Taking the Earth’s temperature

Since installing 144 geothermal wells on campus over the past two years, Dr. Curt Elmore, professor of geological engineering, has led a couple of ongoing geothermal research projects.

Since installing 144 geothermal wells on campus over the past two years, Dr. Curt Elmore (center), professor of geological engineering, has led two ongoing geothermal research projects. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

On the surface, it looks like nothing more than a turf-covered soccer field. But the ground beneath Missouri University of Science and Technology’s intramural field houses a complex system of 144 wells, each one 400 feet deep, that supply the campus’s Gale Bullman Building with heating and cooling using geothermal energy.

That well field is also home to two ongoing geothermal research projects led by Dr. Curt Elmore, professor of geological engineering at Missouri S&T. The first project is designed to monitor possible long-term changes in the Earth’s temperature that could result from the operation of a large-scale geothermal system.

With funding from the geological engineering program and in partnership with the physical facilities department, Elmore and his team outfitted one of the wells in the center of Missouri S&T’s intramural field with eight pairs of thermocouples placed every 50 feet to measure temperature at various levels throughout the 400-foot well.

Wires connect the sensors to a small flush mount vault that looks like a water meter you might find in your yard. Nearly every day, Charlie Smith and Jordan Thompson – two students working with Elmore on the project – connect equipment to read the temperature measurements that the sensors recorded. An additional well, drilled 20 feet from the geothermal well field, provides baseline readings for comparison. Thompson, a junior in geological engineering, is working on the project as part of the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experiences program (OURE).

Before the geothermal system went live, the researchers collected about six weeks of background temperature data. Once the system was operational, they began to notice a change in the ground temperature.

“We observed that the average temperature did increase over the course of the summer as energy from the building was transferred to the subsurface,” says Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in geological engineering. “We are now observing the cooling of the subsurface as energy is being removed to assist in the heating of the building. We would like to record data during several full heating and cooling cycles to fully see any long-term overall warming or cooling trends.”

Over time, changes in ground temperature could effect the performance of a geothermal energy system, Elmore says.

“A ground source geothermal system works by taking heat from the air and sending it into the ground,” Elmore says. “Or we take heat from the ground and send it into the air. Here, cooling is predominant. If the ground is warmer, it can’t take on as much heat and that could effect the performance of the geothermal system,” he says. “Let’s say you want to chill a bottle of Coke, for example, and you’re used to putting it in cold water for 10 minutes. If your water gets warmer, it will take longer to cool your Coke. If it’s really cold, it will cool faster.”

An expert in groundwater remediation, Elmore is also working on a project to see if geothermal energy could be used in place of electricity to treat water as a part of an innovative desalination process.

“Geothermal energy has the potential to heat and cool water during the treatment process, thus reducing the amount of water wasted and reducing the amount of energy required to treat the water,” Elmore says.

To pilot the project, Elmore is designing a small desalination system that will fit on a utility trailer towed behind a pickup truck.

Elmore is working on the project with Dr. Mostafa Elsharquawy from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia. They hope to build a water treatment facility that uses geothermal energy.

“Saudi Arabia spends millions of dollars every year changing sea water into drinking water,” Elmore says. “Geothermal energy could provide a much more cost-effective treatment system.”

Missouri S&T’s geothermal energy system – one of the most comprehensive in the nation – provides heating and cooling to 17 buildings on campus and chilled water to the majority of campus buildings. Completion of the system allowed S&T to decommission its World War II-era power plant last spring. The system is expected to cut energy usage by 50 percent and reduce the university’s carbon footprint by 25,000 metric tons per year.

By Mary Helen Stoltz

Improving rural drinking water

Danielle West

Danielle West, a Ph.D. student in chemistry, is screening Missouri drinking water for contaminants and seeking new treatment techniques that could minimize the impact of harmful byproducts generated by disinfectants used in water treatment operations. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Disinfectants used in water treatment operations could generate harmful byproducts that are unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But Danielle West, a Ph.D. student in chemistry, is screening Missouri drinking water for contaminants and seeking new treatment techniques that could minimize — or even eliminate — those byproducts.

