Aug. 23, 2017
During my senior year at Hope College studying mechanical engineering, I was trying to decide what I wanted to use my degree for and I found the renewable energy industry aligned well with my interests. In my quest to have an impact on renewable energy technology, I founded Submersive Solutions with the goal of developing a renewable energy source that runs 24/7, 365 days a year. While I was working on Submersive Solutions, I met with MSU’s Dr. Tom Guarr because the energy storage research that he is leading at the MSU Bioeconomy Institute in Holland really interested me.
To create a sustainable energy future, we need to develop cost effective, sustainable and efficient energy storage systems. While Dr. Guarr is working on several technologies, I was hired to develop and test a Redox Flow Battery, or RFB.
He had never hired a mechanical engineer to work in his lab, but he needed someone like me to build a system to test the compounds that he and his team developed. As of this month, we have an RFB that has a 97 percent charge-discharge rate. I have put almost six months of full-time work into my research and with that kind of efficiency, I feel that all the work I put in was worth it.
When I started working on this project, there was little to no past work. I essentially started from scratch, which was exciting and left my research completely up to me. I had never had a job that allowed me to be so creative and that required me to think outside the box. I was given a 3D printer, a syringe pump and a few research papers on similar projects. Due to the proprietary nature of our project, the papers were not very helpful.
I started by focusing on developing a cell that would distribute the liquid solution evenly across a membrane. After many tests and 3D printed prototypes, I was able accomplish that. The next step was one of the most challenging; I had to figure out a way to make the RFB completely air tight. If oxygen enters the system, the chemical reaction will fail. 3D printed parts are generally porous, so this was challenging.
After doing some research online and trying different methods myself, I found a way to program the printer to create a non-porous part. The final step was developing the tank, pump and nitrogen purge systems needed to ensure everything would hold up to extensive testing. Through all those steps (and more along the way), our current system was developed with better efficiency than expected.
The project has gone so well that Dr. Guarr and I want to continue the RFB research for my mechanical engineering master’s project that I will begin at MSU this fall. I will have an adviser on campus – as well as Dr. Guarr – and will continue my work in East Lansing. I am very excited to see this project through, and not only ensure a high efficiency/ lifespan, but to scale the system up to be used in a typical application (storing energy from renewable sources or large-scale generators).
I have never enjoyed a job as much as I have here at the MSU Bioeconomy Institute. I was accepted to several engineering graduate schools, but the decision was clear to me. Becoming a Spartan not only allows me to earn my degree at a top-ranked school, but also allows me to continue working on a project that I am passionate about.
MSU and Dr. Guarr have given me an opportunity that would be hard to find elsewhere. I have learned more working for Dr. Guarr than I have at any of my previous jobs. This experience has given me the ability to learn and the confidence to feel that I can accomplish any goal that I set my mind to. I am excited to pursue my master’s degree at MSU and I can’t wait to get started! Go Green!