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Thermal Science and Energy Conversion

The combined effects of climate change, increasing energy consumption, and higher fossil fuel prices are challenging universities and the industrial sector to develop more efficient and cost-competitive ways to produce power, heating, and cooling for industrial, commercial, and residential applications. As one of the consequences, the utilization of renewable energy sources is receiving considerable attention as a non-resource-depleting approach that reduces the emissions of pollutants and green-house gases to the atmosphere.

The purpose of the thermal science and engineering lab is to perform basic research to gain a deep understanding of the transport phenomena present in novel high-efficiency and environmentally-conscious technologies for power generation, heating, and cooling. This is done by developing first-principles-based simulation models that are used to predict and improve the performance of thermal systems. These models are validated by obtaining experimental measurements at laboratory or industrial scales. The dynamics and control aspects of these technologies are also a subject of study in this group.

Plasma Gasification

Plasma is an ionized gas and usually referred to as the fourth state of matter. It is conformed by a quasi-neutral gas composed of charged and neutral particles that exhibit a collective behavior. Plasma is formed whenever ordinary matter is heated over 5000oC which results in electrically charged gases or fluids. They are profoundly influenced by the electrical interaction of the ions and electrons and by the presence of magnetic fields. Plasmas are classified by several parameters that include the amount of ionization, plasma density, and plasma temperature among others. The proposed concept intends to analyze the syngas composition and obtain energy and mass balances for a variety of local and campus-generated waste. Sponsor: California Energy Commission, PIR-08-036

Mini-Channel Technology

In the United States, water heaters are the second highest source of energy usage in households. A wide variety of water heater configurations are available in the market, some of which have higher operating costs than other configurations. Although the most common systems utilize natural gas or electricity to heat water, the use of solar water heaters is becoming more widespread mainly due to the low operating costs associated with this technology. Common designs of solar water heaters include flat-plate collectors and evacuated tubes with a heatpipe attached to an absorber fin. In general, copper is used for the fabrication of these collectors due to its excellent heat transfer properties. However, other thermal designs allow the use of alternative materials without loss of performance. This research intends to improve thermal performance of solar thermal collectors by utilizing mini channel tubes instead of absorber fins to collect solar energy.


This research is being led by the Diaz Group (PI: Dr. Gerardo C. Diaz)