Engineering students explore alternative fuels

Engineering students have begun working to understand a future fueled by alternative energy.

Julian Heinrich, a senior mechanical engineering major, lead a team of student engineers to create an engine that runs on propane, gasoline and natural gas.

The team conducted experiments to determine the efficiency the engine exhibited with each fuel source, Heinrich said.

The use of alternative fuel sources is no longer speculation, said Robert Bittle, associate professor of engineering, as he pointed out a nearby university vehicle that runs on natural gas.

The U.S. is moving towards a future that is not dependent on foreign oil, he said. Texas is a hot spot for natural gas research and development.

Students were learning to understand the different types of fuels and their effects on the engines the students helped to create, Bittle said.

Even though the engine could run on propane and gasoline, Bittle said the purpose of the experiment was to collect data relating to natural gas.

“For me, propane is the educational stepping stone between gasoline and natural gas,” Bittle said.

Heinrich said the majority of the work was done before these experiments.

Allen Grammer, a senior mechanical engineering major, helped to create computer models which ran computer simulations before the real experiments took place. He said these simulations would determine any weak links in the system to ensure maximum efficiency was reached for each fuel source.

He would also adjust the experimental data to match standard atmospheric conditions, he said.

Heinrich said this was a perfect example of merging mechanical and electric engineering.

Heinrich was voted as team leader by his peers and said he was a firm believer in the benefits this project offered to the team.

“I’m a real hands-on guy and this project is nothing but hands-on experience,” Heinrich said.

Grammer said the senior project was the capstone of the engineering program. It was what made the undergraduate program exceptional.

There was only so much students can learn in a classroom, he said. The project provided an opportunity to take what students had learned in a class environment and apply it to a real engineering project.

The TCU College of Science and Engineering valued hands-on learning rather than a lecture hall experience, Bittle said.

“It would be hard to find another engineering school who takes its undergraduate program as seriously,” Bittle said.