Grad Story #37
Grad Story #37
Sustainable Energy Engineering, MS
What is your hometown and background?
I am from originally from Mayville, North Dakota. I have undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry from Mayville State University. I currently live in Mayville with my wife and our baby girl who was born in March.
What brought you to the University of North Dakota?
I wanted to obtain a master’s degree and wasn’t sure that a specific degree in biology or chemistry was right for me. I knew that I liked sustainable energy and the University of North Dakota was just starting a graduate program in Sustainable Energy Engineering. I had previously taken a class in wind energy and although it was interesting, it was more of a technical degree. When I looked at other colleges in the area, they too, were technical degrees. I really wasn’t interested in becoming a technician because of the travel associated with the work and I also had the desire to stay close to home. With the UND’s distance engineering courses, I was able to start working on my background courses before I graduated from Mayville State. Now I drive from Mayville to Grand Forks which isn’t too far.
What sparked your interest in Sustainable Energy Engineering?
My interest in sustainability came from my parents. My dad has worked with wind energy for a long time, and has traveled all over the country to work on wind farms. My family has always been into recycling and sustainable ideas, in turn I am also passionate about it. While I was at Mayville State, I was part of a “green team” that focused on making campus a greener place. I guess that I have always been intrigued by sustainability and green areas. When I found this program, I decided to try it out even though I wasn’t too familiar with chemical engineering or the Sustainable Energy Engineering Program. I wondered if the program would be more on the social side of sustainability or if it would be on the energy side. After getting to know the department, I learned that most of the projects in the Chemical Engineering Department involve sustainable/clean energy ideas and projects.
What makes this program different from Environmental Engineering or Earth System Science & Policy?
Sustainable Energy Engineering focuses more on the production of energy and ensures that our current energy needs are met without compromising the needs of those who will come after us. We do this by discovering ways to save energy, making current energy production cleaner and conducting research that will assist us in finding and improving alternative energy sources.
Environmental Engineering looks more into emission and pollution issues, such as water and air pollution control or quality. Earth System Science and Policy focuses on sustainability from the views of environment, society and economy; the Earth system as a whole. ESSP is also a driving force behind policy efforts that deal with the environment and the sciences. All three of these fields work towards environmental solutions, however, Sustainable Energy Engineering works specifically with the energy production aspect.
Are you currently conducting any research?
Yes, I am currently researching microalgae growth and how to improve growth in photobioreactors. Microalgae are able to transform carbon dioxide and water with the help of light energy into lipids and oils. These lipids and oils can be processed into liquid biofuels that are able to be used in place of traditional petroleum fuels. Closed system reactors (as opposed to open ponds) are able to produce high amounts of biomass with small land area requirements. However, improvements are desirable and specific microalgae strain production can be improved through either genetic manipulation or optimization of the reactor. My research is focusing on optimizing reactor conditions, and more specifically investigating light transfer throughout the reactor. We can use computational fluid dynamics software such as FLUENT by ANSYS to model our reactor conditions. We can analyze our model and gain insights as to where there are limitations, and where improvements can be made. Using a computer, experiments can be run much faster than the time scales of the laboratory, this helps speed up development. Ultimately this research can be used in not only reactors dealing with multiphase light transfer (growth medium such as water, bubble interactions, and growing particles), but in any case where light transfer or radiation is deemed important.
Can you discuss the importance of mentorship and faculty advisors?
My advisors, Dr. Yun Ji, and Dr. Gautham Krishnamoorthy have helped guide me down the microalgae research path. Dr. Krishnamoorthy is very skilled in computer modeling and simulation, and has really guided me as far as what I should focus on for the modeling aspect of my research. Dr. Ji has many helpful insights regarding laboratory experiments and what we can do with microalgae samples. Both are able to break roadblocks or problems down into tasks easier to solve, and with their experience and positive attitudes, they really make the difficult look easy.
What is your best advice for a graduate student who is looking at the Sustainable Energy Engineering program?
My advice for any higher-level degree is to keep your end goal in mind throughout your studies. Sometimes you might get bogged down between classes, literature, and research, so perspective can help keep you on track. As far as sustainable energy goes, there are a multitude of avenues that fit into the overall area. Our future energy portfolio will not consist of only one option, but it will consist of a wide variety of technologies. Research is always needed to help advance us to the next stage. Regardless of what your research and classes entail, they are all meant to help you grow as a researcher and a scholar.