Innovative Engineering with Renewable Resources

Our REU site, Innovative Engineering using Renewable Resources, features multi-disciplinary problems that exploit interesting properties of renewable resources. Project supervisors are faculty members from engineering with experience mentoring students in research. The REU program includes professional development opportunities that focus on preparation in conducting research and learning how to disseminate research results. During the summer research experience, we will introduce students to a variety of experimental and analytical tools.


Bamboo Biochar as a Low-Cost Drinking Water Treatment Option

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Leigh Terry, Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering

Potable drinking water is a concern in many places around the world, including Bahia and Chone, Ecuador. Bamboo as a biochar has been shown to have adsorptive properties similar to granular activated carbon for use of contaminant removal, but more research is needed for specific contaminants of concern. The goal of this project is to investigate current drinking water treatment practices in the area and identify contaminants of concern in consumer drinking water that can be mitigated with the potential use of bamboo biochar. Potential contaminants of concern include pesticides and herbicides from neighboring agricultural farms, organic carbon from anthropogenic and natural sources, and wastewater effluent antibiotics. The objectives of this project are to (a) determine contaminants of concern in drinking water sources; (b) to analyze and compare the use of bamboo as a treatment technology to conventional methods; (c) develop a low-cost treatment system to improve the quality of drinking water in areas employing bamboo.

REU Participants Role: Students will investigate bamboo as a low-cost treatment option for contaminant mitigation in drinking water. Depending on contaminants of concern, students will learn how to use a Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, High Performance Liquid Chromatography, and Gas Chromatography Triple Quad to analyze samples. Students will compare removal of contaminants across the designed low-cost treatment train. Students will: (1) conduct a literature review, (2) design low-cost water treatment options, (3) learn adsorption properties of bamboo, and the chemistry behind advanced analytical instruments.


Building Structural Elements using Cross-Laminated Bamboo

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sri Aaleti, Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering

The mechanical properties of bamboo are dependent on many factors including the species, moisture content, growth process, and post-growth treatment. Previous REU students have conducted literature reviews and performed pilot studies to investigate bamboo’s mechanical properties and explored the possibilities of making cross-laminated bamboo (CLB). Preliminary data is encouraging but limited to a few design variables. The goal of this project is to investigate feasibility of making CLB structural elements using bamboo species grown in Alabama such as Phyllostachys Moso and Phyllostachys rubromarginata and characterize the structural properties. The project will also investigate suitable adhesives for laminating bamboo layers and the impact of moisture on mechanical properties. The objectives of this project are: (a) to fine-tune the manufacturing process and identify appropriate adhesives to make CLB laminate; (b) to analyze and characterize the structural behavior of CLB, and (c) to develop and test structural elements from CLB for implementing practical building applications.

REU Participants Role: Students will prepare cross laminated bamboo samples, design mechanical test fixtures to interface bamboo specimens to test equipment, and collect/organize/analyze test data to assess if physical changes are reflected in collected test data. Students will learn to use: (1) Standard MTS testing machines, (2) Data acquisition systems, (3) Strain gauges and other instrumentation, (4) Data analysis tools (Excel and other software), and (5) Finite element modelling software.


Electrical Impedance Properties of Bamboo

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Todd Freeborn, Electrical and Computer Engineering

The electrical properties of bamboo are dependent on many factors including the type of material, moisture content, growth process, and post-growth treatment. Previous REU undergraduates in our group have conducted preliminary literature reviews and pilot studies to investigate bamboo’s electrical properties. The relevant knowledge base is encouraging but limited to a few studies. The goal of this project is to investigate electrical properties of native bamboo species grown in Alabama such as Phyllostachys moso, Phyllostachys rubromarginata, and Phyllostachys nigra to determine their electrical impedance and determine if this property can be used as a method to monitor these materials for changes to heat treatment, chemical treatment, aging, and more. The objectives of this project are: (a) to measure and analyze the electrical impedance of bamboo as a function of frequency and temperature; (b) to analyze and compare the electrical properties of raw and treated bamboo and (c) develop low-cost systems to improve the ability of researchers to collect impedance measurements outside of the laboratory.

REU Participants Role: Prepare bamboo samples, design electrical test fixtures to interface bamboo to test equipment, design/test circuits for impedance measurements, collect/organize/analyze test data to assess if physical changes are reflected in collected impedance data. Students will learn to use: (1) impedance analyzers, (2) oscilloscopes, (3) sensing circuits, (4) soldering equipment, and (4) MATLAB analysis tools.


Fracture Properties of Bamboo-Fiber Reinforced Concrete

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Armen Amirkhanian, Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering

The fracture behavior of fiber-reinforced concrete is only beginning to see use as a performance-based measure in concrete pavement and bridge deck design. The primary issue in using fibers is the lack of a set dosage for all fiber types. In most cases, the engineer must use prior experience or rely on the company providing the fibers to determine the necessary dosage. With natural fibers, such as bamboo, the variable nature of the material can make it extremely difficult to determine the dosage. In our lab, we compare a single species of bamboo fiber reinforced concrete with commercially available fibers to establish a baseline of performance and dosage. The objectives of this project are to: (a) characterize the fracture performance of different bamboo species in cementitious materials; (b) determine any degradation of bamboo fibers in the highly alkaline environment and measure loss, if any, of the load capacity; and (c) establish a performance criterion based on species and fiber structure (in collaboration with Dr. Freeborn’s group doing electrical measurements) to remove the need for expensive fracture testing and promote the use of bamboo fibers in cementitious materials.

