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JRI Research Group Doubles the Efficiency of an Energy Generating Technology

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JRI Research Group Doubles the Efficiency of an Energy Generating Technology

 

In 1973 Professor Sidney Loeb of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel developed a process known as pressure retarded osmosis. This process is similar to a process that goes on in biological cells. Whenever a selectively permeable membrane (a membrane that lets different things move through at different rates) separates two water bodies of differing salinity, water that moves through the membrane at least temporarily generates pressure on one side of the membrane relative to the other. Professor Loeb realized that the pressure generated on one side of the membrane could be used to drive turbines, thereby generating electricity. Since that time, many research groups have experimented with the idea, utilizing ever-improving membranes that enable ever-greater water flow rates between water bodies and ever-decreasing salt permeability. One company, Statkraft of Norway, produced power for the local power grid using the method in an effort that ultimately ended in 2012.

 

At the Jisan Research Institute, a research team led by Dr. Sanza Kazadi and by student leader Ms. Katie Park of Crescenta Valley High School (now a Presidential Scholar at USC) took up the research area. Unlike the open systems that are generally under development, which require constant input of both high and low saline water, the systems that the JRI research group were investigating were closed. As a result, they required neither water nor salt, but instead took in heat and produced electricity. The goal of the project was the utilization of so-called low-quality heat or very low temperature heat when compared to environmental heat. This heat is not generally usable as an energy-generating source of heat even though it's readily available throughout the built world. Kazadi reasoned that if a closed pressure retarded osmosis (CPRO) system could be used with this heat, it could improve the availability of energy. Since CPRO systems already existed, however, the question became what could the group do to improve the performance of the process above already achieved performance? That performance benchmark lay at approximately 40% of energy recovery when compared to the energy of mixing. Field use for actual power generation put the efficiency at closer to 33%, though exact numbers have not been made available by utility companies.

 

Ms. Park worked with other students including Ms. Janice Jeon of Tesoro High School (now at Caltech), Ms. Audrey Lew of Arcadia High School (now at Syracuse University), and Mr. Stanley Song of Walnut High School (now at NYU). Dr. Kazadi developed a concept of a new CPRO system that eliminated much of the device's hardware, making it simpler and more efficient. Under his guidance, these students constructed the new design, a process that involved machining the specialized parts by hand, correcting design flaws and manufacturing imperfections, repairing damage resulting from accidents or mistakes, and eventually putting a complex device together. The work started in April of 2013 and concluded in March of 2014. Testing of the device commenced in April of 2014, when the group was joined by JiHyuk Jung of the Pasadena City College, Brandon Kim of Torrance North High School, and Brandon Luo of Arcadia High School (now a Regent's Scholar at UC Berkeley). Testing the device took an additional month and demonstrated that the new device, which is significantly cheaper and simpler to build and maintain, yielded between 50.4% and 67.0% of the energy of mixing, virtually doubling the yield of the utility versions.

 

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(From Left) Brandon Kim, JiHyuk Jung, and Dr. Sanza Kazadi all attended the NACSEE 2014 conference in Providence Rhode Island.

 

 

The research was presented this summer at the NACSEE 2014 conference, held in Providence Rhode Island between the 11th of September ad the 14th of September, 2014. Mr. Kim and Mr. Jung attended the conference with Dr. Kazadi. This was their first experience in attending a conference, and their work was showcased in a twenty minute research presentation. While the design improvement was significant enough, the experience gave Mr. Kim and Mr. Jung an appreciation of what young people can achieve and a new understanding of the scientific process and community. They both expect to continue producing technology that improves the state of the art.

 

A patent has been submitted covering the underlying technology.  The research paper is available here. For more information on the technology, please contact Dr. Sanza Kazadi at (626) 458-0000 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

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