All posts by Kim Geiger

Michigan Tech will host the 2018 ASISC Annual Meeting, August 7-10

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Michigan Tech’s Advanced Sustainable Iron and Steelmaking Center (ASISC) will host its annual meeting in Houghton, in this August 7-10, 2018. The ASISC annual meeting is a gathering of professionals from the mining and mineral processing industry. New Paradigms in Mineral Processing Technologies is this year’s theme.

ASISC members pool resources to address a diverse spectrum of interdisciplinary research questions. During the meeting they share their work and experiences to further the development of a new generation of sustainable, economical mineral processing technologies.

On August 7-8, the ASISC Fundamentals of Minerals Processing Short Course will provide a general introduction to practical minerals processing. The course includes both lecture and laboratory demonstrations. Topics are tailored to attendee needs and requests. Hands-on laboratory work, performed by registered members, is the highlight of this course. The short course will be located on the Michigan Tech campus in the Department of Chemical Engineering

On August 9-10, industry leaders and research engineers will deliver mineral processing research presentations at the Magnuson Hotel in downtown Houghton, a 10 minute walk from campus.

Learn more and register online here.


Several Hundred Earthquakes Later: Dean Pennington Retires

Dr. Wayne Pennington, Research Professor of Geophysical Engineering
Wayne Pennington, Research Professor of Geophysical Engineering & Professor Emeritus, Michigan Tech

As a young boy fascinated by geology, Dr. Wayne Pennington probably never imagined he would personally experience several hundred earthquakes during his lifetime. (Yes, several hundred.) He will retire tomorrow as the dean of engineering and professor of geophysics at Michigan Technological University.

He hasn’t retired from the geosciences, though—at least not yet. Dr. Pennington is a world-recognized expert in earthquakes, oil and gas exploration and development, and the intersection of those fields. He has worked in academia and industry, and conducted field work at sites around the world. In the 1970s he studied tectonic earthquakes in Latin America and Pakistan. In the early 1980s he was on the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin and studied the relationship of earthquakes to oil and gas production. In the early 1990s he worked at the research laboratory for Marathon Oil Company.

Pennington joined Michigan Tech in 1994 as a professor of geophysics. In a 1997 article in The Leading Edge, a journal of the Society of Exploration Geophyscists, he coined a new term, “seismic petrophysics”. It described the first purposeful application of rock physics theory—calibrated by laboratory and well measurements—to the interpretation of seismic data. It was also a turning point among professionals in petroleum exploration. Pennington asserted that a more comprehensive understanding of the geological and fluid factors affecting seismic energy propagation would yield results greater than the sum of the parts.

“Professionals in petroleum resource development know of the exploration expertise here at Michigan Tech in large part because of the research and educational activities of Wayne and his students and collaborators,” says Dr. John Gierke, current chair of the university’s GMES department. “Their efforts are aimed at integrating geological and geophysical understanding, a coupling encompassed in ‘seismic petrophysics’ that bolsters both disciplinary aspects of exploration. The result has been more insightful interpretations and more promising discoveries.”
“The data-driven emphasis of ‘seismic petrophysics’ requires a thorough understanding of the complex interactions of rock and fluid mechanics on the seismic response when exploring for and developing petroleum resources,” says Michigan Tech alumnus Dr. Joshua Richardson, a geophysicist at Chevron Corporation. “This integrated approach allows petroleum to be produced as efficiently and safely as possible.”

As a professor, Pennington taught his students at Michigan Tech how to interpret integrated (geophysical, geological, and engineering) data sets for reservoir characterization. He also used earthquake seismology to teach geology and physics to local middle and high school students. His lab, SPOT, encompassed “the people, the laboratory, the computers, the publications, and the projects associated with seismology, petrophysics, and their union: seismic petrophysics.”