REU Participants Role: Prepare disk-shaped compact tension (DCT) fracture specimens of various bamboo fibers and cementitious materials, test DCT specimens guided by previously published work, perform fracture analysis calculations and statistical analysis of the data, collaborate with Dr. Freeborn’s group to determine how electrical impedance trends with fracture performance. Students will learn: (a) how to create a statistically valid design of experiments (i.e. Box-Wilson, Taguchi); (b) how to prepare physical specimens for fracture testing and to operate servo-hydraulic testing equipment; and (c) how to perform fracture characterization calculations based on test data.


Modification of ITO Work Function in Perovskite Solar Cells

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Dawen Li, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Rapid advances in power-conversion efficiency and low-cost potentials offered by solution-processing capabilities of perovskite solar cells (PVSCs) have motivated the development of large-scale production of PVSCs on flexible substrates through high-speed printing. The efficiency of lab-scale PVSCs on glass substrates has surpassed 20%, making them comparable to commercial crystalline-silicon-based photovoltaics. Recent literature shows that by modifying the indium tin oxide (ITO) anode, the hole charge transport layer can be removed though this results in slight efficiency reductions. The knowledge base is encouraging but limited to a few studies. The goal of this project is to investigate chemically modifying the ITO work function to remove the hole transport layer while maintaining the overall efficiency. Specific objectives include: (a) fabricating PVSCs with stacking layers of ITO/PEDOT/PVSK/PCBM/Al; (b) modifying the ITO work function through chlorination, and (c) comparing the performance.

REU Participants Role: Students will learn: (1) how to fabricate PVSCs in a glovebox (making the solution, spin-coating, and thermal evaporation), (2) how to modify ITO surfaces through chlorination, (3) how to perform electrical measurements using a semiconductor parameter analyzer, solar simulator, and probe stations, (4) compare the performance of cells with a modified ITO work function at different chlorination treatment periods, and (5) how to use Origin software for data processing and analysis.


Nanofibers from Bamboo as a Transparent Conductor for Photovoltaics Applications

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Feng Yan, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering

Bamboo nanofibers show promise as cost-effective transparent conductors, such as Ag nanoparticles embedded into the cellulose and lignin. Dr. Yan’s group has investigated bamboo’s mechanical properties with chemical treatment to tune the chemical composition of bamboo. This knowledge informs a new research direction, to apply bamboo in solar cells. The overall goal of this project is to investigate the optical and electrical properties of chemically treated bamboo species grown in Alabama for photovoltaic applications. Specific objectives include: (a) chemically treating bamboo to collect nanofibers and incorporating conductive nanoparticles during fabrication; (b) analyzing optical and electrical properties of chemically treated bamboo and (c) integrating nanofibers from bamboo into thin film solar cells.

REU Participants Role: Prepare bamboo samples, fabricate conductive nanoparticles with bamboo nanofibers, design experiments to collect optical and electrical measurements, fabricate solar cells. Students will learn how to: (1) use a solar simulator, (2) conduct quantum efficiency measurements (3) perform materials characterization (XRD, SEM, and XPS), and (4) create solar cells using UA’s microfabrication facilities.


Optimum Operating Conditions for Waste-to-Energy Induction Reactors

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Marcus D. Ashford, Mechanical Engineering

Unconventional energy sources have gained significant interest in recent years. Thermochemical processes make obtaining these sources more viable. Waste is an untapped potential fuel source that can be further enhanced by undergoing a thermochemical process. Choosing a heating source for a process reactor is vital to applying thermochemical processes. One such heating source is induction heating. This project will focus on designing and constructing an induction heater reactor. The REU student will investigate the effect of pre-heating the feedstock utilized in the waste-to-energy induction reactor.

REU Participants Role: Determine optimum specifications for operating a waste-to-energy induction reactor with respect to selected waste products. Students will learn to use (1) a laboratory scale reactor vessel, (2) Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer for volatiles composition analysis, and (3) how to operate conventional gaseous emissions analyzers.


Renewable Power for Wearable and Remote Location Sensors

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Edward Sazonov, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Sensing systems are ubiquitous, collecting data both on the environment and in human activity. Each of these sensors requires a power source, which is often the limiting factor in their use. The human body and environment may serve as an endless and renewable power source for electronics. Energy sources such as mechanical motion, body heat, solar and RF energy from the environment can power the electronics, enable data collection, processing and transmission. The goal of this project is to investigate various renewable sources and design practical implementations with energy harvesting for sensor systems. Specific objectives include: (a) establishing the amount of power available from various sources; and (b) experimenting with multiple energy sources (e.g. body heat and solar) to power sensors and sensor networks.

REU Participants Role: Perform a literature review, use solar and thermal energy harvesting electronic kits to prototype the energy harvesting circuits, develop a microcontroller-based wireless sensor, and test the energy sources with an on-body sensor. Students will learn to use: (1) energy harvesting kits, (2) MATLAB analysis tools, and (3) MCU/wireless SDK.