Friday, 17 April 2015

Yunpeng takes on the Engineering Challenge Week and Engineers: You are Hired!

Hi everyone this is Yunpeng, an international office ambassador for China. Find our more about me from my profile.


At the University of Sheffield, besides attending lectures and passing exams, all engineering students must attend two week-long programmes as part of their course: the Global Engineering Challenge Week and the Engineers: You Are Hired week -  before their Year 1 and Year 2 Spring Semester starts.


During these weeks, students in the Faculty of Engineering  work in a multidisciplinary team of 5-7, tasked with real engineering problems, and have to work out a reasonable solution within a limited time.


The topics of these challenges are more or less linked to sustainability, which has been highlighted in all aspects of our lives in the 21st century. Last year our projects were to design a sustainable house for a Vietnam family in terms of low environmental impacts, very limited natural resources, thermal comforts, and energy reuse and recycling. We attempted to break down our tasks into several components, initiated concepts, and then students used their own professional backgrounds to deal with specific areas of the design.


As a Civil Engineering student I designed an efficient structure that made passive cooling possible. The roof surfaces were covered with grasses and local plants which enhanced the urban biodiversity. On the other hand the green roof retained rainfall that could absorb a large amount of heat when evaporating. Combined with local weather conditions where Vietnam has long damp and hot seasons, the floor levels were heightened to enable wind and water could to pass underneath the floor, whilst absorbing heat, which also reduced the impact of terrestrial heat (another major heat source). The cool air is drawn in from the north side of the house where windows and door opened on this side.





Our second year project is scavenging energy from sewage, which aims to develop technology to harness energy from the sewers. A biogas generator is proposed which utilises the gas produces by combustion to feed into a gas turbine which in turn produces electricity and heat.

We have to consider the commercial purpose of this project too! This proposal benefits different stakeholders in multiple ways. For wastewater treatment companies, this can provide electricity to the sewage plant, reducing costs for the wastewater treatment. Excess electricity generated can be sold to power companies and being put into the national grid. For customers, the plant can potentially provide some district heating to benefit local schools, houses and industries. For local farmers, use of the leftover sludge as fertiliser will benefit them since it is rich in nutrients.


To make this a better option, it needs to be cleaner, more cost-efficient and effective than the competing technologies. As electricity is produced on-site for the sewage plant through burning the biogas, competing technologies will include biogas generators with the gas simply being sold on, natural gas providers, and conventional fossil fuel electricity providers. Heat is generated as well to provide district heating. Thus, there will be competition with the Sheffield incinerators that are already providing a large amount of district heating.


For most attendants these two weeks are tiring but unforgettable! Everyone has to work in the hub from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. However, it’s invaluable because from these experiences we learn how to work with others in a multi-disciplinary team.


By Yunpeng Zhu
International Office Ambassador for China


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