Research

Did you know that buildings use about three-quarters of the total electricity generated in the United States? And that during the summer months, buildings cooling systems account for about 50 percent of the electricity peak demand?

 
    Dr. Tabarez-Velasco and his graduate student present the new lab to prospective students.

These were the statistics that Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Paulo Cesar Tabares-Velasco shared as he led a group of prospective students through his new lab during Meet Me at Mines, an event for prospective students from historically underrepresented groups. These high school students were the first to get a look at the new lab that will celebrate its official grand opening in January 2017.

The Building and Thermal Science Lab, located on the fourth floor of Brown Hall, is a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art environmental chamber. It allows researchers to control the environmental conditions in which their experiments will take place. Whether testing the thermal performance of wall assemblies or thermal storage technologies such as phase change materials, the ability to set exact environmental conditions is essential.

“The lab offers a combination of sophisticated control, a tight environment, and accurate sensors,” explained Tabares. “This allows us to mimic indoor environments like an office for testing passive thermal storage and also outdoor environments. We also have one radiant (hydronic) wall that allows us to set its temperature independent of the room temperature, enabling thermal testing of different wall assemblies among other things.”

In this new lab, Tabares’ research team hopes to find ways to increase flexibility to the electric grid. “Buildings hold great potential, combined with thermal storage, to solve some of the great challenges related to energy, smart grid, and global warming,” said Tabares.

Tabares' students also focus on improving heating and cooling equipment, indoor air quality and comfort. The new lab includes advanced control and laboratory-rated sensors that accurately control and measure several variables:

  • Supply and return air flow rates
  • Indoor air temperature
  • Indoor air relative humidity
  • Wall surface temperature
  • Indoor concentration of CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOC)

Senior and graduate students will also use the lab for teaching purposes, such as senior design projects and Tabares’ Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning class. Students will be able to control the supply air temperature and the relative humidity as well as air flow rate. The lab will be a hands-on source for learning about psychometrics (moist air properties and processes), indoor air quality, commissioning and thermal comfort.

Several industry leaders contributed to the Building and Thermal Science Lab, such as Building Automation Products, Inc. (BAPI) and EBTRON, which supplied the innovative sensors for temperature, humidity, and air flow stations.

 

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Colorado School of Mines researchers have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to develop a new way of assembling nanoparticles into materials with exotic optical properties that could allow, for example, “superlenses,” high-resolution sensors for biomolecules and cloaking devices that render objects invisible.
 


Artist's rendering of chiral clusters assembled from dielectric particles.

Principal investigator Ning Wu, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, and co-PI David Wu, professor and head of the Chemistry Department, are collaborating on the project, titled “Electric-field Directed Assembly of 3D Chiral Metamaterials,” which has been award $270,000 by the NSF’s Division of Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems.

An object or system is chiral if it can be distinguished from its mirror image—our left and right hands, for example, while otherwise identical, cannot be superimposed perfectly on each other. This phenomenon exists all the way down to the molecular level, where groups of the same atoms can be arranged differently and exhibit strikingly different physical and biochemical properties.

Scientists are already able to make chiral structures from top-down techniques such as E-beam lithography. However, such techniques are time-consuming and expensive. “It is extremely difficult to make fine structures with complexity,” Ning Wu said.

“We took a different route, which is so-called bottom-up assembly,” Ning Wu said. “It mimics how natural materials form.” The project will use Janus particles—nanoparticles with conductive and nonconductive hemispherical faces—which will arrange themselves into chiral clusters when placed in an electrical field that the researchers can control in three dimensions. The team plans to make electrodes that will allow them to achieve a high degree of control that has not been accomplished previously.

The resulting clusters will still be fairly small and would have to be observed using both optical and electron microscopes, “but this new way has the potential to make metamaterials in a scalable and cost-effective way,” Ning Wu said.

This technique could eventually be applied to particles made of different materials, such as dielectric or semi-conducting materials. “Part of the surface would be modified with a thin film of metal such as silver, and the coating itself could have chirality, too,” Ning Wu said.

Once the researchers have fabricated the chiral structures, they will measure their optical properties. David Wu will help perform numerical simulations to understand the impact of various parameters on the assembly process. The team will then optimize the fabrication process based on those measurements and modeling, Ning Wu said. “It’s going to be a feedback loop linking the material design, structure fabrication and property characterization.”

