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Developing A Design Based Alternative Energy Course

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Energy Curriculum Advancements

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.427.1 - 11.427.24



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Paper Authors


Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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Andre Benard Michigan State University

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Andre Bénard is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering and numerical methods. Dr. Bénard has research interests in transport phenomena in materials processing, heat transfer, polymers and composites microstructures, multiphase problems, finite elements. He received his B.S. in 1988 from the University of Sherbrooke, his M.S. in 1991 from the Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal, and his Ph.D. in 1982 from the University of Delaware, all in engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Developing a Design Based Alternative Energy Course Introduction

With the rising cost of oil, the depletion of domestic natural gas supplies, and the documented impact of increased CO2 production on global warming, engineering students have developed a renewed interest in alternative energy technologies and careers. This renewed interest, coupled with the initiation of state and federal sponsored programs to enhance alterative energy education such as the Michigan NextEnergy program, has led to the establishment of a design based alternative energy course in the mechanical engineering department at Michigan State University. This paper presents the development of the course, its evolution through two offerings of the course, feedback from the students, and lessons learned by the instructors.

Development of the Course

For several years one of the authors has taught a traditional thermal design course which focuses on conventional energy sources and systems (ME 416 Computer Assisted Design of Thermal Systems). It is a design intensive course that significantly utilizes projects to facilitate the students’ learning. It has become a very successful course with one of the largest enrollments for an elective course in the mechanical engineering program. The authors decided to use this learning model for a new course in alternative energy systems with an emphasis on design.

A new course with a design emphasis was welcome, as the mechanical engineering curriculum at Michigan State University needed an additional design-based technical elective course. A design intensive technical elective is intended to provide students with additional experience in the analytical design component of the design process. The need for a design elective set the framework for a course in alternative energy, namely, one that focused on the use of mathematical models to predict performance and to design such systems.

With the course model decided, the authors had to decide between covering a single alternative energy system, such as solar or wind power systems or fuel cells (most appropriate for the state of Michigan), or attempt to cover several forms of alternative energy. In discussions with colleagues working in the alternative energy discipline, it became clear that the best strategy would be to cover many alternative energy sources. Furthermore, it was decided to broaden the notion of alternative energy so as to only exclude energy systems based on coal or petroleum. With this background, the following definition of alterative energy was developed:

Alternative energy is an energy that is not currently being fully utilized by human beings, but may replace conventional energy sources.

At this point in time a proposal was developed for consideration by the mechanical engineering undergraduate curriculum committee. It is provided as Attachment 1 and includes a course description, course goals, and detailed course learning objectives. The committee approved this proposal and the course was offered for the first time under a temporary number, ME 491 Selected Topics. This is the normal procedure for a new course, since the faculty will only

Somerton, C., & Benard, A. (2006, June), Developing A Design Based Alternative Energy Course Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--24

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