By Ellie Gerst and Mareesa Lindstrom
UMD's Civil and Mechanical Industrial Engineering students are building bonds between the university and the Duluth community this year, all while improving the city's energy efficiency in a project called Duluth Shines.
The students, in the classes Sustainable Design and Construction and Sustainable Energy Systems, participate in this project under the supervision of Dr. Mary Christiansen and Dr. Alison Hoxie.
"Mainly, we started the projects for two reasons," said Dr. Hoxie, an assistant professor in Mechanical Industrial Engineering at UMD, "To give the students real world problems to work on that will also help them improve their professional skills, communication, writing, and presentation skills, and then also because we wanted to help Duluth move in a more energy efficient and renewable energy way."
The Duluth Shines project pairs students up with local businesses who are interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy systems. This year, groups of students worked with BendTec, A Touch of Plasch, Canal Bark, Fire Hall 4, Essentia Health, Duluth Pottery, Ianni Hall and City of Duluth.
Aidan Fawcett, a senior in UMD's Mechanical Engineer program, worked with the City of Duluth on a solar project.
"We're actually working directly with the city's energy manager," Fawcett said, "He's responsible for looking at the different ways that the city uses energy and he's looking for ways he could help reduce how much energy they use and in turn, reduce how much money they spend on energy."
Fawcett's group was given different potential sites around Duluth to mount solar modules. From there, they had to identify the different solar modules responsible for converting the energy from the sun into power, as well as which sites would be most suited for these modules.
"Different types of modules can give you different types of rebates and incentives that can help reduce the economics of the project," Fawcett said.
According to Fawcett, Duluth's water pumps consume large amounts of energy, so the students sought ways to utilize a solar system to power these pumps.
"We looked at how we would actually mount [the solar modules] to the ground and how we would install these modules and then we looked into the detail like what angle would we want them at...We did estimations on how much energy we can expect to produce from these modules and the next step was making a tentative pumping schedule for these sites."
There are no plans to actually implement this solar project right now. This is mainly due to financial constraints, but Fawcett hopes that the research students have gathered on this topic will help aid the City of Duluth in powering their pumps with solar in the future. Either way, Fawcett has learned a lot from this project.
"One of the biggest outcomes I've had with this class is how to professionally approach a problem," Fawcett said, "Typically, in the school environment, you'll be given all the information you need to succeed. But in this class, you had to figure out what you needed to succeed. Doing this was a leaning process because, at first, I definitely wasn't asking the right questions. These weren't problems that students normally see in textbooks, they're actually in the real world, and I think it does a really good job connecting the student mindset to the professional world."
According to Dr. Christiansen, one of the biggest things this project is doing is helping bridge the gap between the university and the community.
"I think that's a really useful thing for the community," Dr. Christiansen said. "Not just in the projects that we're doing, but there are a lot of colleagues of ours that have crossed the bridge that we helped build. So, there's a lot of technology and expertise that's at the university that the community is maybe more welcome to listen to."
Duluth Shines is a great step forward in increasing Duluth’s livability, based on both the heightened community connection it has created and the environmental sustainability that students and businesses are working toward.
“Mainly through those connections,” Dr. Hoxie explained when asked how this project is improving Duluth, “But also anytime a business moves forward with any of the suggestions that the students have, that means there’s more energy efficiency in the city . . . Our energy becomes, as a whole, cleaner and that benefits everybody.”
According to Fawcett, creating a more livable city has largely to do with “combating climate change” because it appears to be a current aggravator in many conflicts happening around the world.
“Whether it be drying up a water source and causing mass migrations of people, or conflict over land driving migration of a lot of people, I think it all stems from climate change,” explained Fawcett. “Ways to combat climate change are these renewable energy sources that are not CO2 emitting energy sources because the world is going to need energy. It just depends on how you get it.”
Fawcett talked about how the sun isn’t “going to run out anytime soon,” which makes it a good energy source for the city. He also has his own way to make Duluth more livable.
“For me personally, it’s the individual actions I make daily that I think will make the world a better place,” Fawcett said. “And my definition of making the world a better place is just making it a place that the next generation, and future generations after that, will be able to live in it the same way I did.”