Multi-Physics Renewable Energy Lab (MPREL).
The laboratory aims to tackle energy solutions based on the desired end-use or product of a facility. By broadly dividing energy problems into three sections; Generation, Storage and Transport customized solutions to high energy use processes can be found. Some examples of the problems tackled thus far are;
Renewable Powered Heating and Cooling System with Thermal Storage.
Renewable energy is used to drive chillers and heaters depending on the season. Instead of storing excess energy in say batteries the excess energy is stored in the form closest to its end use which in the cases of heating and cooling would be as hot or cold storage.
A variable speed chiller is used to match the chiller demand to the available renewable energy. Excess cooling capacity is used to freeze a body of water into which excess heat can be dumped in the evening or at times when not enough renewable energy is required.
A phase controlled relay is used to adjust the amount of energy that electrical elements absorb, again based on the amount of renewable energy available. Here thermal bricks are used to absorb the excess heat being generated. When a space heating is required, air is blown over the bricks and vented into the space where heating is required.
Supercapacitor Based Hybrid Microgrids.
Hybrid microgrids can save enormous amounts of fuel by only operating their generators for short bursts at high efficiencies and introducing renewable energy into these systems can reduce that fuel demand even further. To stabilize the electrical supply they usually use batteries as these are well known and many systems are available to charge them. Batteries however are not suited to the extremely high cycling nature or this type of operation. Supercapacitors with a cycle life of a million or more are better adapted to this task. Traditional battery charge controllers cannot usually charge supercapacitors from zero volts and so additional circuitary is needed to overcome this problem. We have an operational 4 kW hybrid microgrid based on supercapacitors with the required power electronics to allow operation with these devices.
Building Scale Compressed Air Energy Storage.
Compressed air energy storage systems have been demonstrated but usually at a large scale. A smaller scale system using renewable energy to charge the tanks is being developed. A large challenge is designing a simple air driven generator at low costs. With the advances in power electronics and small motor generators a demonstration unit has been developed. This system will be integrated into the supercapacitor based microgrid to provide long term electrical storage.
Industrial Control Systems.
Future energy systems are going to require greater dynamic control especially in matching energy demand to energy supply. For this purpose commercial industrial controllers are being used to implement control strategies initially implemented using personal computers (PC's). This path allows us to use the power of PC's to develop strategies and then implement the most successful methods onto very robust Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC's) suitable for use in buildings.