Contact: Justin Poland (207) 581-2130; Tom Weber (207) 581-3777
ORONO–A group of University of Maine mechanical engineering students are working on a senior-class project that promises practical benefits not only to their own education but to the university and the environment as well.
For their capstone project, the four students are designing a heat-recovery system for the university’s Engineering and Science Research Building, a facility built in 2004 that houses offices and the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology.
Justin Poland, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and the project consultant, said the system being designed would have the potential to recover an amount of energy equivalent to 27,000 gallons of oil a year from the massive volume of ventilation air that is needed in the building. That captured energy would then be used to help pre-heat the cold outside air to room temperature as it is vented into the building.
Poland said the cost savings to the university would be substantial, although he preferred not to suggest a specific amount before the heat-pump system design is complete.
“The building processes 45,000 to 65,000 cubic feet of air every minute of every day,” he says, “so yes, the savings would be significant.”
The recovered energy would reduce the amount of oil now used to heat the building as well as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from the No. 6 fuel, which, according to the students’ project proposal, the university burns at a rate of some 600 gallons an hour on cold winter days.
Although a heat-recovery system had been included in the building plans, Poland said, its installation had to be postponed until some time in the future. The idea was resurrected when James LaBrecque, a local energy expert and longtime university supporter, suggested it to Poland as a student capstone project. The building’s original water-glycol design was replaced by the heat-pump system, which Poland said is more versatile and effective.
The student project began in September and will wrap up in May. The design will have to be evaluated by the university’s facilities management department, which could then choose to put the work out to bid. Poland believes the project would be a good candidate for the University of Maine Foundation’s Green Loan Fund, which lends money to the university for projects designed to reduce energy consumption and improve campus sustainability.
“What is most important to emphasize about a project like this,” Poland says, “is that we’re training our students in the ways they need to be trained, and at the same time benefiting the university. So it helps the state in a couple of ways.”