Undergraduate engineer increases efficiency and performance of fossil-energy power systems

Andrew SislerAs a participant in the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship Program, Andrew Sisler improved gas turbine engine cooling and reduced oxygen loss from a combustion system. The MLEF Program is administered by ORAU through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. (Photo courtesy of NETL)

Andrew Sisler, a mechanical engineering major, was forced to step out of his comfort zone when researching fossil-energy power systems at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Morgantown, W. Va. As a result, his research has helped to improve efficiency and lessen the negative environmental impacts of various types of energy systems currently adopted in the U.S.

“I was required to develop my own techniques, which was extremely challenging,” Sisler, an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park and Frostburg State University, said. “It definitely stretches you as a person to be creative in your methods and approach.”

Being pushed out of his comfort zone and forced to create new experiments enabled Sisler to make valuable contributions to his two research projects, both of which focused on increasing efficiency and performance of fossil-energy power systems. One project concentrated on a heat transfer experiment for gas turbine engines that are used to power aircraft, trains, ships, electrical generators and tanks by igniting air mixed with fuel. His other project centered on improving the performance of chemical looping combustion systems, a power generation source used as an alternative to fossil fuel combustion because of its ability to eliminate pollutants.

“I developed a procedure to calculate 3-D temperature distributions and to improve cooling technologies for gas turbine engines, which will improve how efficiently the system runs,” Sisler explained. “For the chemical looping system, I designed, constructed and tested a device that could reduce the amount of “carrier” material loss, thus improving the performance of the overall system.”

Sisler conducted his research as a participant in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) Program. This program is administered by ORAU through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

The MLEF Program provides the opportunity for female and minority students who are pursuing degrees in STEM majors to engage in a 10 week summer fellowship focusing on fossil energy relevant research projects.

Being a part of the MLEF Program helped Sisler to re-evaluate his post-graduation plans. “The people I met, the connections I made, and the experiences I had at NETL are making me seriously consider going to graduate school,” he said. “Going into this program I knew I wanted to experience the setting of a national laboratory – especially compared to working at a private company. I found that the equipment, approaches and goals are all pretty different. I thoroughly enjoyed the change in environment, and could see myself working in a similar setting someday.”

Besides his research projects, one of the most valuable lessons Sisler learned was how to communicate with high-level professionals and experts in the energy field. He encourages other undergraduates to apply to the MLEF program – he said the experience was ultimately rewarding and highly beneficial.