Pennington became chair of Michigan Tech’s Department of Geological and Mining Engineering Sciences in 2004, and then Dean of the College of Engineering in 2013. He continued his research activities as Dean, advising graduate students and publishing research results. He oversaw increases in undergraduate and graduate enrollment, degrees granted, and research expenditures. He hired four outstanding department chairs and promoted interdisciplinary cooperation and research within the college and across campus.

He has held other important positions during his career, including president of the American Geosciences Institute, Jefferson Science Fellow at the US Department of State and USAID, as well as outstanding mentor, advisor, colleague, supervisor, and friend.

During his last few days as Dean, Dr. Pennington generously answered our questions about himself and his plans for retirement.

Hometown:
I was born as the middle child of three to a dairy-farming family outside of Rochester, Minnesota. By the time I was 8 years old, we moved east, settling in Weehawken, New Jersey (above the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan). I earned a scholarship to The Peddie School, a private boarding school, for my last three years of high school. So I don’t really have a hometown other than the Copper Country, where I have lived longer than anywhere else.

Family:
My wife, Laura is a retired schoolteacher, most recently having taught at Hancock’s Barkell Elementary School. Our older son, Matthew, is an MD/PhD anesthesiologist with the University of Washington in Seattle where his wife is a gynecological oncologist; their son has just completed kindergarten. Our younger son, Keith, has degrees in biomedical engineering and business and is currently a PhD candidate in business at the University of Minnesota; his wife is a biomedical quality engineer for a large consulting firm. Both of our sons are Eagle Scouts and graduates of Houghton High School.

Number of times you have visited the site of an earthquake:
I have been in two large damaging earthquakes: in Pakistan in 1974 (the “Pattan” earthquake”) while living there and maintaining a seismic array for Columbia University; and in southern Mexico in 1979 (the “Petatlan” earthquake, magnitude 7.7) while setting up a local seismic array to monitor what turned out to be foreshocks. Including the aftershock series from those events, and many other smaller events, such as rock bursts inside coal mines and volcanic earthquakes on the Aleutian Islands, I have experienced at least several hundred earthquakes. I visited Haiti twice after the 2010 earthquake there; once as a member of a team from the US State Department, and once on a team from the United Nations.

How/Why did you choose geophysics?
I always loved geology, even as a small child. But once I got to college and realized I could do geoscience using math, there was no question of the subdiscipline that beckoned. Field work in exotic locations was also a major draw.

How/Why did you choose Michigan Tech?
When I decided to leave a comfortable job at an oil company research center, having determined that the job I enjoyed there would not exist much longer, I looked for a return to academics at an institution that was the “right” size, where I could merge science and engineering, and where applied research was valued. Michigan Tech was one of the rare institutions that ticked all boxes. Returning to the northern Midwest was attractive, particularly because the earthquake hazard is low here.

Part of the job you enjoyed most as professor, chair and then dean?
All those positions had their positive aspects, but I must say that I missed teaching and working with graduate students once I got a couple years into my position as dean.

Most rewarding aspect of your job?
Retirement. You know the joke about the two happiest days in a boat-owner’s life (the day he buys his first boat, and the day he sells his last boat)? It’s like that: there were many exciting and rewarding aspects in each of my career stages, both in academia and in industry. Starting each new position was exciting, yet so is leaving the last one.

Number of graduate students advised?
I’m not sure, but it numbers in the dozens.

Your biggest goal now?
I have a few short-term goals: attending a bar-tending class to improve my skills at making craft cocktails; continuing to offer training to industry; better understanding induced seismicity from wastewater injection; and evaluating the possibility of writing a book on “seismic petrophysics”. All while maintaining my kayaking and trail-developing skills. I will spend February through May of 2019 on a Fulbright at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, researching ways to better monitor oil and gas production and carbon sequestration.

What advice do you give to new students? New faculty? New chairs? New deans?
Don’t let anything or anyone discourage you. Listen to opinions but make up your own mind. Maintain your integrity above all else.

Best advice you’ve gotten so far about retiring?
I haven’t listened to any of it.

