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Energy - Mechanical Engineering Research

Energy

Energy and the environment are areas of major strategic planning and investment for Abu Dhabi and for the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision.

Specific priorities include renewable energy, reduction and efficient use of non-renewable sources, sustainable water management etc.  The faculty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering performs research that responds to these challenges building on their considerable expertise in a wide spectrum of areas of science and technology that include: 

  • Thermal and Fluids Sciences
  •  Materials for Energy
  •  Renewable Energy Systems 

The departmental faculty is in close collaboration with colleagues leading energy/environment- related research in other departments through the Energy/ Environment Research Cluster in Khalifa University.  Areas of current research focus include: 

  • Low-carbon-footprint technologies (carbon capture and storage, clean combustion, solar, next generation biofuels combined with waste management, etc.)
  • Novel (nano-)materials for energy applications and water desalination
  • Water management (sustainable, energy efficient desalination technologies, cogeneration)
  • Green Processes (CO2 management, gas-to-liquid fuel technologies, hydrogen production and management) 

The Energy research group at the department of mechanical engineering is currently overseeing the implementation of the following research projects:

Carbon hybrid materials for energy applications

Electric control of combustion:  An innovative technology for clean and compact energy conversion

Bio-butanol combustion:  A test-case for high-pressure energy conversion

Passive Vacuum Solar Flash Desalination

Performance Model of Shams I Solar Power Plant

Balancing Heat Transfer Fluid Flow in Solar Fields

Hybrid Lab on a Chip for Liquid Biopsy


Carbon hybrid materials for energy applications

Abstract/Description

Nanomaterials have emerged as the new building blocks to construct energy harvesting devices, such as solar cells, fuel cells, nano generators... In those applications, the material system must be good in all aspects including mechanical, electronic, optical, and chemical properties. These could be achieved by assembling different nanostructured components into hybrid systems to realize their combinative and synergic effects.

For example: Carbon nanomaterials, including carbon nanotube (CNT) and graphene, possess excellent charge transport properties due to their unique structures, but are poor in optical absorption especially in visible range. Semiconductor nanoparticles or some polymers have tunable band edges (size dependent) and high absorption efficiency, but with poor charge transport property because separated charges could hardly hop from particle to particle before recombination. Each of them alone offers limited opportunity in energy applications, but the combination of them will provide an ideal model for hybrid devices to realize the solar energy conversion.

Combining carbon nanomaterials with other types of materials can realize/generate more new functions, and the potential applications cover fuel cells, nano generators, water splitting devices, electrochemical sensors, and some functional composites.

Current research projects/tasks:

  • Carbon/semiconductor hybrids for energy harvest (solar cell & Photo detector)
  • Hierarchical carbon assemblies for capacitive applications (supercapactor)
  • Nano hybrid for water splitting 

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Electric control of combustion:  An innovative technology for clean and compact energy conversion

Abstract

A combined experimental and computational project that will establish the scientific and technological fundamentals of electrostatic control of combustion.  The basic idea is that flames generate dilute plasmas that can be manipulated through intense, accurately controlled electric fields.  This is a novel technology that is based on the recent increase in the electric conductivity of liquid fuels (through e.g. blending with bio-alcohols) and emerging micro-fabrication capabilities that allow the accurate delivery of intense electric fields in burners.  Electrostatically manipulated flames will be established in a prototypical counterflow burner and studied with high-fidelity laser diagnostics that will include planar laser-induced fluorescence of acetone fuel tracer and the hydroxyl radical, as well as particle image velocimetry of the flow field. In parallel, a computational effort will take the pioneering step of introducing the effect of electrostatics into the governing equations of reactive flow. One research objective will be to determine the effect of intense electrostatic fields on flame stability, flame structure, and extinction characteristics.  Also to provide a prototypical, electrically controlled burner as well as a high-fidelity code, which will be validated by extensive high-accuracy data, so that it can be used for the design of electric fields for combustion control.  This will constitute a scientific breakthrough in that electric charge will be added to mass, momentum, and energy as a physical quantity of relevance to reactive flow. 

In providing the fundamentals that will allow electric control of combustion processes through direct action of control fields on the dilute plasmas of the flames, the proposed research will inseminate a technology that will contribute to efficient fossil fuel usage. It will contribute to the minimization of carbon footprint and the more efficient utilization of existing resources.

Electric control of combustion

Personnel

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Bio-butanol combustion: A test-case for high-pressure energy conversion

Abstract

A targeted experimental project is performed that will establish seminal results on the high-pressure combustion of bio-butanol. This is a novel biofuel, which can potentially combine production from renewable sources with an energy density that closely approaches the one of liquid hydrocarbons.  In order to achieve this, an optically accessible, high-pressure chamber will be cofigured with the capability of accurate pressure, temperature, and turbulence control.  This will be a testing facility that will be used in the future beyond the scope of the particular project, thus establishing a unique capability for the University. 

