Each year, Villanova University College of Engineering partners with corporations, foundations, government agencies and NGOs to advance the frontiers of engineering education, research and service. In terms of duration, scope and level of engagement, Air Products is the College’s most significant corporate partner. In addition to supporting service through sponsorship of STEM outreach and participating on University governing boards, Air Products also sponsors and mentors senior design capstone projects, which provide students with invaluable real-world experience.
This past academic year, a team of Mechanical Engineering seniors—Adam Butler, Alex Fagan, Richard “Ricky” Holden, Patrick McGonigle and Joseph Schaadt—under the advisement of Associate Professor Aaron Wemhoff, PhD, worked on a project for Air Products titled “Low-Grade Heat Recovery and Reuse Options for the Tees Valley (UK) Waste-To-Energy Plant.” A two-part assignment, the team first was called to investigate the various methods of recovering low-grade waste heat and to choose the most promising method for the Air Products plant. Once that decision was made, the students were tasked with optimizing the design of the most promising method, which they determined was the organic Rankine cycle.
On May 1 the Villanova student team presented the results of its research to Air Products employees Elizabeth D’Addio, PhD,’06 ChE, principal research engineer; Kevin Fogash, PhD, ’92 ChE, global gases technology director; J.P. Gunn ’10 ME, account manager; and Frank Petrocelli, PhD, principal research associate. After analyzing expenses, taking into account geographic variables, investigating issues of sustainability and considering opportunities for government subsidies, the students determined that the organic Rankine cycle design did not meet the company’s payback period guidelines. Team member Alex Fagan reported, “Our analysis shows that this process for reusing waste heat would require a payback period of 3.4 years, quite a bit more than is typical for retrofit projects.”
This attention to the bottom line proved to be an important lesson for the students. Ricky Holden, who will be employed by Air Products after graduation, said: “The most valuable thing I learned was the importance of keeping financial limitations in mind when completing an engineering design project. Companies are understandably concerned about the financials (e.g., return on investment for a given project, cash flow, being able to pay it off as quickly as possible, etc.) while focusing on safety and delivering for the customer.”
Following the presentation, project mentors Drs. Fogash and Petrocelli had a number of questions and suggestions for the students. In the end, the Air Products team acknowledged that the students’ findings were on target with their expectations, and they thanked them for their work.
When asked why Air Products chooses to sponsor these types of projects, Dr. Fogash explained that there are benefits for both the company and the students. “For our part, working with student teams provides the company with a different perspective from which to view the project or challenge at hand. It also helps us in areas of interest that we don’t have the time or resources to investigate. Throughout the process, the students receive valuable feedback on how industry works, particularly from the perspective of delivery value versus high level research and development.”
Ricky Holden added, “I believe this project was invaluable for learning how to work well as a team and properly respond to the needs of a customer. These are skills that we can definitely take into our first jobs out of college.”
This summer, Dr. Fogash and George Simmons, director of Villanova’s Multidisciplinary Design Lab, will develop a list of new project ideas for seniors in the class of 2016.