Thank you, Dr. Pennington—we wish you the absolute best in your new endeavors as a professor emeritus and research professor of geophysical engineering!

Words of wisdom written by Dr. Pennington over the years, just a sampling:

Students
“Students these days are a bit different from when I was (or many of you were) sweating over finals and cheering for our teams. They understand the need for natural resources, but are equally concerned about people and the environment, and their own lifestyle choices. They want to know how to make use of natural resources sustainably (leaving no legacy for others to deal with), and how to allow indigenous peoples to benefit from the development. They are concerned with how Earth works, but they want to use that knowledge to directly aid those who live the path of volcanic flows, or in earthquake hazard areas—while learning details about the internal operations and mutual interactions of features from the core to the atmosphere, and beyond. They want to combine engineering applications with natural science observations. In short, they want to ‘do’ and not just ‘learn.’”

Valued colleagues and their retirement
“As many of our long-time faculty retire, they are, in some sense, replaced by new faculty. In another sense, of course, these retiring faculty can never be replaced. Who can claim the legacy of Lloyal Bacon, perhaps the most-loved professor I have ever met? Nobody.”

Teaching
“In most classrooms, the students work on a problem, they get the right answer, and they’re done. But we all know that, in the real world, you work on a project—something unexpected happens—and you have to figure out the problem, explain it to your colleagues, and collectively plan your response to the situation.”

Research
“The research we do is conducted through computer modeling, in the laboratory, or in the field—from inside the Earth to outer space and everywhere in between—but it has common goals.”

—Wayne Pennington


Vote for the Whiz Kids tonight (Thurs. June 21) by 8:30 pm

The Lake Linden Whiz Kids eCybermission team along with advisors Engineering Fundamentals Senior Lecturer Gretchen Hein & 4th year chemical engineering student Ryan Knoll are in Washington DC this week. They will present their findings about using stamp sand in lightweight concrete. The presentations can be watched live and you can vote for their team for the People’s Choice Award.
 Voting is from 1:30-8pm today. They would love your support. The link is: http://ecyber18.hscampaigns.com/#9thgradeteams
They will be receiving a STEM in Action Grant Award tomorrow to continue their work and will be meeting with the EPA on Monday to discuss their project.  The meeting with the EPA would never have happened without help from Representative Jack Bergman. The team thanks the College of Engineering,  Chemical Engineering and Engineering Fundentals for their support.
Read past stories about the team here.
Lake Linden Whiz Kids
Lake Linden Whiz Kids

Mapping Lahar Threats in the Aftermath of Volcán de Fuego

Preliminary mapping lahar threats in Guatemala—vital for communities affected by the eruption.
Preliminary mapping lahar threats in Guatemala—vital for communities affected by the eruption.
Michigan Tech Geophysicist, Volcanologist Rudiger Escobar Wolf
Volcanologist Rudiger Escobar Wolf

In the aftermath of the eruption of Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, the risk now is for lahars triggered by extreme rain events. Guatemala’s rainy season started in May and typically runs through the month of October. Lahar hazards are the result of fresh (loose) eruptive deposits on steep slopes that experience heavy rainfall, creating mud and debris flows that can scour landscapes and inundate lower lying areas. The hazards are exacerbated by the steepness of the slopes, recent loss of vegetation, and the rainy season.

Rudiger Escobar Wolf, a volcanologist at Michigan Technological University and native of Guatemala, shares a set of preliminary crisis hazard maps of the threat of lahars at Fuego volcano in Guatemala, created with INSIVUMEH, Guatemala’s Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meterologia e Hidrologia, as well as USGS/VDAP, and others.

Volcanological information: Preliminary map of threat by lahars with scenarios of moderate and intense rainfall.

VOLCANO DE FUEGO: @insivumehgt unveils a preliminary map of threat by lahars with scenarios of moderate and intense rains.

