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Opinions please - ME Senior Project - Solar or Turbine

  1. Sep 4, 2012 #1
    The fall semester just started and my team and I have to come up with a senior design project. Faculty projects and industry funded projects are very slim this year and it’s looking like our best bet will be to come up with (and fund) our own design. At this time I am torn between two ideas.

    The first is a solar concentrator with a tracking mechanism. I am particularly interested in the parabolic dish type. Doing some research it appears that industrial scale dishes tend to power very advanced hydrogen gas sterling engines or simply heat water. It seems that black painted coiled copper pipe heat exchangers suffer from poor efficiency so we could focus on different designs for the heat exchangers to see what types are more efficient. Possibly explore coatings and different geometries and configurations.

    Any attempt at converting the heated working fluid to mechanical or electrical energy may run the danger of scope creep.

    The second idea is a boundary layer turbine (Tesla Turbine). The ideas are related in the sense that an array of solar collectors could be used to power the turbine. Once again, I don’t want the project to be too large.

    Most all I’ve seen on Tesla turbines is a little discouraging.

    I have not seen anyone make a closed system from one. Lots of youtube videos of turbines just exhausting into the atmosphere or running off compressed air or even tap water. It seems to me that if we where to build one an attempt should be make at a vacuum condenser. These turbines also appear to suffer from poor torque conversion and there is the danger of the disks warping and causing possible dangerous vibrations and catastrophic failure.

    So, on one hand I have a relatively safe project that seems feasible and on the other one that freaks me out the more I think about it. What would you all do? Advocate the solar project or go for the turbo machinery?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2012 #2


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  4. Sep 5, 2012 #3


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    My suggestion is to do a project which requires implementation of core engineering principles while being able to get done in the time provided.

    A solar concentrator will require motor control systems, mechanical design, some illumination analysis, and electrical circuit design/analysis.

    A tesla turbine would require more rigorous mechanical design (including high speed bearings & dynamic balancing), possibly some CFD analysis, and I assume some sort of generator or dynamometer to measure output (more electrical circuits).

    Each will have some useful outcomes if you are able to implement it, so which project applies best to your team's skill set and goals?
  5. Sep 7, 2012 #4
    Thank you for the feedback!

    The professor shot down any solar projects on the grounds that solar tracking was too easy. I was defiantly disappointed but we will be working on a school sponsored wearable robotic rehab device for people who have lost all or partial ability to move their hands and fingers.

    We will have to design the electronic interface between the schools patented nerve sensor electrodes, a control system/signal processing, and the mechanical device. Lots of work… I’m glad we have a year to do it!
  6. Sep 7, 2012 #5
    Your professor sounds like a short-sighted individual who'd rather make money for the school rather than promote engineering creativity.

    Not too long ago I was in your same exact shoes as far as a senior design project. We went back and forth between Stirling engines and Tesla turbines finally settling on a mutation of a Stirling engine that ran off of waste heat. I won't go into specifics but we were not creating the traditional shaft work.

    We were the only group out of 6 to actually design, fabricate (machine), test and analyze something which fell in the realm of traditional ME, i.e. machine design, thermodynamics and fluids. The project was successful and the decent efficiencies warranted (we thought) further research.

    Everyone else seemed to be more interested in the numnuts who modeled foot bones/muscles in ansys and cut out a piece of plastic to serve as a prosthetic foot. They got the accolades. Bio-mechanics was not even part of our curriculum...lol

    Profs these days know that the quick money is made in medical advancements. That's why they're steering you that way.

    If you want to work with heat engines, it doesn't have to be powered by the sun. Waste heat is free for the taking and we might as well have as much fun with it as possible if it's ultimately going to kill the universe:biggrin:
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