As part of the grant, the researchers will provide high school and undergraduate students with immersive research experiences on the topic. They will develop learning modules in collaboration with K-12 teachers, as well as multidisciplinary courses in soft materials and nanotechnology.

“The motivation is that there are a lot of potential applications once the structures and optical properties can be tailored in different ways,” Wu said. “Using electric fields to direct the assembly of those particles precisely is the exciting part.”

 

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

The presence of highly fluorinated organic chemicals, sometimes referred to as PFCs or poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), in groundwater continues to be a pressing issue for communities in Colorado and throughout the country. Faculty at Colorado School of Mines have led the research identifying the problem (Study finds high levels of toxic chemicals in drinking water) and, more recently, developing solutions (Mines tackles treating PFC-contaminated water).

Associate Professor Chris Higgins in his environmental engineering lab.

Now the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) has awarded a three-year $1.5 million grant to Christopher Higgins, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, to further investigate how PFASs are released, travel and react to other contaminants.

“The ultimate goal,” explained Higgins, “is to treat these PFAS sites.”

To do this effectively, Higgins and his team have proposed to first develop an understanding of how existing remediation technologies that are used to treat the co-occurring contaminants affect PFASs.

These co-contaminants include chlorinated solvents and fuel hydrocarbons, and are often found at sites where aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) has been used. PFASs have already had an impact on groundwater near military sites where AFFF was used, often mixed with these co-contaminants.

“My team will be conducting batch and column laboratory experiments, using field-collected groundwater and soil samples,” Higgins said. “We want to look closely not only at the compounds that are the focus of EPA Health Advisories, but also at how and under what conditions newly identified polyfluorinated PFASs are converted to the more problematic perfluorinated chemicals.”

Higgins will also investigate the interactions of PFASs with nonaqueous phase liquids, such as gasoline and oil. A fully synergistic remediation effort will require more data to develop technology to meet the sites’ requirements.

The research project, titled “Key Fate and Transport Processes Impacting the Mass Discharge, Attenuation, and Treatment of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances and Comingled Chlorinated Solvents or Aromatic Hydrocarbons,” is a collaboration between Mines, Oregon State University, CDM Smith and the University of California at Berkeley, with Higgins as the principal investigator.

A related project, also funded by SERDP, is being led by Jens Blotevogel, a research professor at Colorado State University, to treat PFCS with electrolysis-based technology.

Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program is the Department of Defense’s environmental science and technology program. It invests across a broad spectrum of basic and applied research, as well as advanced development, in an effort to solve environmental challenges with innovative environmental technologies that enhance and sustain military readiness.

 

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu

As the population in U.S. urban communities continues to grow exponentially, so does the demand for appropriate housing and office space. Typically, in large urban areas this means building residential and commercial units that are up to 20 stories high, made with concrete or steel, as it has been done in the past century. Yet sometimes, these materials are not ideal in earthquake-prone areas.

 

A new timber structural innovation, known as cross laminated timber (CLT), is being implemented around the world as a sustainable alternative to conventional structural materials. In comparison to building with steel and concrete, timber outperforms in lightness, cost, speed of construction, and environmental impact. However, building tall with cross laminated timber has been limited in earthquake active regions, since a validated design method for tall CLT buildings to resist earthquakes has not yet been developed. Colorado School of Mines plans to change that, with the development of a resilience-based seismic design for tall timber construction.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Shiling Pei aims to develop a seismic design methodology over the next four years for resilient tall wood buildings. “This project, scientifically, will answer a lot of questions we have regarding how to design [these buildings] and how to perfect their performance in earthquakes so that the buildings can be immediately reoccupied after a big earthquake,” said Pei, who is also the principal investigator on a $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the project, A Resilience-based Seismic Design Methodology for Tall Wood Buildings.

With six universities and multiple domestic and international industry partners collaborating on this project, researchers will design, build and validate the performance of a 10-story wood building by conducting a full-scale sub-assembly system testing at the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) experimental facility at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn. This will then be followed by a full-scale test at the NHERI outdoor shake table at the University of California at San Diego—the largest outdoor table in the world.

The model tested on the shake table will be an actual building designed to a resilience performance target, Pei explained, with everything from the finishing drywall to the windows. “This will be the largest building that has been tested on the shake table,” said Pei. But since this is a full-scale model and includes all building components, not just the structural framework, the project can get expensive.

