Senior engineering students modify capstones into virtual experience

HAZLETON, Pa. – After months of hard work and preparation, nearly a dozen Penn State Hazleton seniors are now one step closer to graduating after presenting their Capstone Research and Design Thesis projects.

The projects were presented virtually by two groups of senior engineering majors in the alternative energy and power generation track, a four-year degree offered nowhere else in the Penn State system.

William Yourey, assistant professor of engineering and research adviser on both projects, said students overcame several challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the closure of businesses that were vital to the teams’ research.

“I think the fact that both groups were able to deliver clear, concise, problem-free presentations shows that they put in a lot of hard work and practiced presenting numerous times,” Yourey said.

The projects, which began with research and planning in the fall semester, culminated in the presentation of practical design work that meets the needs of a real-world sponsor.

The first group, with Kevin Quinonez, Alex Orrson, Bryan Kowalick, Melanie Mejia, Daniel Galffy and Emery Zaleski, was sponsored by Karl Zimmerman and Energy IQ.

The team presented research on how to design and implement a solar energy microgrid system that could provide inexpensive and reliable power to an island resort.

After creating a final design, the team pulled a year’s worth of hourly solar data based on the island’s geographic coordinates and used it to simulate the amount of solar power that would be available in that region on a good, average, and bad weather day.

That information was then used to form a sequence of operations, essentially a set of rules the microgrid will follow, the team explained. A script was then created to apply a simulation over the course of a year.

Ultimately, the team determined, the solar microgrid system potentially would result in a lifetime savings of at least $3 million for the resort. The students also developed recommendations for future expansion of the microgrid.

The goal of the second group, with Cody George, Greg Lyons, Panayoti “Yoti” Saras, Lilly Singh and Isaac Whitenight, was to optimize equipment at a wastewater treatment facility at the Humboldt Industrial Park in Hazle Township. Humboldt is the largest of three industrial parks built by Greater Hazleton CAN DO, which sponsored the project.

The team set out to provide CAN DO resources to implement and install an improved design of anoxic mixers inside the facility’s water treatment tanks. These devices are essential in removing nitrogen from the wastewater, ensuring it is purified into clean water for the Chesapeake Watershed, which is home to more than 18 million people, the team explained.

Based on their research and client needs, the group developed specifications for new mixing devices, including size, location, and mounting instructions. The design reduced the risk of failure by having the motor outside the water and limiting the buildup of solids on the propeller blades in the water.

In addition, the team created plans for a maintenance walkway that would give workers a safe way to access the mixers for quick checkups that don’t require the tanks to be drained, which can take to a week, according to the students’ presentation.

A cost analysis performed by the team determined that over a 10-year lifespan, the new anoxic mixer design potentially would save more than $50,000.

Both projects also won first-place awards in Penn State Hazleton’s virtual Undergraduate Research Fair.