With grants from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the EPA, West is helping to develop a rapid, sensitive and cost-effective method to detect perchlorate and bromate in drinking water, as well as a technique for removing perchlorate. The advanced detection method will play an important role in the monitoring of drinking water quality in the future.

“There are just so many chemicals that have potential to get into water,” West says. “Many harmful chemicals aren’t currently regulated and can be potentially found in many communities’ drinking water. Our goal is to minimize the formation of these chemicals or find technologies capable of removing them to ensure safe drinking water.”

Disinfectants like monochloramine could generate harmful byproducts that are unregulated by the EPA. West and her colleagues are researching the use of an alternative disinfection agent to treat the water. The disinfectant could provide an economical approach to limiting the formation of contaminants. They believe that incorporating this disinfectant into current water purification processes will improve drinking water safety.

Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry, and Honglan Shi, associate research professor of chemistry, are West’s advisors.

By Peter Ehrhard

Remaking America

Re-making America

Additive manufacturing processes, like 3-D printing, enable complex structures to move from the design phase to production more quickly. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Over the past decade, many of the world’s top corporations and industries have called on Missouri S&T researchers to improve existing manufacturing processes and develop new approaches and materials.

“We’re always looking for ways to create new capabilities, improve performance and increase productivity,” says Ming Leu, the Keith and Pat Bailey Missouri Distinguished Professor of Integrated Product Manufacturing at Missouri S&T.

Introducing advanced manufacturing processes is important to the nation’s long-term, sustainable economic growth. U.S. manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of gross domestic product, 70 percent of private R&D spending and 86 percent of exports.

The above video provides more information about the Advanced Manufacturing signature area.

“To me, the hybrid aspect of traditional manufacturing and additive manufacturing is the future for the U.S. to remain competitive,” says Jagannathan Sarangapani, the William A. Rutledge-Emerson Electric Co. Distinguished Professor in Electrical Engineering at Missouri S&T. “This aspect requires skill sets from researchers in a variety of disciplines.”

One of S&T’s four signature areas for teaching and research, Advanced Manufacturing has strengths in the emerging fields of additive manufacturing; energy manufacturing; micro- and nano-scale manufacturing; network-centric and cloud manufacturing; advanced materials for manufacturing; and intelligent, sensor-enabled manufacturing.

For example, S&T researchers are working to create “smart parts” by embedding sensors and communication circuits that allow goods to be tracked throughout the supply chain.

“Recording the chain of custody from the point of manufacture of all of the product’s components to the point the customer receives it is helpful when products are recalled,” Sarangapani says. “It also can be used to help stop counterfeit, a rising problem worldwide.”

In the advanced manufacturing area, S&T also has particular strengths in additive manufacturing, composites manufacturing and metal casting. In addition, its micro- and nano-manufacturing program has seen rapid growth in recent years.

“By building components one layer at a time using data from CAD models, additive manufacturing has the potential to fabricate 3-D components with novel material compositions with properties and functionalities that would otherwise be very difficult to create conventionally,” Leu says. “In this area, S&T researchers have developed unique processes for making functionally gradient materials, a new concept for creating composites of continuously varying materials.

Missouri S&T’s expertise in advanced manufacturing has been nationally recognized, which has opened up many collaborative opportunities. Most recently, S&T was one of 23 universities selected to join with industry, governmental agencies and other organizations to form the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, a new national innovative manufacturing institute based in Chicago. S&T is also a member of America Makes — National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, an organization focused on helping the country grow capabilities and strength in 3-D printing.

“During the Henry Ford era, manufacturing was focused on mass production — just making enough quantity so the price could be reduced,” Leu says. “Then came mass customization, where smaller quantities with more variety were offered. Now we’re at the personalization era where parts are designed and fabricated for the individuals. The goal is to make a one-of-a-kind product at or near the same price as the mass production.”

Advancing manufacturing

By developing tailored materials and fabrication methods, S&T researchers are paving the way for a number of manufacturing processes. Here are a few examples:

Greg Hilmas, Curators’ Professor of ceramic engineering, and Robert Landers, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, demonstrated the additive manufacturing of a 3-D part by grading two ceramic materials, alumina and zirconia, which have different properties.

Umit Koylu, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is using selective laser sintering to create bipolar plates of different flow field designs for PEM fuel cells, a key issue for improving fuel cell performance.