In addition to the support from NSF, the research team still needs to raise approximately $800,000 in order to complete the project. They have already received interest from most industry leaders who see the benefits of their work, which would enable a new sustainable construction practice that is also cost-competitive. If successful, implementing the design method would increase the demand for engineered wood production, providing added value for forest resources and enhancing job growth in construction and forestry sectors.

The researchers expect to have all the designs and donations lined up by the end of 2019 with building anticipated to begin in 2020. “We are excited about the new data this landmark experiment will generate,” said Pei. “It could have an enormous impact on the tall timber building industry, and lead to new building practices using more sustainable materials.”

 

Contact:

Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu
Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
 

ADAPT team members and the governor celebrate the new proclamation.

ADAPT team members celebrate the Governor's proclamation, naming October Colorado Manufacturing Month.
Left to right: Aaron Stebner, Katie Woslager, Governor John Hickenlooper, Brandan Kappes, Mickele Bragg, Sumer Sorensen-Bain,
Heidi Hostetter, Craig Brice, Alicia Svaldi and Douglas Van Bossuyt.

Colorado School of Mines and Manufacturer’s Edge hosted Governor John Hickenlooper on September 30 to tour the Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT) advanced characterization center and meet with the center's founding stakeholders. The governor also used the occasion to announce October as Manufacturing Month in Colorado.

ADAPT is a consortium that provides manufacturers access to the latest research on how to take advantage of additive manufacturing technologies. In addition to Mines and Manufacturer's Edge, ADAPT's founding stakeholders include Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace, and Fauston Tool. ADAPT companies work closely with Mines researchers and students on world-class machines to develop technologies to accelerate certification and qualification of 3-D printed metal parts. 

Governor Hickenlooper toured the facility and met with manufacturing leaders to discuss the growth of the sector and the role of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s (OEDIT) Advanced Industry Infrastructure grant program. ADAPT was started with support from the State of Colorado in the form of an Advanced Industries Infrastructure Grant from OEDIT.

”Colorado is home to 6,000 manufacturers that contribute $20 billion to the state’s economy. ADAPT is consistent with Colorado’s collaborative culture,” said Governor Hickenlooper. “It provides our entrepreneurial manufacturers the ability to work closely with university researchers to develop the next generation of technologies.”

“Innovation is the key to survival and growth for small and medium manufacturers,” said Heidi Hostetter, vice-president at Arvada-based Faustson Tool. “Through ADAPT, manufacturers of all sizes looking to incorporate the flexibility of 3-D metal printing into their portfolio will have access to cutting-edge research and help shape the future of the industry.”

Gov. Hickenlooper listens as Research Associate Professor Branden Kappes describes the work of ADAPT.

This tour kicked off Manufacturing DayTM celebrations in Colorado, which continue throughout the month of October. Manufacturing Day is an annual celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, including Mines students.

“In Colorado, one day is not enough to recognize our manufacturers— so we are declaring October ‘Colorado Manufacturing Month,’” said Governor Hickenlooper as he presented a proclamation during his visit.

As ADAPT continues its work, the consortium is actively seeking additional academic and industry partners. Analysis is underway on more than 5,000 specimens with respect to build geometry, power, speed, number of lasers used and more, to build a robust database.

About ADAPT

The Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT) is a research and development organization dedicated to the creation of next-generation data informatics and advanced characterization technologies for additive manufacturing technologies. ADAPT uses these tools to help industry and government qualify, standardize, assess and optimize advanced manufacturing processes and parts. Several levels of membership to the ADAPT consortium are available. Founding industry members include Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Faustson Tool, Lockheed Martin and Citrine Informatics. Grant funding from OEDIT was provided to Manufacturer’s Edge and The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. For more information, find ADAPT on the web, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

About Manufacturer’s Edge

Manufacturer’s Edge is a statewide manufacturing assistance center, partially funded by NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Manufacturer’s Edge provides onsite technical assistance, coaching, training and consulting, as well as collaboration-focused industry programs and leveraging government, university and economic development partnerships to boost the competitiveness of Colorado manufacturers.