Lahars often initiate at upper most elevations and flow down through stream channels and gullies. Scientists forecast lahar hazards using computer models of the slopes in conjunction with estimates of the lahar volume at the outset, which is very challenging to estimate. For instance, in October 2005, Santa Ana erupted in El Salvador and lahars from this fresh ash were triggered overnight due to Hurricane Stan. And in November 2009, Hurricane Ida triggered devastating lahars from San Vicente volcano. Those deposits were from a large eruption of a nearby Ilopango Volcano that occurred more than 1500 years prior and had been sitting precariously on the slopes of San Vicente until 36″ of rain fell in 18 hours.

Escobar Wolf has worked on the most active three volcanoes in Guatemala (Fuego, Pacaya, and Santaguito) since he was a little boy. Michigan Tech Volcanology Professor (Emeritus) Bill Rose and others worked with him as a young adult and recruited him to Michigan Tech for graduate studies. Escobar Wolf is in frequent communication with CONRED (sort of like FEMA) and INSIVUMEH (sort of like USGS) about the eruptive symptoms of Guatemala’s active volcanoes.

As a PhD student in 2010 Rudiger Escobar Wolf outlined volcanic risks and the benefits of an early warning system to (now former) Guatemalan Vice President Dr. Rafael Espada, and Alejandro Maldonado, executive secretary of CONRED.
As a PhD student in 2010 Rudiger Escobar Wolf outlined volcanic risks and the benefits of an early warning system to (now former) Guatemalan Vice President Dr. Rafael Espada, and Alejandro Maldonado, executive secretary of CONRED.

The eruptive activity of Fuego Volcano is so frequent, in fact, it is the classic “cry wolf” scenario.

“Most volcanoes are either ‘on’ or ‘off’, but Fuego has been simmering since 1999,” says Kyle Brill, a doctoral candidate in geophysics at Michigan Tech. Brill also monitors seismic activity at Fuego Volcano. “Less than one percent of the volcanoes around the world have had eruptions lasting longer than a decade, and Guatemala has three volcanoes that always seem active to some level,” he says. “Questions naturally arose in hindsight in the days following the eruption as to why people around Fuego didn’t receive/heed evacuation warnings earlier, and the answer to that, sadly, was that Fuego is so active normally that it is very difficult to forecast when changes in activity could become deadly.”

Brill is a returned Peace Corps volunteer. He served in Guatemala under the Environmental Conservation and Income Generation Program as a Master’s International student in the Mitigation of Natural Geologic Hazards program at Michigan Tech.

Kyle Brill on Pacaya Volcano
Kyle Brill on Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

Despite the frequent eruptive behaviors, aspects of this eruption were much different than recent events at Fuego. In particular, some of the pyroclastic flows overbanked the drainages.

NPR’s Here & Now on WBUR-FM features an interview with Rudiger Escobar Wolf, Ph.D. ’13, MS ’07, talking about the Volcán de Fuego eruption. Listen at “Rescue Operations Underway In Guatemala After Deadly Volcano Eruption

Find out more about lahars from the USGS Volcano Hazards Program

Check out drone footage taken one week after the eruption of Volcán de Fuego, by Jozef Stano

 

 

 


Biomedical Engineering Students Win at Stryker Engineering Challenge

BME StudentsA team of biomedical engineering students from Michigan Tech took first place in the Eighth Annual Stryker Engineering Challenge competition in Kalamazoo, March 22/23, 2018.

Each team member will receive a $1,000 scholarship and an interview for a Summer 2019 Internship with Stryker Corporation, a medical technology company. Each year Stryker invites engineering student teams to its global headquarters to show off their engineering prowess while competing against rival schools.

During overnight competition, teams spent 12 hours planning, designing, prototyping and testing to prepare for a robotics challenge created by Stryker engineers.

This year, six universities competed. In addition to Tech, teams came from Notre Dame, Western Michigan University, Michigan College Alliance, Purdue and Miami of Ohio.

