The UK Center for Applied Energy Research, a non-degree granting UK energy research center, strives to provide and work with students via various experiential learning opportunities. For the past four years, the CAER's biofuels engineers have been working closely with the Mechanical Engineering's Capstone Senior Design project. The capstone project is a one-semester course within the UK College of Engineering college taken by students in their senior year. The students are divided into teams and the additional time allows for more comprehensive projects to be completed. This is where the CAER comes into the picture.
In an effort to drive down capital costs associated with algal-based carbon capture and utilization, the CAER "outsourced" design problems to the capstone student-based project teams so they could "dig a little deeper" to see what could be developed, with the end result to be working prototypes that could be incorporated into the Center's day-to-day biofuels research. In addition to campus work, the students worked about 10 hours per week at the Center to build their prototypes.
With input from the research staff at CAER, an electrical engineering (EE) team was tasked with developing a low cost control system while the mechanical design (ME) team was focused on reducing costs of the photobioreactor support frame.
Both student teams completed critical design reviews for their project, finalized their designs, and moved into the prototyping phase. The ME team met with a VERY aggressive cost reduction on the photobioreactor while the EE team was tasked with designing, building, and testing a control system capable of growing algae. "The end result is really cool", states Mike Wilson, CAER Biofuels Engineer, "because now the Center will be able to build and deliver a complete low-cost system to other research groups/companies".
Mike went on to say, "Put simply, we get professional engineering consulting for almost free, a working prototype of needed equipment, and the students get access to a modest budget (~$1000) for prototyping as well as a clearer picture of what goes on here at the Center. Getting to work with CAER researchers like Roger Perrone, Jack Groppo, Nick Rhea and myself gives them a unique experience that the other teams simply don’t get."
2014 EE team: George Villanueva, Cassie Cox, Chase Adams, Katelyn Yohe, Supreme Aryal
2014 ME team: Nathan Richardson, Tyler Craddock, Aaron Bottoms, David Trembula, Alison Dixon