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Mechanical engineering professors awarded for developing new hydropower technology

Liberty University mechanical engineering professors Dr. Thomas Eldredge and Dr. Hector Medina were recently named grand finalists in a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) competition designed to advance pumped-storage hydropower (PSH) technology.

The purpose of the contest, called Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time (FAST) Commissioning for Pumped-Storage Hydropower, was to attract creative solutions that reduce the time, cost, and risk required to commission new PSH projects.

The contest, part of the DOE’s American-Made Challenge series, launched in April, and the grand prize winners were announced on Oct. 7 in Alexandria, Va.

Eldredge and Medina were the only university faculty members represented in the four grand finalists. The other three teams were engineers from research firms and professional companies.

“We received the comment from a DOE project manager that our technology was considered to be one of the most disruptive innovations in the competition,” Eldredge said. (Disruptive innovation refers to technology that makes products and services more affordable and accessible, changing the market and industry).

In June, the Liberty professors were among nine finalists — including professors from Penn State and Purdue universities — out of a pool of about 40 entries who advanced to the concept stage and received 50 hours of in-kind laboratory support through a three-month incubation stage of design refinement.

Drs. Thomas Eldredge (left) and Hector Medina (center) are congratulated by U.S. Department of Energy Hydropower Program Manager Timothy Welch on Oct. 7 in Alexandria, Va.

Eldredge and Medina’s award came with $100,000 in lab time at national laboratories to further develop their energy-storing technology. They plan to work with Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory (ORNL), among other labs.

“Now, we need a detailed design so we can pursue a patent and take the concept to the next phase,” Medina said. “Then we can build a prototype. There is a high chance that further sponsorship will be provided for the most outstanding detailed design after next year.”

Their project involves a modular, closed-loop, scalable PSH system that is adaptable to sites without natural bodies of water. The design is intended to make PSH more financially attractive and to penetrate the market for industries using significant quantities of electricity, such as paper, steel, aluminum, and chemical industries.

As part of their design analysis, Eldredge and Medina received support from both ORNL and Argonne (Ill.) National Laboratory (ANL).

“We were glad to work with the team from Liberty University and look forward to continuing our collaboration with Professors Eldredge and Medina,” said Dr. Boualem Hadjerioua, ORNL’s water power energy team leader.

“Team Eldredge-Medina put a lot of work into proving the feasibility of their modular PSH concept, and ultimately, the judges were convinced of its potential,” added competition coordinator Tessa Greco, project manager in the Power Systems Engineering Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “I speak for all of the national laboratories when I say how excited we are to see the Eldredge-Medina concept take another step toward prototype development and look forward to one day seeing its application in the PSH market.”

According to Daniel R Simmons, DOE’s assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “The grand prize-winning ideas for this key storage technology will help bring more PSH online to support increased integration of variable renewable resources like wind and solar.”

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