Michigan Tech was the only biomedical engineering team in the competition. All other teams were comprised of mechanical and electrical engineering students. Undergraduates Becky Daniels, Melanie Thomas, Emil Johnson and Nicholas Turowski made up the Michigan Tech team.

 Joe Thompson, associate director, industry engagement in Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Honors College traveled with the students and served as mentor. Biomedical Engineering Associate Department Chair and Professor Keat Ghee Ong is the team’s advisor.

Biomedical Engineering Department Chair Sean Kirkpatrick said “Last year was BME’s first year in the Stryker competition and we took second place. This year’s first-place finish shows last year wasn’t a fluke—Michigan Tech BME students are very capable engineering students who can handily solve classical engineering problems.”

Thompson adds, “The event organizers at Stryker made a point of highlighting the professionalism displayed by Michigan Tech team. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and collectively persevere contributed to the team’s success this year.”

Michigan Tech's robot at the 2018 Stryker Engineering Challenge
Michigan Tech’s robot at the Eighth Annual Stryker Engineering Challenge in Kalamazoo, Michigan

The first half of the competition involved picking up small Lego people with the robot and transporting them to the team’s ‘pit stop’. The team was able to deliver a ‘VIP passenger’ to gain extra points, but then their robot arm malfunctioned, sinking them from 1st place to 4th place as a result. The second half of the competition involved an actual race throughout the course. Michigan Tech’s robot had the fastest time.

“It was exciting to see how our ideas came to life, and how prototypes became the actual parts that contributed to our victory,” says Thomas. “It was a constant reminder of why we chose to pursue engineering.”

“The best feelings came whenever a team member was stuck with a particular problem and another team member’s suggestion turned out to be the working solution. During the competition we learned how to work with nearly complete strangers. We adapted once we figured out each other’s strengths,” says Johnson.

“Throughout the challenge we all provided whatever insight we could if we noticed someone struggling with a task, and it was always without judgement,” adds Daniels.

“Every employee at Stryker seemed to love their job,” notes Turowski. “One told about how during his first year at Stryker he was put on a team of ‘vets’ and asked to complete a task that had never before been done. I think that shows how much confidence Stryker has in its employees.”

“You don’t have to know the people you’re working with for a very long time in order to be an effective team. You just need to set your eyes on a collective goal and work to successfully complete it.

– Melanie Thomas

Stryker Corporation, active in more than 100 countries, is one of the world’s leading medical technology companies, offering products and services to help improve patient and hospital outcomes.

Michigan Tech BME students Emil Johnson, Nicholas Turowski, Melanie Thomas, and Becky Daniels along with mentor Joe Thompson at the 2018 Stryker Engineering Challenge, where they took first place.
Michigan Tech BME students Emil Johnson, Nicholas Turowski, Melanie Thomas, and Becky Daniels along with mentor Joe Thompson at the 8th Annual Stryker Engineering Challenge, where they took first place.

Invent It Build It: Six Questions with Hannah Cunningham

Hannah Cunningham '18 BME, pictured here in the colored-glass walkway at the Aros Art Museum in Denmark. Credit: Taran Schatz
Hannah Cunningham ’18 BME, pictured here in the colored-glass walkway at the Aros Art Museum in Denmark. Credit: Taran Schatz

Hannah Cunningham, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering at Michigan Tech, has been working with kids since she was in high school. Volunteering several times at the Society of Women Engineers’ annual Invent it Build It event for middle school girls was a natural thing for her to do. She took part while attending SWE conferences in Nashville, Philadelphia, and most recently at the National SWE WE17 Conference in Austin, Texas.

Q: What’s it like to volunteer for Invent It Build It?
A: I’ve had a few different roles. I’ve worked directly with the girls as a table leader, I’ve staged materials during the event, and been a “floater” who simply fills in where help is needed with things like registration, grabbing forgotten supplies from the hotel, or pouring oil into cups.