The high-pressure chamber will be interfaced with the laser diagnostics of the Combustion Physics Laboratory in Khalifa University in order to measure fuel dispersion with laser-induced fluorescence, as well as ignition delay and turbulent flame speed with high-speed visualization.  The research will thus establish the potential of a renewable fuel, which will contribute to the strong sustainability theme of the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision.  The project will promote learning through a combination of research and teaching by actively involving undergraduate students.

Personnel

PI: Dr. Dimitrios C. Kyritsis

Undergraduate involvement: Ongoing and strongly encouraged

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Passive Vacuum Solar Flash Desalination

Abstract

Reducing pressure above the surface of liquids enhances their evaporation. This phenomenon can be employed in a continuous thermal desalination process by flashing seawater in a vacuumed chamber to produce water vapor that is condensed producing fresh water. Gravity can be used to hydrostatically balance vacuum pressure inside the elevated flash chamber with outdoor atmospheric pressure to maintain that vacuum, while low grade solar radiation can be used to heat seawater before flashing. Theoretical simulations were performed using a very detailed model and experiments were carried out to validate the developed model using a small pilot unit depicting the proposed solar flash desalination system. The proposed desalination system is very energy efficient for not requiring high flash temperatures since it operates under an extremely low vacuum; moreover, a renewable energy source is used in the heating module. In addition, the vacuum is naturally sustained by the hydrostatic forces without the need for vacuum pumps making the unit even more energy efficient. The process is more feasible if operated at high temperatures and moderate flow rates. Higher flash temperatures will result in more evaporation producing more fresh water. Moreover, the increased percent of heat reclaimed from the condensing vapor reduced the overall heat load requiring less solar collection area. The collective outcome of increased fresh water output and decreased heat load is a significant decrease in the prime energy consumption of the unit making it more economically viable.

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Performance Model of Shams I Solar Power Plant

Abstract

Under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, the Government of Abu Dhabi published a long-term plan for the tremendous transformation of the Emirate’s economy. This plan is entitled: The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. The 2030 economic vision emphasizes a reduced reliance on the oil sector as a source of economic activity. It also initiates a greater focus on knowledge-based industries in the future, such as its aim to have 7 % of the total energy capacity of Abu Dhabi supplied through renewable energy by 2020. Examples of renewable energies are: wind, solar, and nuclear energy. Shams I solar power plant spells the beginning of the 2030 plan’s success story, which has a significant future impact on the UAE’s economy. A study of Shams I solar power plant in Abu Dhabi has been conducted to generate a performance model. The plant consists of 192 loops containing single-axis parabolic trough collectors. These collectors track the sun and focus sunlight onto a heat transfer fluid flowing in an absorber running in their focal line. That causes the temperature of the HTF to rise, which then heats water flowing in a separate loop producing steam. This high pressure steam is then used to drive the turbine of a modified Rankine cycle power plant for AC power generation.

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Balancing Heat Transfer Fluid Flow in Solar Fields

Abstract

Proper distribution of heat transfer fluid in solar fields remains an issue for the concentrated solar power industry. Balancing fluid flow in solar fields is very challenging due to their complex piping networks. It is further exacerbated by the instantaneously and spatially varying solar radiation necessitating continuous flow adjustments to control heat transfer fluid temperature. Poorly balanced solar fields entail over and under heating of a fairly costly heat transfer fluid; thus, shortening its life span and the life span of equipment handling it due to frequent thermal shocks. Proper distribution of heat transfer fluid will eventually minimize equipment malfunction, maximize solar power generation, and improve operational safety. A flow control strategy aimed at properly distributing heat transfer fluid in solar fields has been developed along with a model for the proposed strategy. The strategy consists of manipulating solar field valve positions to control flow distribution and modulating pump speed to control flow rate in response to a continually varying solar radiation in order to attain a set temperature for heat transfer fluid exiting the solar field. 

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Hybrid Lab on a Chip for Liquid Biopsy

Abstract

This work involves realizing a microfluidic device for liquid biopsy – cancer screening using blood. This device overcomes the current drawbacks affecting purity and efficiency associated with cancer cell separation. The device would be realized in PDMS (Polydimethylsiloxane) and glass substrates using standard microfabrication techniques and tested using blood spiked with cancer cells (MDA231 breast cancer cells). The device will enable detecting cancer at early stages, develop new drugs to treat pre-cancer condition in patients and will enable the real time evaluation of the effectiveness of the administered treatment for cancer patients. The technology enables development of personalized treatments for cancer and it could be used for other medical conditions that express at the cell level. This project covers multidisciplinary fields of knowledge and it is expected to create a substantial impact in the way the cancer treatment is administered to patients. The long term goal of the research is to develop a microfluidic point-of-care platform for detection, separation and counting of cancer cells in blood.

Personnel: PI: Dr. Anas Alazzam

Time Frame: Jan. 2015 – Dec. 2016

Funding: Al Jalila Foundation

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