for in-motion charging of electric vehicles.

“The exciting thing about sustainability work is the opportunity to collaborate,” Dr. Quinn said. “I am continuing to make connections and work with a diverse set of researchers.”

ME Undergrad Participates in the National FIREX Campaign

ME undergraduate student, Liam Lewane, recently shared his latest project at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research campaign, addressing environmental air quality.

Liam Lewane

Lewane is a student in Dr. Shantanu Jathar’s Laboratory for Air Quality Research, and recently participated in the NOAA Fire Influence on Regional and Global Environments Experiment in Missoula, Mont. “Liam is an exceptional student with an extraordinary ability to do experimental research work,” Dr. Jathar said.

The FIREX campaign included researchers from a variety of universities and organizations collaborating to study emissions and their impact on our atmosphere.

“I first became aware of the campaign when Dr. Jathar described it to me while I was developing the smog chamber. It was a fantastic opportunity, not only getting to design and build an instrument like the smog chamber, but to get to use it in a research campaign that addresses what is becoming more and more of a problem in the world. I couldn’t pass it up,” Lewane said.

The chamber being set up at the FIREX campaign last October at the Fire Science Lab in Missoula, Mont.

The purpose of a smog chamber is to provide a controlled environment in which to study atmospheric chemistry processes – specifically the formation and aging of fine particle pollution. The chamber is a large, 10-cubic-meter, Teflon bag suspended in a temperature-controlled enclosure. Emissions from energy and combustion sources are injected into the chamber and reacted with oxidants, simulating chemical processes similar to the Earth’s atmosphere. The contents of the chamber are then blasted with ultraviolet light delivered via light banks installed inside the enclosure. For certain experiments, the enclosure walls can be removed so the chamber is exposed to direct sunlight. The light initiates photochemical reactions in the chamber similar to what occurs in the atmosphere during daylight hours. Over the course of an experiment, the contents of the chamber are monitored.

The chamber was designed to be mobile, so it can be disassembled and transported to different locations. Lewane’s chamber features a system to reduce chamber volume, which shortens the time it takes to clean the chamber after each experiment. This innovative feature may revolutionize the way smog chambers are built in the future. Lewane will also be credited as coauthor on some of the resulting FIREX research literature, which is a major accomplishment for an undergraduate student.

After graduation in 2018, Lewane would like to enter the energy industry and focus on making renewable energy technology more efficient and accessible. He is also considering joining Engineers Without Borders. “Before any of that though, I’m pretty sure the first thing I’ll do after graduation is get a good night’s sleep,” Lewane said.

With so many tremendous accomplishments under his belt already, it is hard to fathom what the future holds for this motivated young student. Congratulations, Liam!

Dr. John Volckens Receives $1.5M Grant From EPA STAR


Kelsey Bilsback (left), CSU mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, checks flow rates on a portable sampler before beginning emissions sampling in Tamil Nadu, India.

Last year, we covered a story about Professor John Volckens receiving a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the health effects of inhaling emissions from cookstoves that use biomass combustion. Additionally, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency – Science to Achieve Results, recognized his work in the area with a $1.5 million grant to continue researching the repercussions of biomass combustion cookstoves, focusing on their effect on the climate and the implications of cookstove interventions on a global/macro scale.


A Honduran Home where research took place.

Specifically, this project aims to develop and apply a framework to quantify climate, regional air quality, and indoor air quality benefits of cookstove interventions. The study is composed of in-depth laboratory experiments and immersive field studies in China, Honduras, Uganda, and India.

ME graduate student Kelsey Bilsback, with help from Megan Graham, an environmental and radiological health sciences graduate student, and Jack Kodros, an atmospheric science Ph.D. student, among others, have been collecting emissions and usage data from households to better understand how and how often individuals are using their cookstoves and the composition of the emissions being emitted by their cookstoves. Each field study takes place across several weeks; the study should be complete by the summer of 2017.

EPA NIH graphicThe laboratory and field data will be used in conjunction with computer modeling efforts led by Dr. Jeff Pierce, of CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science, and Kodros to predict the climate and health benefits from different potential cookstove interventions. How clean is clean enough to really make a difference in health and climate conditions around the world?




Photos courtesy of Michael Johnson of the Berkeley Air Monitoring Group and Rose Eilenberg of Carnegie Mellon University.