I had the greatest interaction with the girls as a table leader. My primary job was to direct my table of four or five girls through the two activities during the day, while making sure they were thinking critically about the engineering challenge and developing their engineering skills. Luckily, they were middle schoolers, so it was easy to talk with them and learn more about them.

Q: Do you see yourself in any of the participants?
A: The girls who attend are local to the city where the conference is being held. For the most part they’re very similar. They don’t really have any idea what they want to do, but engineering could be their future. At the event they work together on engineering challenges with varying levels of teamwork, but all are capable of providing something to the challenge.

At that age it can be difficult to see your own contribution. It’s even more difficult to respect your own work without comparing it to everyone else’s. This event gives them a chance to build one thing as a team, with each participating in some way.

I try not to remember myself as a middle schooler, but some of the girls definitely remind me of myself. When faced with the project/challenge, they work at it, and work hard, until they’ve come to final product.

Hannah Cunningham '18 BMEQ: Are you involved in any other engineering outreach?
A: While at Michigan Tech I have taught various courses for first and second graders through the Center for Science and Environmental Outreach led by Joan Chadde-Schumaker. When I teach these classes, even if the topic is not related to engineering, such as wildlife exploration, I always make sure to develop a project to include engineering. I believe engineering projects challenge kids’ creativity, teamwork skills and technical skills. Engineering projects are fantastic for any classroom setting and the supplies can be simple, recyclable materials.

Q: What would you like to do when you graduate?
A: I am due to graduate with a BS in biomedical engineering this Spring (!). I plan to pursue an accelerated master’s degree in Kinesiology next year. I wan to finish my research and learn more about biomechanics. I’d like to become involved in a company or university that will allow me to develop and/or research products that can be beneficial for human health. I’m interested in biomechanics, so anything dealing with treating, modifying, or enhancing human movement is fair game.
Q: How has being involved with SWE impacted your life so far?
A: I’ve learned about the many different roles women can have in engineering. SWE has helped me develop my skills as a professional, by offering networking events with professionals and businesses. My own educational path has slowly directed me away from engineering, but I still feel strongly that I can still be involved even if my job title isn’t “engineer”.

National Engineers Week 2018

2018 Eweek Poster FrontPlease join us in celebrating National Engineers Week at Michigan Tech. All are welcome!

National Engineers Week is celebrated at Michigan Tech this week with a variety of events on campus. It began yesterday and runs through Saturday (Feb. 24).

Events at Michigan Tech during Engineers Week, also known as Eweek, are sponsored by Tau Beta Pi, the local chapter of the Engineering Honor Society, and the College of Engineering. .

Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, EWeek is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.

The week’s first event will be held this afternoon. How to Make a DIY Composter will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. today (Feb. 19) at Dillman 320. The Green Campus Enterprise will help you learn about composting and show you how you can start doing it yourself.

Additional Eweek events at Tech include:

  • Engineers Week Cake: Enjoy a free piece of cake with the Department of Engineering Fundamentals. Cake will be served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow (Feb. 20), at Dillman 112.
  • Engineering Though the Ages Presentation. Learn about the marvels of the past with Chelsey Rock. 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 22) in Fisher 138.
  • Build a Heart Rate Circuit Board. Build your own circuit board with Blue Marble Security Enterprise. 4 – 6 p.m. Friday (Feb. 23) in EERC 622.
  • Free showing of “The Martian.” Enjoy a free showing of “The Martian” on behalf of the College of Engineering and Film Board. The film will be shown at noon Saturday (Feb. 24) in Fisher 135.

National Engineers Week celebrates the positive contributions engineers make to society and is a catalyst for outreach across the country to kids and adults alike. For the past 60 years, National Engineers Week has been celebrated each February around the time of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, because Washington is considered by many to be the first US engineer.


