Student researcher examining energy waste in homes

    Undergraduate student researcher probes residential energy efficiency

    July 30, 2013

    Edmonton—A third-year mechanical engineering student is spending his summer at the leading edge of research into residential energy use, with the ultimate goal of helping policy makers and industry make informed decisions about energy sources and technology.

    Funded in part by an NSERC undergraduate research award, Alberto Palomino is working with mechanical engineering professor André McDonald to research energy efficiency of systems used to heat homes and hot water in Alberta.

    Most households use a natural gas forced-air furnace and hot water tanks to keep our homes warm and provide us with hot water. McDonald wants to determine if natural gas powered hydronic systems are more efficient. These systems eliminate hot water tanks entirely, providing domestic hot water on demand and using hot water to radiate heat in a forced-air system.

    Palomino is researching specifications of the hydronic systems and will be creating models used to determine energy input, efficiency and waste.

    Even though he isn’t in a classroom, Palomino is getting an important educational experience. He says conducting high-level research under McDonald’s guidance is giving him a chance to learn new engineering concepts and to apply that knowledge. Before beginning work on the project, McDonald gave the young researcher reading assignments and tests.

    McDonald says the job is giving Palomino a head start on his engineering studies.

    “The work Alberto is doing now with heat transfer, he won’t see this in the classroom until the beginning of his fourth year. He’s also doing work in thermodynamics that he hasn’t covered yet and he has already been reading chapters in the engineering management text, and on fluid mechanics,” said McDonald. “He’s ahead of the game on a lot of technical things.”

    The research is a side project to work being done by mechanical engineering professor Amit Kumar, a Department of Mechanical Engineering professor who has been appointed as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada/Cenovus/Alberta Innovates Associate Industrial Research Chair in Energy and Environmental Systems Engineering and is the inaugural chair holder of the Cenovus Energy Endowed Chair in Environmental Engineering.

    Kumar’s research team is examining the economic and environmental costs of energy production in a holistic manner. Adding the amount of water, land and CO2 into the financial costs of producing a unit of energy will lead to better-informed policies and practices when it comes to selecting energy sources. 

    And looking at the impact that energy consumers have in heating their homes and water can go a long way in supporting evidence-based decision making.

    Palomino, who has previously taken on research projects in chemical engineering and in the department of physics, says the experience is enriching his education.

    “It’s very important to see the application of what you are studying. That is one thing in engineering that helps students learn,” he says. “We see a lot of theory and there are some labs but not enough to gain an effective appreciation. This gives me more insight into how the fundamentals I am learning are put together.”