DegreeMechanical Engineering '21
I was a part of the Bass Connections team “Energy and the Environment: Design and Innovation.” In this project, the students ideated for a few weeks on ventures that would positively impact the environment. Then, project teams were formed, and the students made these ideas into reality.
My project team pursued designing and building a low temperature gradient Stirling engine. This is essentially an engine that can be powered by a temperature difference rather than fuel. We began by discussing what parameters we should design the engine around – namely the approximate temperature difference we would be able to provide the engine and the largest size that we could feasibly build our prototype. Based on these parameters, we wrote MATLAB code that simulated the internal dynamics of the engine, and from this we chose the springs, pistons and displacers that would together produce the most power. After this, we made a 3D model of the engine in SOLIDWORKS and performed pressure and thermal simulations on the engine to make sure that it would not fail. Finally, we ordered the parts we needed and have begun building the actual prototype.
Alongside building the engine and determining if enough useful power can be produced given a low temperature gradient, we also had to understand how this could be implemented and where there would be a market for this. For example, laundromats could place one side of this engine near their dryer exhaust heat and the other side towards the outdoors. The temperature difference between these two would be large enough to power the engine and produce energy for the laundromat. This would save the laundromat energy, and consequently, money. Identifying situations where this engine could easily and feasibly be implemented is an extremely important part of this project and is a precursor to the development of our business plan.
I was excited to work on this project because it combined many of the fields that I am interested in: mechanical engineering, energy and the environment, and innovation and entrepreneurship. This was also my first time working on a mechanical engineering project from concept to implementation, so it was a great learning process.
This project had two subteams: one working on the engineering design and manufacturing, and the other working on implementation and business proposals. I was lucky enough to be the only person on both teams because I am interested in both sides of the process, which are actually very intertwined with each other.
During my time on the design team, I have learned a lot from the senior mechanical engineering majors, who led the process of taking a concept to an actual design, and then to actually building it. One of the things that I focused on was designing one of the parts of the engine in SOLIDWORKS, a 3D design software. I learned a lot about iterative design from this because the designs that I made had to be easily modified in case something needed to be changed, as usually happens during the process of innovation.
In terms of the implementation side of the project, it was interesting to see the concepts that I had learned from the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Keystone class come to life. I guided my team to calculate how much energy and money a potential buyer would save if they implemented one of these engines. I have also been able to add to these calculations by using my knowledge of marketing metrics in order to add further evidence that this engine would be a good investment for various types of potential buyers.
Working with so many different people on a project with so many different facets has taught me a lot about teamwork. One lesson I’ve learned is that every project requires a large range of thought and expertise, and every perspective is valuable. Although this project looked like an engineering project on the surface, we also had students working to determine how this engine would be implemented in reality. The implementation team worked alongside the engineering team to determine the environmental and economic need for this engine. These “need” factors drive the engineering design. If the engine was not designed to be easily implemented by our target markets, then it would be rendered useless. This is why every single person in our group’s input was so valuable and so important to this project.
Excerpted from Anjali Arora’s 2021 I&E Certificate e-Portfolio