EP&SE Journal Article on Bio-Jet Fuel Tops Altmetrics Charts

Camelina sativa
Camelina sativa

According to AIChE’s online news site, ChEnected.com, “Camelina-Derived Jet Fuel and Diesel: Sustainable Advanced Biofuels,” by Chemical Engineering Professor David R. Shonnard, director of the Michigan Tech Sustainable Futures Institute, Larry Williams of Targeted Growth, Inc., and Tom N. Kalnes of UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company, has an outstanding Altmetric Attention Score of 128. That places it in the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric.

Professor David Shonnard, Chemical Engineering, Michigan Technological University
Professor David Shonnard, Chemical Engineering, Michigan Technological University

Even though published in the AIChE journal Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy (EP&SE) in 2010, the article is currently trending online. It has been mentioned this year by 14 news outlets, including Scientific AmericanSmithsonian, and Popular Mechanics. Altmetrics track the use and discussion of research from online discussions and forums, including social media, research blogs, public policy documents, news articles, and more.

In the article, Shonnard, Williams, and Kalnes discuss how bio-jet fuels derived from oil-rich feedstocks, such as camelina and algae, have been successfully tested in proof-of-concept flights. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has approved a 50:50 blend of petroleum-based jet fuel and hydroprocessed renewable jet fuel for commercial and military flights.

Honeywell UPO LLC and Targeted Growth, Inc. funded the research on bio-jet fuel derived from camelina seeds developed by a Bozeman, Montana company, Sustainable Oil.

“Camelina, an oil seed crop, can be grown in more arid climates compared to many other plants that oil is derived from,” notes Shonnard. “Targeted Growth Inc. has identified 5 million acres across the country where camelina would be suitable as a rotation energy crop that would not interrupt food production. This could produce approximately 800 million gallons of camelina oil for conversion to renewable diesel or jet.”

In 2010, Shonnard completed a life cycle analysis (LCA) comparing camelina jet fuel with petroleum jet fuel, factoring in the greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizing production and use, growing, harvesting, oil recovery and conversion to jet fuel, and use of the renewable jet in applications. “Conventional camelina, that is camelina grown with current seed stock, can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 70 percent, with no loss of performance for the fuel.  A newer strain of camelina, one that needs less fertilizer and yield more pounds per acre,could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 84 percent compared with jet fuel from petroleum, says Shonnard. “Next generation biofuels are true hydrocarbons and on a molecular level indistinguishable from fossil fuels,” he notes.

“With expected future gains in yields/acre, camelina oil production and hydroprocessing has the potential to provide the United States an estimated 800 million gallons per year of high-quality, climate-friendly, renewable jet fuel,” the study concludes. Read the Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy (EP&SE) article for a limited time for free.


Inspired by nature—Getting underwater robots to work together, continuously

Nina Mahmoudian, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Nina Mahmoudian, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Imagine deploying multiple undersea robots, all in touch and working together for months, even years, no matter how rigorous the mission, brutal the environment, or extreme the conditions.

It is possible, though not quite yet. “Limited energy resources and underwater communication are the biggest issues,” says Michigan Tech Researcher Nina Mahmoudian. Grants from a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the Young Investigator Program from the Office of Naval Research are helping Mahmoudian solve those issues and pursue her ultimate goal: the persistent operation of undersea robots.

“Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are becoming more affordable and accessible to the research community,” she says. “But we still need multipurpose long-lasting AUVs that can adapt to new missions quickly and easily.”

Mahmoudian has already developed a fleet of low-cost, underwater gliders, ROUGHIEs, to do just that. Powered by batteries, they move together through the water simply by adjusting their buoyancy and weight. Each one weighs about 25 pounds. “ROUGHIE, by the way, stands for Research-Oriented Underwater Glider for Hands-on Investigative Engineering,” adds Mahmoudian.

“My most exciting observation was a Beluga mother and calf swimming together. It’s very similar to our recharge on-the-fly concept.”

