Undergraduates at Texas A&M University at Galveston will learn to design solar panels and wind turbines as part of a new alternative-energy project.
“This is so important,” said Irfan Khan, instructional assistant professor in the Department of Marine Engineering. “The program will explore sunlight and wind as energy sources that can help reduce dependence on non-renewable fuel sources.”
The engineering students will learn how to calculate the load a residential or commercial roof can bear for solar panels and wind turbines, for example, Khan said.
“We want to increase their employment chances,” he said.
Khan and Jenna Lamphere, assistant professor of sociology at the university, together got a $60,000 grant for the multidisciplinary project. Students will study the economics, efficiency and low environmental impact of producing energy from non-polluting, renewable sources.
The money comes from a Texas A&M Presidential Transformational Teaching Grant, and the university’s Clean and Resilient Energy Systems lab will administer the program.
Most of the money will go to a training system that demonstrates how wind turbines and solar cells are used in the consumer and industrial markets to supplement the world’s power needs, Khan said. The system will be in the Clean and Resilient Energy Systems lab.
“All of these training systems are made from real-world components that are used in industry, the same that students see in their homes, schools and workplaces,” Khan said. “But their size is a bit smaller than the industrial ones, specifically developed for laboratory and training purposes.”
The green program mixes well with the university’s “blue-economy” maritime programs, officials said.
“Alternative energy is a strategic growth area in our Marine Engineering Technology Department,” said Alok Verma, professor and head of marine engineering technology.
“In addition to the CARES lab and the work Dr. Khan is doing, we are in the process of hiring an additional faculty member to help support research, curriculum and training in this area.
“We will also be collaborating with the Ocean Engineering Department for wave power generation and marine robotics.”
Khan will teach the history, fundamentals, installation, operation, maintenance and servicing of solar energy and wind energy systems. Lamphere will approach the project with a sociologist’s eye.
“We are taking a socio-technical systems approach,” she said. Khan is focused on renewables, and Lamphere is focused on areas such as bolstering campus recycling, community gardening and the like, she said.
Using a project-based approach, students will be broken into teams and tasked with assessing and developing sustainability innovations for project areas on campus, she said.
The project combines a sustainability curriculum with project-based learning, so students can become vanguards of sustainability, she added.
Online training certificates will be available for applicants from around the world.
“We also intend to use it to give local middle- and high school students and community college students hands-on experience by offering them summer lab tours or National Science Foundation-funded research opportunities,” Khan said.
Khan has other projects he’s researching inside the lab, including floating solar panels on vessels at sea and offshore wind turbines. The electricity would travel through undersea cables and integrate with the onshore utility grid, he said.
He also is pursuing more funding for his research from the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation.
One area with potential is offshore wind turbines, Khan said.
“The sea is a big resource for wind,” Khan said. “We can take more wind energy from the sea than land.”