Professor advances potential of solar, wind energy systems - The University of Tulsa
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Professor advances potential of solar, wind energy systems

The renewable energy sector is experiencing remarkable growth, with solar and wind power at the forefront. Helping to ensure these technologies can achieve their maximum potential is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Soroor Karimi.

An expert in fluid flow and erosion of materials in traditional energy production, Karimi applies her knowledge and experience to the design and development of more durable and reliable renewable energy systems. Two of her current projects in this area address solar and wind power.

Let the sunshine in

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office awarded a $375,000 grant to a concentrated solar power (CSP) systems project on which Karimi serves as the principal investigator with co-PI Nipun Goel of Western Washington University. Their work focuses on developing a new valve design to control the flow of particles through CSP plants’ power towers.

Well along on their quest, Karimi and her team, which includes mechanical engineering undergraduate and graduate students, have built and tested a room temperature-operated prototype of the valve. “Our prototype achieved impressive results and shows great promise for addressing the challenges associated with current state-of-the-art particle flow control technology,” said Karimi. The team soon expects to test a high-temperature-operated version of the prototype, for which a patent has been submitted. “We were all especially thrilled when Sheharyar Malik, a mechanical engineering master’s student working on this project, received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Mid-Continent Section’s 2024 Graduate Technical Innovation Award for his work on this project,” Karimi commented.

Blowing in the wind

In many parts of the country and offshore, vast wind farms comprising enormous white pillars and slowly rotating blades are becoming an increasingly common sight. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, wind power is one of the United States’ fastest-growing and lowest-cost energy sources.

Soroor Karimi

While they look – and are – immensely powerful, wind turbines are subject to several environmental hazards. “One of the most significant issues they face is surface erosion caused by rain, atmospheric moisture, and sea splash,” Karimi explained. “Long-term, such liquid bombardment damages turbines’ surfaces – especially the blades, which reduces their performance and life span.”

To conduct their research on surface erosion caused by water droplets, Karimi and her team have built an enclosed chamber at the Erosion/Corrosion Research Center (E/CRC), located at UTulsa’s North Campus. This chamber contains a motor with rotating airfoils on which they can install material samples. Water droplets are then generated and collide with the rotating samples, a process that simulates raindrops hitting wind turbine blades.

Two mechanical engineering Ph.D. students, Keldon Anderson and Noushin Azimy, joined Karimi in this work. Anderson has received several ASME awards for his contributions to this project and, this spring, won UTulsa’s Distinguished Graduate Research award.

“We are committed to pushing the boundaries of engineering and technology to address the pressing challenges of our time. Dr. Karimi’s innovative work in enhancing the durability and reliability of solar and wind energy systems exemplifies this commitment. Her research not only advances the field of renewable energy but also provides our students with invaluable hands-on experience, preparing them to become the next generation of leaders in sustainable engineering,” said Andreas A. Polycarpou, dean of UTulsa’s College of Engineering & Computer Science.