Center for Sustainable Energy

Recent projects include:

Titanium dioxide solar water purification

Solar water purification with recycled polyethylene plastic bottles coated inside with TiO2 photocatalyst and with a dye indicator in the water that disappears when the water is clean.  The work this past year was performed by Manuel Heredia, a doctoral student in the energy engineering program, supported in part by CFCI, as well as Robert Williams and Eric Morgan, both graduate students in the energy engineering program and supported in part by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.  The focus was on:  changing the manufacturing process of coating the recycled plastic bottles to make it safer and easier for village microenterprises; testing the long-term storage capability of the water purified in the bottles; analysis of the efficacy of the indigo carmine pill as a dye indicator of purity.   For more information download the annual report

Portable Solar Vaccine Refrigerator

The objectives of this work were:
1. Designing a portable solar refrigeration system capable of maintaining vaccine temperatures between 2 °C and 8 °C for at least four days of operation without access to grid electricity.
2. Testing the feasibility of using the system in different remote locations that lack grid electricity and have a high number of unvaccinated children.

The basic concept was to  integrate direct-coupled PV thermoelectric modules (TEMs) with latent heat energy storage (LHES) using water as the phase change material along with heat pipes. In this concept, a photovoltaic panel (PV) directly powers thermoelectric modules (TEMs) to generate a cooling effect during the day. LHES is integrated into the refrigerator design as a cooling backup to maintain the cooling at night. Heat pipes are utilized in the system to passively control the temperature for vaccine storage. The coupling of PV and TEMs was investigated first with mathematical models. The results showed that sufficient cooling could be produced from the coupling. The heat pipe attached to TEMs appeared to be able to improve COP (coefficient of performance) of TEMs. An experiment showed that it is possible to use the heat pipes to maintain acceptable vaccine temperatures above that of ice as the energy storage medium. A feasibility field study of the system was then simulated for three remote sites. The results showed that the direct-coupled PV-TEM combined with latent energy storage (using ice) was fully adequate in providing cooling for the vaccines throughout the year.

More details are available in Jiajitsawat, Somchai, A Portable Direct-PV Thermoelectric Vaccine Refrigerator with Ice Storage through Heat Pipes, Dissertation Proposal, March, 2007.

Village Empowerment

Two more trips to Peruvian villages, in January and June 2007, with 10 and 15 students/volunteers, respectively. We now have over 80 systems in 42 different villages in the same region. The villages in general have no electricity, no telephone service, no space heating, biweekly bus transportation, and untreated water, in several cases only from open streams. The systems, which harvest energy with photovoltaic modules, solar thermal collectors, and microhydro turbines and in some cases from the grid, provide radio transceiver communication, lights, vaccine refrigerators and other medical devices, watersupply and water purification, roads, aquaculture fish, laptop computers, and scienceexperiments in schools, medical clinics, and municipalities. Some of the systems havedramatic impacts: In perhaps the most remote village of the group, Huallmi, with noelectricity and no telephone, in the six months prior to our installing a transceiver radio in themedical clinic in January 2006 there were seven deaths related to childbirth due to delays ingetting medical help; from January 2006 to our return in June 2006 there were no deaths inchildbirth. Technologies developed and installed with graduate and undergraduate students as well as volunteers during the past year include:

  • Solar water purification with recycled soda bottles coated with an emulsion of TiO2with a dye indicator
  • Inexpensive radio transceivers for medical clinics, most solar powered
  • Solar water pumping systems for human consumption and irrigation
  • Biodigester for methane gas production, constant pressure type with moving hood
  • Composting toilet
  • Solar crop dryer

Service-Learning Integrated throughout a College of Engineering: SLICE

The goal was to integrate service-learning (S-L) projects into mainstream required courses in the engineeringprograms so that every student has at least one course every semester with S-L. To date,over half the engineering faculty (along with a few others in other colleges) haveincorporated S-L into at least one course. The center director is the faculty coordinator forthis project.

Case Studies of Green Buildings

Nineteen in-depth case studies were developed anddocumented in a report to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative by Jorge Barrientos, Ujjwal Bhattacharjee, Tanya Martinez, and John Duffy as well as through entries into the High Performance Building Data Base of the U.S. Dept. of Energy.There are many other current projects mentioned in various other sections under students,publications, grants, etc.

Collaboration with the Tohono O’odham reservation in southern Arizona                                      

About 11,500 members live on the reservation which is the size of the state of Connecticut, second to the Navajo reservation, also in Arizona.  There are an estimated 10,000 families on reservations in Arizona without electricity.  The center is helping UML students design adaptations to bathroom modules that the TO tribal college students are building for families without proper sanitary facilities.  The adaptations are for homes without electricity and running water.  Solar hot water systems, evaporative coolers, composting toilets, and photovoltaic systems were designed by four ME seniors for a spring semester capstone course and by Vivian Crespo for her MS thesis.  Funding has been obtained for the project through Lyvier Conss of the Community College National Center for Community Engagement in Phoenix.  Trips are planned for August and October to work with the instructors and students at the TO tribal college in building a prototype of the bathroom module. 

A few key past projects have included:

  • Solar crop dryers developed by Mesoamerican Development Institute of Lowell in conjunction with the center.  Solar coffee dryers have been installed and tested in Costa Rica at the Coop Montes de Oro and in Nicaragua.  The solar dryers result in less rain forest deforestation, in less air pollution, in more income for growers, and in better quality coffee.  MDI is a non-profit company founded by former students of U Mass Lowell.
  • Photovoltaic systems for rural electrification in India, Sri Lanka, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.  Former students, who remain center collaborators, are spearheading some of the largest solar electrification projects in the world, sponsored by the World Bank, the Solar Electric Light Fund, US AID, Rotary International, and other agencies:  Harish Hande in India and Priyantha Wijesooriya in Sri Lanka.
  • The first electric bus in New England/New York, which has linked the university campuses with the Gallagher train station and Middlesex Community College, under the sponsorship of Massachusetts Electric, the university, U.S. Electricar, the Lowell Regional Transit Authority, and Middlesex Community College.  The center is responsible for obtaining, operating, maintaining, monitoring, and upgrading the bus.  It has operated on campus as well as at Logan Airport and on Nantucket Island.  The center has developed a unique thermal management/heating system for the bus resulting in zero tailpipe emissions and essentially no battery use.  It has assisted a second electric bus manufacturer in winterizing its bus design.
  • Service-learning with energy efficient house design and measurement with Habitat for Humanity.  In five different undergraduate and graduate courses, students have designed solar house designs (new and retrofit) and methods to test the thermal efficiency of houses and the strength of old wood in retrofit houses in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell.
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