Oct 222003
 
Authors: Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

Located a good one mile from the heart of the main campus,

distance is not the only factor that sets apart the Engines and

Energy Conversion Laboratory, an undertaking that stretches over

five acres of land, adjoining the Cache la Poudre River, from the

rest of the CSU campus.

Tim Bauer, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, and

Patrick Ginger, a research assistant at the EECL, agree that it is

a unique experience to pursue studies in the municipal power

plant-turned laboratory. Bauer acknowledges the benefits of such a

setting – real world experience in graduate school and the

opportunity of job offers from companies working on collaborative

projects. Having had prior experience working at a pipeline

industry, Ginger said the EECL is his best work experience so

far.

“The engines at the lab are really similar to what you would

find at a natural gas compressor station,” Ginger said. “Exposing

students to this type of atmosphere gives them the upper hand when

looking for a job.”

Shannon Lynch, a senior mechanical engineering major, one of the

few female students in the field, feels confident that if more

students had the opportunity to see how things work at the EECL,

the field would certainly attract more women.

Bryan Wilson, director of research and founder of the EECL, is

currently involved in several projects aimed at developing new

technologies to reduce air pollution and fuel consumption from

engines.

While miniature models of the tuk-tuk from Thailand, the Indian

auto rickshaw and the Philippine tricycle add color to his

interesting brick-lined office, the actual tricycle engine sits in

the laboratory. Having perfected a “clean” snowmobile in 2002,

Wilson and his team are currently working on a project that would

apply a similar technology to Asian three-wheelers, which run on

two-stroke engines, comparable to those employed by

snowmobiles.

The success of this project, which employs “direct injection”

for fuel delivery, would help control the pollution caused by these

automobiles, reducing emissions by as much as 99 percent.

“To reduce pollution from the two-stroke engines used in

motorbikes and three wheelers, we are using a direct fuel injection

technique similar to what we have used in our large engine

research,” Wilson said.

Wilson said that the EECL is one of the few labs in the country

to employ Fourier Transform Infrared technology (FTIR) to study

specific types of pollutants, having been employed in past projects

to identify hazardous chemicals in exhaust emissions.

Wilson is also on a collaborative venture with the Department of

Electrical Engineering at CSU to study the application of plasma to

reduce engine pollution. Another project, underway in collaboration

with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, involves the

reduction of friction in engines, hence improving overall

efficiency.

Most natural gas engines either use spark ignition to ignite the

fuel or rely on direct injection of fuel into a combustion chamber,

where the fuel self-ignites due to heat of the compressed air.

Sponsored by the Department of Energy, a current project in

Wilson’s lab is studying the employment of focused lasers to create

ignition in a natural gas engine; this is in collaboration with

Argonne National Laboratory and the National Energy technology

lab.

“In the laser ignition process, we focus the laser beam to a

point in the cylinder; a spark then forms at the focal point which

ignites the mixture,” Wilson said.

Wilson is also collaborating with the Cummins Engine Company and

Waukesha Engine to produce natural gas engines that would generate

electricity within cities. Generation of electricity in power

plants outside of city limits requires the use of extended power

lines, increasing the probability of blackouts.

The concept of using engines to generate electricity locally for

use within cities, called “distributed generation,” is expected to

provide a more reliable power supply.

“Distributed generation is attracting attention because it is

less vulnerable to the types of black-outs that were seen in New

York and the Midwest this summer,” Wilson said. “This process is

more efficient.”

Kathi Delehoy, assistant vice president for Research and

Information Technology, said the EECL is a good example of a

collaborative ventures.

“The engines lab is a perfect example of a lab where students

stand side-by-side with industrial leaders,” Delehoy said.

Collaborative projects with industries, Delehoy said, offer an

excellent opportunity for the university to participate in

cutting-edge research and technology transfer.

Such collaborative projects are on the rise at CSU and funding

from the private sector has increased over the past several years;

in the previous year alone, such funds have grown from $41,558,620

in 2002 to $43,376,048 in 2003.

 

 

 

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