Nina Mahmoudian

“The ROUGHIE’s open control architecture can be rapidly modified to incorporate new control algorithms and integrate novel sensors,” she explains. “Components can be serviced, replaced, or rearranged in the field, so scientists can validate their research in situ.” Research in underwater control systems, communication and networking, and cooperative planning and navigation all stand to gain.

Mahmoudian observes Mother Nature to design robotic systems. “There is so much to learn,” she says. “My most exciting observation was a Beluga mother and calf swimming together. It’s very similar to our recharge on-the-fly concept. The technology is an early stage of development.”

Mahmoudian’s students apply and implement their algorithms on real robots and test them in real environments. They also give back to the community, by teaching middle school students how to design, build, and program their own low-cost underwater robots using a simple water bottle, called a GUPPIE.

“As a girl growing up, I first thought of becoming an architect,” says Mahmoudian. “Then, one day I visited an exhibition celebrating the 30th anniversary of space flight. That’s when I found my passion.” Mahmoudian went on to pursue aerospace engineering in Iran, and then graduate studies at Virginia Tech in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. “Underwater gliders share the same physical concepts as airplanes and gliders, but deal with different fluid density and interactions,” she says.

Now at Michigan Tech, Mahmoudian’s work advances the abilities of unmanned robotic systems in the air, on land, and under sea. “Michigan Tech has easy access to the North Woods and Lake Superior—an ideal surrogate environment for testing the kind of autonomous systems needed for long term, challenging expeditions, like Arctic system exploration, or searching for signs of life on Europa, Jupiter’s moon.” She developed the Nonlinear and Autonomous Systems Laboratory (NAS Lab) in 2011 to address challenges that currently limit the use of autonomous vehicles in unknown, complex situations.

More than scientists and engineers, Mahmoudian wants simple, low-cost AUV’s to be available to anyone who may need one. “I envision communities in the Third World deploying low-cost AUVs to test and monitor the safety and quality of the water they use.”


Demand dispatch—Balancing power in the grid in a nontraditional way

According to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), distributed energy resources like these photovoltaic (PV) systems in a Boulder neighborhood—especially when they are paired with on-site storage—may eventually make large centralized power plants obsolete. Photo Credit: Topher Donahue
According to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), distributed energy resources like these photovoltaic (PV) systems in a Boulder neighborhood—especially when they are paired with on-site storage—may eventually make large centralized power plants obsolete. Photo Credit: Topher Donahue

Traditionally, in the electric power grid, generation follows electric power consumption, or demand. Instantaneous fluctuation in demand is primarily matched by controlling the power output of large generators.

Sumit Paudyal, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Sumit Paudyal, Electrical & Computer Engineering

As renewable energy sources including solar and wind power become more predominant, generation patterns have become more random. Finding the instantaneous power balance in the grid is imperative. Demand dispatch—the precise, direct control of customer loads—makes it possible.

Michigan Tech researcher Sumit Paudyal and his team are developing efficient real-time control algorithms to aggregate distributed energy resources, and coordinate them with the control of the underlying power grid infrastructure.

“Sensors, smart meters, smart appliances, home energy management systems, and other smart grid technologies facilitate the realization of the demand dispatch concept,” Paudyal explains.

“The use of demand dispatch has promising potential in the US, where it is estimated that one-fourth of the total demand for electricity could be dispatchable using smart grid technologies.”

Sumit Paudyal

Coordination and control in real time is crucial for the successful implementation of demand dispatch on a large scale. “Our goal is to enable control dispatch distributed resources for the very same grid-level applications—frequency control, regulation, and load following—traditionally provided by expensive generators,” adds Paudyal.
“We have solved the demand dispatch problem of thermostatically-controlled loads in buildings and electric vehicle loads connected to moderate-size power distribution grids. The inherent challenge of the demand dispatch process is the computational complexity arising from the real-time control and coordination of hundreds to millions of customer loads in the system,” he adds. “We are now taking a distributed control approach to achieve computational efficiency in practical-sized, large-scale power grids.”