Campus: CSU Northridge -- October 24, 2001

Microturbines Provide CSUN Students with Real-World Experience and Save the Campus Energy

A gift of six microturbines from the South Coast Air Quality District is providing Cal State Northridge engineering students an opportunity for hands-on, real-world experiences while saving the campus energy.
The microturbines, electrical mini-generators, were installed late last month. They are valued at $315,000 and will help CSUN reduce its reliability on California's fragile electrical grid.

"We will be saving money in the sense that we do not have to rely as heavily on the state for electricity and at the same time we are producing some of the energy we need on the campus itself," said Hildo Hernandez, director of Northridge's Physical Plant Management.

In addition to saving the campus energy and money, the microturbines are providing an opportunity for upper division engineering students to get some hands-on experiences in studying energy and the environment.

"This fall 10 students are becoming familiar with the microturbines and their operation. They will eventually be doing some environmental testing on these units," said mechanical engineering professor Timothy Fox.
Fox said the students will study just how sensitive the units are to the environment, evaluating their performance in hot, cold, lower elevations and higher elevations.

Other classes also will use the microturbines for "real-world" and hands-on experiences in distributed electrical power generation, including student design projects as well as problem solving.

"Mechanical engineering is the broadest of all the engineering disciplines," Fox said, adding that mechanical engineers are taught to "look at the big picture and try to understand the whole concept."

In the area of energy, mechanical engineers attempt to understand the whole process starting with oil, the liquid fuel, and on to the power plants and other machinery that create energy and then how that energy is used, he said.

"Basically, they look at the energy source and how it is transformed and then improves the quality of life," Fox said.

Fox said the microturbines provide the perfect opportunity for students to take what they are learning in textbooks and apply it to real-world situations.

The six microturbines, which are about the size of a refrigerator and look surprisingly like the hard drive of a personal computer, generate 30 kilowatts each. The electrical mini-generators were manufactured by Woodland Hills-based Capstone Turbine Corp.

The Clean Air Coalition recently hailed the university for its use of alternative fuels, citing the installation of the microturbines as an example.

Hernandez said the university has applied to the South Coast Air Quality Management District for nine more microturbines.

"We have a demand for that amount of electricity and we have the capability of housing them and the wherewithal for using them," he said.

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