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Alternative energy students tour solar concentrator in France

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Students from The University of Tulsa’s alternative energy engineering class are learning how nations around the globe are embracing cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy. Housed within TU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, the course is led by Professor of Chemical Engineering Daniel Crunkleton.

“Students are demanding more courses in alternative energy, and we’re trying to respond to that need,” he said.

alternative energy classCrunkleton’s class is specifically examining resources in solar power, biofuels and biomass. During spring break in March 2017, the class traveled abroad to the southern region of France to learn about Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via, one of the largest solar concentrators in the world.

“It’s a solar furnace that is similar to using a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight on the sidewalk, only it’s on a much larger scale,” Crunkleton said. “You can use that heat to boil water to produce electricity.”

The professor said today’s graduates are expected to be knowledgeable about renewable energy production.

“It gives them a new perspective they can give to their companies,” he said.

Chemical engineering junior Brett Stewart said it was fascinating to witness the amount of energy harnessed for electricity at the French facility.

“We saw research on this concentrated solar energy that you could swipe a piece of wood through, and the wood would catch on fire just from sunlight,” he said.

solar concentrator

Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via solar concentrator

According to Crunkleton, international experiences are increasingly a requirement for engineering students, and TU has been proactive about implementing coursework abroad. Students, such as chemical engineering senior Matthew Baldwin, enjoyed France’s rich food, architecture and art while watching class applications come to life in the field.

“Alternative energy has always had a certain appeal as the way of the future as fossil fuels are depleted,” he said. “We’re trying to design a plant to produce solar energy, so the two facilities we visited were useful because they showed us what a realistic facility would look like.”

Crunkleton said development of the alternative energy engineering course continues. He plans to partner with TU’s departments of mechanical engineering and electrical engineering to offer the same international experience to all students in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.