 

Contacts:

Aaron Stebner, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering
ADAPT Technical Director 
ADAPT – Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies
(303) 273-3091
adapt@mines.edu

Sumer Sorensen-Bain, Chief of Programs and Operations
Manufacturer’s Edge
303-981-2144
ssorensen@manufacturersedge.com

 
Colorado School of Mines Geology PhD student Sebastian Cardona was awarded the Stephen E. Laubach Structural Diagenesis Award during the Geological Society of America’s 2016 Annual Meeting, held September 25-28 in Denver.
Cardona after receiving the Laubach award, with advisor Lesli Wood.

Cardona after receiving the Laubach award, with advisor Lesli Wood.

Cardona represented Mines’ Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the conference with Professor Lesli Wood, his advisor and lead of the Sedimentary Analogs Database and Research Consortium.

The award promotes research combining structural geology and diagenesis, highlighting the growing need to break down disciplinary boundaries between structural geology and sedimentary petrology.
 
Cardona’s research exemplifies this interdisciplinary focus by integrating different data sets and methodologies such as seismic, well log, outcrops and microscopic data. His goal is to use these multidisciplinary data sets to understand the sealing properties of mass transport deposits in deep water settings. 
 
“Sebastian is one of many great student researchers we have in the SAnD research program who capture the integrative nature of science here at Mines,” said Wood. “I am proud of his work and the recognition he has received.”
 
 
 
Contact:
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
 

A view into a deep mining tunnel with tracks running down the middle.
Colorado School of Mines underground classroom, the Edgar Experimental Mine. Photo: Agata Bugucka

While the U.S. continues to look for new energy sources, our reliance on mining for rare minerals grows. Unfortunately, miners often work in dangerous environments where there is a risk of mine explosions, fire, poisonous gases and flooding in tunnels. Mine accidents have killed over 40,000 mine workers worldwide in the past decade.

Mine safety demands a scalable, low-cost solution to enable sensing, communication and tracking in underground mines to detect precursors to emergencies and to aid rescue efforts in the aftermath of an accident. In spite of requirements for data and voice communications in underground mining growing significantly, the high cost of deploying a safety infrastructure often leads to companies only meeting the minimum required safeguards.

The National Science Foundation awarded a three-year $750,000 grant to the project, “Enabling Smart Underground Mining with an Integrated Context-Aware Wireless Headshot photo of Qi Han, associate professor of Computer ScienceCyber-Physical Framework,” in order to solve this problem. About $338,000 will go to Colorado School of Mines researchers, led by Computer Science Associate Professor Qi Han, in collaboration with Carl Brackpool, a research associate in the Department of Mining Engineering. Han shares in the grant with fellow CS researchers at Colorado State University.

“I’ve been passionate about using my research expertise to improve mine safety for quite some time, so it’s very exciting that the NSF has chosen to support this research,” said Han. “I’m most interested in designing algorithms to support the co-existence of high quality voice streams in noisy underground environments. Providing voice streaming support will significantly improve situational awareness.”

The project will devise, design, prototype and test a fundamentally novel framework of low-cost, energy-efficient and reliable sensor nodes and commodity smartphones to improve safety in underground mines. The wireless cyber-physical framework would bypass GPS, cellular and other signals that we take for granted above ground.

The researchers will field-test their system in Colorado School of Mines’ Edgar Mine, used for research and education. They also will partner with Hecla Mining in Idaho, which has expressed interest in the proposed technology.

While useful for mining, the technology could lead to a host of other applications in the realm of next-generation smart workplaces and various “Internet of Things” applications. It could also be used in the aftermath of disasters for survivor rescue efforts.

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

 

Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Sumit Agarwal has been awarded $615,000 over four years by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to develop a scalable and more cost-effective method of manufacturing ultra-high-efficiency solar cells.

CBE Associate Professor Sumit Agarwal and postdoc Noemi LeickMost silicon-based solar cells in the market today have 16 to 18 percent efficiency, said Agarwal, while the maximum efficiency achieved in the lab is over 25 percent. “Our objective is to make it easier and cheaper to bridge this gap between the lab and industrial-scale devices,” he said.

Agarwal and his team, which includes postdoctoral researcher Noemi Leick and members of Silicon Photovoltaics project group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory led by Paul Stradins, aim to fabricate solar cells with around 23 percent efficiency using their new method. The research will be performed both at Mines and NREL and will take advantage of NREL’s state-of-the-art deposition and new silicon device cleanroom facilities.

