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Project enables MU Engineering students to work on energy efficiency at Missouri farms

Milad Yarali (left), a graduate student in mechanical engineering, and Kyle Nordike, a junior in mechanical engineering, work on a cellular modem that will transmit data from Countryside Plants, near Barnett, Mo., one of the three MAESTRO sites student researchers are working at to examine and improve energy efficiency.

Sanjeev Khanna, a University of Missouri mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, and a team of engineering students found it necessary to climb onto the roof of the building at a poultry farm in rural Missouri to install electrical equipment as part of Missouri Agricultural and Energy Saving Team — A Revolutionary Opportunity (MAESTRO) project. The students were up on the roof in no time while Khanna was much more cautious and in no hurry to get on top.

LaPierre Professor Sanjeev Khanna and Richard Oberto, Engineering Technical Services, examine the space inside the greenhouse at Countryside Plants, one of three MAESTRO locations where students are performing energy efficiency research.

MAESTRO is an interdisciplinary project implemented by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the MU College of Engineering and MU Extension. Its focus is energy efficiency improvement for the agricultural sector in Missouri. The Missouri Department of Agriculture is leading the overall project with funding from the United States Department of Energy.

The College of Engineering is installing energy saving equipment and Khanna, along with Robert Reed, a civil and environmental engineering professor, are working with undergraduate students to develop a monitoring system to track the energy savings from the equipment installed through MAESTRO.

“We’ve had to develop a monitoring and verification program,” Reed said. “It’s a service not only to the people we’re installing the equipment for but also to the manufacturers.”

Reed said that the monitoring of equipment allows the manufacturers to see whether the equipment is performing as it was designed.

Tracking the energy use before and after new equipment is installed will allow the monetary and environmental benefits of the installations to be accurately predicted in the future.

Since the system is being developed from the ground up, the undergraduates working with Reed and Khanna benefit from a range of experiences. Reed said the students are learning project management skills.

“They are literally helping us develop this,” Reed said. Kyle Nordike, a senior in mechanical engineering, works on the program in LabView to analyze the information collected by the monitoring equipment installed at three of the MAESTRO sites.

“I wanted to get more experience out in the real world,” Nordike said. “I thought it would be an opportunity to challenge myself.”

Rich Oberto, engineering technical services staff, is helping to develop the project.

Jeffrey Burman, a senior mechanical engineering student, also is working on the project this semester. They presented the results of their work on an energy monitoring and verification system at the annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievements Forum on April 24, 2012.

“These students are being trained in the practical aspects of energy verification and monitoring,” Khanna said.
Both Burman and Nordike said they enjoy the hands-on aspect of going to the sites and installing energy monitoring equipment.
Burman also works on finding graphic ways to represent the data they collect.

“It’s a lot more related to electrical engineering so it’s been interesting to expand my studies,” Burman said. “With the set of skills and knowing the software we use — it’s a very popular software — I know I’ll have a better chance in the job market.”

Khanna said he believes this interdisciplinary approach to energy efficiency will become more important as the technology improves. “Every industrial entity must institutionalize this program of energy efficiency,” Khanna said. “Through this MAESTRO program we can highlight this among the agricultural producers and bring this to the top of their minds that they can do this.”

Reed said the response from people in the agricultural sector has been very positive. “We have farmers out there who are interested in helping the university do this,” he said.

“[The equipment installation] will pay for itself in the end. There are so many ways to waste electricity and not even realize it,” Nordike said. With energy efficiency and consumption under more scrutiny than ever, this program will help make the tools necessary for improving energy use much more available and easy to use than ever.”

Khanna and Reed said they hope the MAESTRO program will be part of an effort to position the University of Missouri as a “one-stop shop for the Midwest.”

“If we can continue to develop this it will help us become a stronger partner to other interdisciplinary programs,” Reed said. “Having all the components is fairly unique. We’re trying to position MU to provide both the engineering and the production monitoring.”