As the world’s population continues to grow, so does our consumption of natural resources. Many of these resources are non-renewable, so research into renewable sources of energy is vital. Research led by BU’s Professor Zulfiqar Khan is tackling this issue through reducing corrosion, improving heat transfer and fluid dynamics, and using nano coatings to enhance surface efficiencies in renewable energy systems.
Professor Khan and his team of researchers are working to develop a means of using readily available and sustainable materials to be applied in flat plate solar thermal systems through a combination of thermofluids with nano additives and efficient thermal storage, which will help meet our future energy needs. Current flat plate systems are very reliant on Solar Photovoltaic for our solar panels, but the supply of materials available is limited meaning that they are not a long-term, sustainable option.
There are four parts to Professor Khan’s new system. One part focuses upon generating heat for colder climates, while within warmer climates it focuses on generating electricity. The third part of the project looks at thermo-fluids, with the aim of improving the efficiency of fluids within the solar energy system. The final part will be the integration of heat storage and recovery system from waste.
Funding from industry has allowed Professor Khan and his team to set up labs in Poole, which include a scale model of the solar thermal system – an invaluable tool for testing. The first two phases of heat generation in cold climates and generating electricity in warmer climates have been successfully commissioned. The third and fourth phase of optimisation of thermo-fluids and heat storage are in progress.
The research and its interdisciplinary nature has the potential to make a significant difference to society as it presents a solution to one of the biggest challenges now facing us – how to meet our current and future energy needs. “I think we can learn to do without many things, but without energy, life as we know it would not be the same,” says Professor Khan. “With our current levels of consumption and the non-renewable sources we are using, our energy sources won’t last forever. If we look to the future, our energy reserves used at our current rates will last us perhaps another 50 – 60 years for oil and gas, and coal another 100 years. What are we going to do when that runs out?”
NanoCorr, Energy & Modeling (NCEM) Research Group
The research forms part of the NanoCorr, Energy & Modeling (NCEM) research group, led by Professor Khan. The group has a multidisciplinary research portfolio at BU in collaboration with major international, national and regional industrial and HEI partners. Multidisciplinary research within the NCEM research group is a direct response to industrial needs in terms of enhancing design for durability & reliability, meeting the demands for generating energy from renewable sources and enhancing students learning experience through research informed education. New knowledge, created during this process, is shared with stakeholders and academic communities.
Multidisciplinary research within NCEM includes the development of nano coatings (nano composites and graphene; materials science and engineering) to increase service life of machines and equipment deployed in harsh operational and environmental conditions (design & engineering), understanding corrosion (materials science and mechanical engineering) issues to prevent structural failures within machines, automotive, locomotives, large structures & marine applications (preventative and predictive condition monitoring; MEMS, NEMS, Micro LPRs) and developing cutting edge solar thermal techniques to generate mechanical and heat energies from renewable sources (mechanical engineering; heat transfer and nano additives).