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Energy & Environment

The College of Engineering boasts comprehensive, multidisciplinary and internationally acclaimed research and curriculum programs in energy, environment and sustainability. Supported by state and federal resources, our students and faculty are developing alternatives to and improvements for traditional forms of energy; advancing energy efficiency, systems and storage; inventing new methods of energy harvesting and recovery; assessing environmental impact; and investigating policy, economic impact and consumer behavioral models that would improve energy conservation. Ohio State’s and the college’s prominence in energy-related work was underscored this spring when President Obama visited campus to give a speech on American energy and tour the College of Engineering’s Center for Automotive Research.

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Internationally recognized for his novel clean coal technologies, Professor L.S. Fan invented a patented syngas chemical looping process supported by industrial partners and $5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E, Advanced Research Projects Agency/Energy. Other coal research here includes the Coal Combustion Product Extension Program, which develops economic and environmentally friendly uses for coal burning byproducts; Professor Umit Ozkan, who finds safe and cost-effective methods of creating hydrogen from coal and renewable sources; and Professor Bhavik Bakshi, who studies ecologically and economically conscious process engineering.

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Our faculty and students are making improvements in both ground and air transportation. Since 1998 the U.S. Department of Energy has funded advanced vehicle technologies initiatives at the Center for Automotive Research. Students are engaged in the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors’ EcoCAR2 competition to improve automotive efficiency and reduce environmental impact. They also hold world and national records with the battery- and fuel cell-powered Buckeye Bullet landspeed vehicle teams. Ohio’s Third Frontier program supports work in energy storage here. And for decades, industry and government leaders have joined our faculty in projects at facilities such as the Aeronautical and Astronautical Research Laboratories and Center for the Accelerated Maturation of Materials in our Propulsion and Power Center.

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Energy Systems

Finding solutions to our nation’s energy challenges requires a comprehensive look at policy, education and technology for both renewable and traditional energy sources. Professor Longya Xu’s research at the Ohio Third Frontier-funded Center for High Performance Power Electronics seeks discoveries for applications including the electric and hybrid electric vehicle industry and renewable energy systems. Professor Ramteen Sioshansi is working with the Ohio Supercomputer Center and Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences using a $1.675 million National Science Foundation grant to develop a computer tool for researchers, government leaders and the public to study and understand changes in energy-related technology, policy and pricing. And current electric technicians as well as the next generation of power engineers learn about smart grid technologies through a U.S. Department of Energy-funded program called I-SMART, which also features a Realtime Simulation Platform allowing researchers to simulate communication and traditional power systems methods for developing smart grid technologies.

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The prospect of making liquid, gas and solid fuels from biological materials holds an interest for several College of Engineering faculty members. With the support of a U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E $3.9 million grant, S.T. Yang is working with Robert Tabita in the College of Arts and Sciences and scientists at Battelle on the bioconversion of carbon dioxide to biofuels. Another example is Yebo Li, whose collaborations with industry include growing algae for use in fuel production and boosting the amount of biogas produced from waste.

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With extensive collaboration in photovoltaics technology, solar research here extends from the lab to the consumer. Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Professor Steven Ringel and his research team are building upon their development of new semiconductor photovoltaic materials to create technology for concentrator photovoltaic systems with the potential to reach energy conversion efficiencies in excess of 50 percent via an affordable manufacturing process. In addition, Ohio State is a major partner in the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization (PVIC), which accelerates the photovoltaic industry in Ohio by reducing solar costs and improving technologies, then transferring them from the laboratory to the production line. Engineering students have shown enthusiasm for solar energy by joining their peers university-wide in two consecutive entries in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a solar home-building contest.

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Our Nuclear Energy Program holds prominence in probabilistic safety assessment, reliability and risk mitigation. Its Nuclear Reactor Lab, in operation since 1961, is used for a wide range of research endeavors, including neutron activation analysis, radiation-damage evaluation for electronic components and for other materials, evaluation of neutron and radiation sensitive detectors, isotope production, and biomedical experiments. Faculty recently received $1.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. The program also boasts a government- and industry-sponsored Academic Center for Excellence in Instrumentation, Control and Safety.

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Professor Joseph Heremans’ work in the Thermal Materials Laboratory features design, synthesis and testing of materials for thermoelectric applications, which include power generation through solar-thermal or automotive waste heat recovery as well as room temperature and below Peltier cooling. For example, he and Professor Roberto Myers led a team that developed a semiconductor material that combines spintronics with thermoelectronics to convert heat to energy and could allow computers to recycle part of their own waste heat.