Students in Todd Bandhauer’s laboratory at Colorado State University think about problems, solve them and build models. Same as every other university laboratory setting, right?
Bandhauer’s REACH CoLab – Research End Markets And Commercialization Hub – is in the aptly named Powerhouse Energy Institute where practical demonstrations of technology are life-size – at a scale that’s found in industry and much larger than the typical academic research lab.
“What we try to do is bridge the gap between fundamental research and commercial deployment,” said Bandhauer, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. “We do a lot of techno-economic analysis and validate that with large-scale experiments in realistic settings.”
“You have to make the case it’s going to save somebody money,” he said. “It’s really hard to do that with energy technologies.”
When fuel burns, two-thirds of it is wasted. His team of 12 undergraduate and graduate students are working to inexpensively convert that wasted thermal energy into something useful like electricity.
Working with industry
His research has included partners from such national behemoths as Caterpillar and Modine Manufacturing Co., an industrial chiller manufacturer, and such Colorado companies such as Arvada-based Barber-Nichols Inc., which makes turbine machines.
In 2016, Bandhauer was awarded a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to use waste heat generated in mechanical processes and turn into cold water that can be used in down-the-line industrial processes. This breakthrough system recovers waste heat in the lower temperature range (194 degrees Fahrenheit – 302 degrees Fahrenheit) in a much smaller footprint and at a lower cost that commercial systems. Partners on the project include Barber-Nichols and Modine.
All told, he’s had $4.7 million in grants that fund his research. That’s research that could someday save companies billions.
“Just in the manufacturing sector, you could save about $2 billion of electricity every year if it’s deployed,” he said. “The biggest challenge is that it’s not at a low enough cost. That’s what we’re addressing.”
In 2017, Bandhauer received the George T. Abell Award for Outstanding Economic Development Contributions for his contributions to the economic, political and social wellbeing of the college, university and the community.
A unique research experience
He’s also now spreading the word about the strength of the mechanical engineering department at CSU as associate department head of graduate studies. Students who come here get unique
research experiences they’re unlikely to get other places, he said.
In addition to learning to work as a team, his students are getting lessons in engineering economics, technical design and analysis. Ultimately, they get to build something big and cool.
“That’s one of the great things about being at a land-grant university. Students that come here get a lot more hands-on experience and they’re much better prepared to make a significant impact once they leave.”