Mono-crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells provide the most promising pathway to electricity generation at costs that are comparable to conventional energy sources. Solar cells work by absorbing light and releasing separate positive and negative charges to create a current, and using c-Si minimizes the loss of energy from the recombination of these charges.

The efficiency of these cells is further improved by collecting both charges on the back side of the cell, as opposed to the traditional front-grid architecture, where metal contacts cover up some of the cell and prevent some light from being absorbed.
 


Diagram of solar cell with interdigitated back contacts.

Solar cells that use this design, however, only account for a small fraction of solar cells currently being manufactured, as they require the use of interdigitated back contacts, where the contact materials are arranged similarly to interlocked fingers. This requires a complex, repeated process where layers of material are added and sections of it are then removed.

Agarwal proposes to bypass these steps, using light and chemical vapor deposition to put down the material for the back contacts in the desired pattern. “Only the lit areas will get material growth,” Agarwal said. He believes this is a technique that can be translated into large-scale manufacturing.

In addition to the SunShot Initiative funding, the project will also receive a 10 percent match from Mines.

 

The grant is part of $107 million in new projects and planned funding announced by the Energy Department Sept. 14 to support clean energy innovation through solar technology. Under the SunShot Initiative, the department will fund 40 projects with a total of $42 million to improve PV performance, reliability, and manufacturability, and to enable greater market penetration for solar technologies.

In addition to the new projects, the department intends to make up to $65 million, subject to appropriation, in additional funding available for upcoming solar research and development projects to continue driving down the cost of solar energy and accelerating widespread national deployment. One of SunShot's goals is to drive down the levelized cost of utility-scale solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour without incentives by 2020.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Nuclear Engineering PhD student Michael ServisA PhD student in nuclear engineering has been awarded a prize in the Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Awards, sponsored by the Department of Energy Office of Fuel Cycle Technologies.

Michael Servis’ award-winning research paper, “A Molecular Dynamics Study of Tributyl Phosphate and Diamyl Amyl Phosphonate Self-Aggregation in Dodecane and Octane,” was published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry in February 2016.

The awards program is designed to recognize graduate and undergraduate students for innovative research publications relevant to the nuclear fuel cycle, demonstrate the Department of Energy’s commitment to higher education in fuel cycle-relevant disciplines, and support communication between students and DOE representatives.

The program awarded 17 prizes in 2016. Servis, advised by Chemistry Assistant Professor Jenifer Braley and Chemistry Professor David Wu, was a winner in the competition for students who attend universities with less than $600 million in research and development expenditures in 2014.

Winners receive cash prizes, as well as travel and conference opportunities.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu

Seventy-five students from across the country and around the world gathered at Mines this past July for the first graduate student summer school on thermoelectrics in the United States in two decades.

International Summer School on Thermoelectrics group photoPhysics Assistant Professor Eric Toberer organized the International Summer School on Thermoelectrics, which took place July 25 to 27, with Alexandra Zevalkink, assistant professor at Michigan State University. Funding came from the Mines Office of Technology Transfer and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“Our objective was to provide an opportunity for students to develop new collaborations and to hear from leaders in the field about the current state of the art and fundamentals,” Toberer said. “Breakout discussions were a big part of this conference, largely as a forum to have graduate students interact with each other and gain insight from experts.”

Topics ranged from the physics of thermoelectric materials to materials synthesis, to practical module design. Speakers included scientists from NREL, Northwestern University, Georgia Tech, Duke University and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

Attendees came from the U.S., Switzerland, South Korea, Japan, India and Spain. “We had a 100 percent acceptance policy for graduate students in thermoelectric research groups,” Toberer said. Several undergraduate Mines students who have been conducting research in thermoelectrics also took part. “The summer school paid for lodging, food and registration; the students simply had to arrive,” Toberer said.

Brenden Ortiz, a Mines PhD student, received the Journal of Materials Chemistry A poster award for best overall presentation.

The organizers hope to collaborate with the International Thermoelectric Society for next year’s summer school and hold it in conjunction with their national meeting in Los Angeles. “After that, I hope to make it an annual event at Mines that alternates between introductory and advanced topics,” Toberer said.

Contact:
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 | ramirez@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

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