One of the largest and most influential engines research program in the U.S. is located right here at Colorado State University on the Powerhouse Campus. The Engine and Energy Conversion Lab is in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and was founded by CSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Bryan Willson.
The EECL is able to take research out into the field, which has real-world impact on the oil and gas industry.
“We go out to these facilities and we may install hardware and take measurements,” said Dan Olsen, co-director of the EECL. “It’s nice to have the ability to go one step further from testing it in the lab to actually applying it in the field.”
Olsen has been the principle investigator on many of the projects involving the large natural gas compressor engine that was installed when the lab started. Compressor engines like the one in the lab are used to maintain pressure in natural gas pipelines.
“We developed a program initially on large industrial natural gas engines looking at reducing emissions and developing technologies,” Olsen said. “The research done here is responsible for reducing a significant amount of emissions across the country from (natural gas compressor engines).”
One of the projects currently underway is aimed at reducing the amount of lube oil reaching the exhaust. Lube oil contains chemical compounds that increase emissions and impacts the efficiency of engines.
Another major area of research at the EECL is biofuels. The EECL is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to study upgraded pyrolysis oil, which is a synthetic fuel that could eventually be a substitute for petroleum.
Marchese explained that it is very difficult to remove the remaining 1 to 2 percent of the harmful chemicals from upgraded pyrolysis oil, so the project is aimed at determining how the chemicals will effect engine durability and emissions.
The EECL has also been involved in studying algae-based biofuels. According to Marchese, the process of harvesting algae requires a lot of energy, so part of their work has been to develop a low energy method for harvesting algae. Much of this work was lead by Marchese as part of a 70 million dollar consortium.
Marchese said that students interested in working with large engines, oil and gas gravitate to the lab.
“Our students are really our best resource,” Marchese said. “We get a lot of students, both undergraduate and graduate students, that come here because this is the kind of stuff they want to do.”
According to Marchese, conducting research in the lab on the type of engines used by the oil and gas companies has streamlined the process of applying research to real-world problems.
“One of the nice things about working on these types of engines is that some of the research Dan and others have done over the years actually gets implemented on real engines within a year or two of when we did the research,” Marchese said.
The EECL is a member of the Energy Institute at CSU, which is a campus-wide network of energy researchers and educators. The Energy Institute was created in 2012 and has over 160 affiliated faculty across campus.
The institute recently hired Denise White, a communications, marketing and outreach coordinator, to increase campus and community awareness of the institute.
“It sounds like there’s not a lot of understanding campus wide. … There’s a newness to (the institute) to where people may know it exists, but they may not understand how it can really benefit them,” White said. “We would like to get people involved if they can, or at least make people aware of our resources.”
Collegian Science Beat Reporter Christina Dennison can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @csdennison