K. Chandrashekhara, Curators’ Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is using fused deposition modeling to manufacture sparse-build molds and dies to save material and cost for composites manufacturing and hydroforming.

Frank Liou, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Joe Newkirk, associate professor of materials science and engineering, are working with Boeing and GKN Aerospace to repair worn components and to make components with gradients of two different metals.

Suzanna Long, associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering, is working to ensure that the nation’s supply network is efficiently and seamlessly connected — from raw materials to finished products. She says it’s critical for the health and vitality of the U.S. and world economy.

Story by Mindy Limback. Video by Terry Barner. Photo by Sam O’Keefe.

Spelunking for a cause

Michael Bradford, senior in geology and geophysics, works with several organizations to improve caves. Photo by Sam O'Keefe.

Michael Bradford, senior in geology and geophysics, works with several organizations to improve caves. Photo by Sam O’Keefe.

Michael Bradford, senior in geology and geophysics with a minor in geological engineering, does not shy away from dirty work. Currently, he is doing research with the Missouri Bat Census that involves checking caves for bats with White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease that causes abnormal behavior in bats and eventually leads to their death.

[Read more…]

Pathways to the perfect fit

Hannah Frye in the neurobiology lab could lead to a treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Photo by B.A. Rupert.

Hannah Frye, pictured above warming media in the neurobiology lab, is doing work that could lead to a treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Photo by B.A. Rupert.

At first glance, it is impossible to tell that Hannah Frye, a senior in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry, is helping Robert Aronstam perform groundbreaking research that could lead to treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. But stop her in the Havener Center at lunch and ask her about her work with the chair of biological sciences and she can explain anything from cell signaling to how she measures the calcium levels in a cell’s endoplasmic reticulum and cytoplasm.

[Read more…]

Building a bridge of the future

Graduate students (from left) Alex Griffin, Eli Hernandez and Hayder Alghazali took part in all phases of the design and construction of a new highway bridge that uses new longer-lasting concrete beams developed at Missouri S&T. Photo by Terry Barner.

From left, graduate student Alex Griffin and Ph.D. candidates Eli Hernandez and Hayder Alghazali work with professor John J. Myers on the design and construction of a new highway bridge that uses new longer-lasting concrete beams developed at Missouri S&T. Photos by Terry Barner.

Watch the video with John J. Myers:

The Highway 50 corridor that connects Jefferson City, Mo., to Union, Mo., will get upgraded into four lanes by spring 2014, but it’s a new and improved three-span bridge that’s capturing all the attention.

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Defying gravity


Pictured from left: Jon Hilsher, a senior in mechanical engineering from Maryland Heights, Mo., and Peter Carnesciali and Kevin King, who are quoted in the story below. Photo and video courtesy of NASA

Miners in Space team members were flying high this past summer during a weeklong trip to Houston that included flights aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder aircraft, part of the agency’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.

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Sleeping like a … fruit fly?

Dillon Barton, an undergraduate from Belle, Mo., is one of the students that studies fruit flies' sleep behavior. Photos by B.A. Rupert

Dillon Barton, an undergraduate from Belle, Mo., is one of the students that studies fruit flies’ sleep behavior. Photos by B.A. Rupert

Matthew Thimgan, assistant professor of biological sciences at Missouri S&T, and his students are studying the sleep patterns of the Drosophila melanogaster, aka the common fruit fly. The insect gives them a way to identify genes and pathways that regulate sleep and to learn about how sleep deprivation affects health and performance.

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Keeping the lights (brightly) on


Suzanna Long (far right) with student researchers (l-r) Andrew Clum, Sean Schmidt and Snehal Digraskar. Photos by B.A. Rupert

As Neil Young once said, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. But as many of the nation’s transportation departments have discovered, the light-emitting diodes or LEDs found in most traffic lights don’t burn out — they just lose brightness over time.

[Read more…]

Turning over a new leaf in manufacturing


Illustration by Brandan Deason

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells, or PEMs, hold promise as a clean energy source for transportation vehicles — from hybrid cars to future hypersonic spacecraft. But they aren’t yet as efficient at transferring energy as engineers would like.
[Read more…]

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