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Fall 2015

Discovering Emissions Aren’t Up To Snuff

Dan Carder and Arvind Thiruvengadam. Photo by Raymond Thompson


WVU Center for Alternative Fuels, Energy and Emissions:

  • 17 researchers and staff
  • 30+ grad students
  • $4 million in projects annually
  • Developed the world's first mobile on-board emission testing system
  • Measured heavy-duty vehicle emissions from more than 1,000 buses and trucks at more than 100 locations across North America
  • Built the largest national database of heavy-duty vehicle exhaust emissions and fuel efficiency data

By now you’ve probably heard about Volkswagen and West Virginia University. The headlines from Europe to Australia to India to the U.S. often compared Volkswagen’s dominance as the top producer of vehicles in the world by sales (as of this summer) with a small group of researchers at the WVU Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions. 

In 2013, the center took on a project that led to the discovery that Volkswagen altered emissions controls using software known as “defeat devices” in as many as 11 million of its diesel cars worldwide since at least 2008. 

The center received a contract from the International Council on Clean Transportation that was attempting to measure emissions and fuel economy for diesel-powered cars in the U.S. This would be a road test, a first for passenger diesels in the nation. The WVU researchers who drove three cars along the West Coast in city and highway drives saw much higher nitrogen oxide emissions than expected from two of the test cars, both Volkswagens: one car exceeded the U.S. standard by a factor of 15 to 35 and the other by a factor of 5 to 20.

“No one had done that before in the U.S. It sounded very interesting, to test light-duty diesel vehicles in real-world conditions. We looked around at each other [and] said, ‘Let’s do it.’” Arvind Thiruvengadam, research assistant professor, The New York Times

They presented their results at a conference. And regulators took note.

On Sept. 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its violation notice to the auto manufacturer. Then the passenger diesel industry landscape changed. Volkswagen’s CEO stepped down. Consumers knew that vehicle performance might be affected once their cars’ emissions controls were brought within Clean Air Act limits and launched class action lawsuits. The EPA told manufacturers to expect a road test on every type of passenger car in the U.S. 

Countries all over the world started examining emissions from diesel cars sold within their borders. And all of this got people thinking more about software. The New York Times ran a story the following weekend, “Complex Car Software Becomes the Weak Spot Under the Hood,” examining how much of our cars are controlled by software and how that can be manipulated.

This all had the world coming back to ask the question of who was this unknown-to-the-public group that drove three cars around California on a road test? Now you know.


EVERYONE KNOWS IT’S WINDY

When Eric Loth, BS ’83, Aerospace Engineering, saw palm trees, he saw a way to improve wind power. And Popular Science took note. The engineering professor at the University of Virginia was named to the magazine’s list of 12 “brilliant minds behind the new energy revolution.” As traditional turbines grow in size to generate the most power, they can cost more than the energy they generate. Loth designed the morphing downwind-aligned rotor to have lightweight, hinged blades that rotate to capture energy efficiently and morph to withstand damaging wind, much like palm fronds do. Learn more at: go.wvu.edu/EricLoth.

Wind turbines

It's all in the hinge. Because the blades of the morphing downwind-aligned rotor are hinged, they can be lighter and longer, which results in more electricity produced. Also, by morphing downwind, the blades can capture wind more efficiently. This design, similar to how palm fronds behave in the wind, will also help preserve the turbines from hurricane-force winds. The largest current turbines produce between five and seven megawatts. Loth thinks morphing turbines with blades of up to 780 feed could produce 10 to 50 megawatts.

Source: Popular Science, University of Virginia

A BETTER ROAD TRIP

While Google’s self-driving prototype car hit the road this summer, Yasser Fallah was already working on making this kind of car safer and more efficient. Fallah, an assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering, is working to allow self-driving cars to share information over a wireless network. For the next five years, Fallah will examine the interaction of computational, networking and physical processes of the system through an award from the National Science Foundation. “The exchange of information would allow each vehicle to be aware of its surroundings up to a few hundred meters away, well beyond what each vehicle — or its driver — could sense,” Fallah said.

POWERED ON SUNSHINE

We know the sun can create electricity through a solar panel, but what about converting solar energy into fuel? Now we know it can be done. A WVU research team has made the groundbreaking discovery, recently published in Nature Photonics, of an engineered structure that can quickly remove and store energy collected through metal nanoparticles of silver, gold, copper or aluminum. The team includes professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Nianqiang Wu, assistant professor of physics Alan Bristow, postdoctoral fellow Jiangtian Li and graduate students Scott Cushing, Fanke Meng and Tess Senty.

LAUNCHED IN A LAB

Jordon Masters, BS ’15, Horticulture, had the idea to start a business to sell specialty crops such as microgreens like arugula and Swiss chard while working at a fine dining restaurant. His company, Allegheny Genesis LLC, is doing just that through a public/private partnership with the University. He got his start with a win and $10,000 from the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, hosted by the College of Business and Economics. From there, the WVU LaunchLab has supported him as he’s (so far) developed patent-pending growing technology and sold his product to West Virginia’s Greenbrier resort. Masters is one of several recent success stories from the LaunchLab. Discover the LaunchLab online: go.wvu.edu/LaunchLab

Eye on the Wells

Everybody's talking about shale gas. But WVU's doing more than talking. The University started drilling wells this summer as part of the nation's first integrated research initiative on shale gas drilling, in partnership with Northeast Natural Energy, the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy and The Ohio State University. This five-year, $11 million project is the first-ever long-term, comprehensive field study of shale gas resources in which scientists will study the process from beginning to end. The Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory is located in the Morgantown Industrial Park and will monitor production processes, develop and assess technology and monitor public health. Learn more at: go.wvu.edu/MSEEL.

Innovation at Work Archive

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Fall 2015

This year international headlines proclaimed the news that a WVU report led to the discovery that Volkswagen had installed defeat devices in potentially millions of diesel vehicles. Catch that developing story and more here.

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Fall 2016

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Spring 2015

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Summer 2016

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Summer 2017

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