University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering

Wind Turbine

Department Head Sue Mantell on the Scholar's Walk Mechanical Engineering touches virtually every aspect of our daily lives, from energy and the environment to human health to transportation. The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota has 42 tenured and tenure track faculty, who are driven to discover innovative solutions to many of the challenges facing the world today. In the last year alone, Mechanical Engineering faculty have patented novel concepts for energy transformation, medical devices, collision detection and advanced manufacturing via 3D printing. We are training the next generation of engineers to think beyond the box, and apply core engineering principles to address societal needs.

I hope you enjoy these highlights of current, innovative research in energy production and efficiency being conducted by our Mechanical Engineering faculty and students.
Susan C. Mantell
Susan C. Mantell
James J. Ryan Professor
Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor
Mechanical Engineering Department Head

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Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy sources. However, energy losses in wind farms can be as high as 10 to 20 percent due to complex airflows created by multiple wind turbines. Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), wind farms lose 10-20% of potential energyDepartment of Energy, and the Renewable Development Fund of Xcel Energy, Professor Lian Shen and Associate Professor Jiarong Hong are gaining new insight into the airflow around large wind turbines. This research is essential to improving wind energy efficiency to lower the cost of wind energy.

Professor Shen and his team are also studying offshore wind energy in oceans and the Great Lakes. They have performed the first-ever simulation of the interactions among offshore wind, ocean waves, and wind turbine array.

Airflow around a wind turbine

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2 billion people use drinking water from a contaminated sourceSurfers are not the only ones who can harness the power of ocean waves. Professor Jim Van de Ven’s group is working with Resolute Marine Energy to use wave power to generate electricity and produce fresh water. Van de Ven’s Mechanical Energy and Power Systems (MEPS) lab is focused on modeling and testing hydraulic powertrain systems.

Their Wave2O™ system absorbs wave power with a flap or a buoy and transmits the power to shore with a hydraulic transmission using high pressure seawater. On shore the pressurized seawater powers an electric generator and acts as feedwater for a reverse osmosis desalination plant. This system is designed to provide fresh water and electricity for remote coastal communities that do not have access to reliable electric power.

Diagram depicting the Wave2O™ system

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Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Will Northrop is working with farmers to use nitrogen fertilizers as fuel. Tractors can run on a blend of 70 percent diesel and 30 percent anhydrous ammonia. The researchers hope this carbon-cutting technology will eventually become a cost-effective option for farmers. It’s part of a larger effort by University of Minnesota researchers to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture. The fertilizer-blended fuel can cut 50 percent of the carbon emissions from the engine Seamus Kane alongside tractor that runs on nitrogen — something that is almost impossible with any other technology including engine efficiency improvements.

Can we cut 50% of engine carbon emmissions? Northrop and graduate student Seamus Kane developed a catalytic converter that uses the heat generated by the running engine to kick-start the chemical process that converts ammonia to hydrogen, a fuel that burns efficiently but is difficult to store and transport. This efficient fuel conversion using waste engine heat is the breakthrough technology that makes it all work.

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More than half of the energy consumed in the U.S. is lost as waste heat. Tapping into this reservoir of waste heat would allow improvements in the energy efficiency of all thermal cycles. Thermoelectrics seeks to capture some of the waste heat and transform it into useful electrical energy.50% of energy consumed in the U.S. is lost as waste heat

Faculty Uwe Kortshagen and Xiaojia Wang are developing high-efficiency, cost-effective, and environment-friendly thermoelectric materials for direct energy conversion. Their targets are nanometer grain-sized silicon and germanium as well as nanocrystalline zinc oxide. In both materials, the sizes of crystalline are just a few nanometers, which strongly reduces heat conduction through the material and improves the efficiency. This research could help improve refrigeration and power generation.

Chart of Estimated U.S. Energy Consumption in 2016: 97.3 Quads

Estimated U.S. Energy Consumption in 2016: 97.3 Quads
Source: LLNL, March 2017.

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