The Cal Poly Pomona Philanthropic Foundation will use a recently awarded $40,000 grant to support student research.
The foundation was one of 10 nonprofit organizations awarded funding as part of the 2021 SoCalGas Climate Champions Initiative.
The initiative is an invitation grant program that funds projects that address community climate solutions in Southern California. A total of $400,000 was awarded, with each organization receiving $40,000.
CPP’s Philanthropic Foundation will be using the grant money to fund a student research project titled “Low-Cost Energy Storage Using Repurposed Desalination Salt,” led by its principal investigator, Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Reza Baghaei Lakeh.
“I found out we won the grant in December 2021,” said Baghaei Lakeh. “I was super excited at that moment. I knew this project was going to be a lot of work, but I was looking forward to what we were about to achieve and felt happy knowing that the grant funded all the resources we needed.”
The team, which includes 20 undergraduate and five graduate CPP students, is working on researching and developing a low-cost energy storage system using repurposed waste produced during desalination. They will design, fabricate, and conduct a field test during a demonstration of the proposed thermal storage system for Water FX, a solar desalination facility in Panoche, California.
During the desalination process, minerals such as salt are removed from a target substance like wastewater. The goal of this is to repurpose the salt collected during desalination and utilize it to store low-cost energy.
The project’s purpose is to address the urgent environmental and economic challenges the desalination industry is facing regarding disposal, Baghaei Lakeh said. Simultaneously, there is also a growing need for low-cost energy storage to pair with an increase in intermittent renewable energy generated through solar and wind.
The grant will help him and his students spread awareness about the importance of low-cost and durable energy storage systems for a future power grid that relies 100 percent on renewable energy. It will also help bring the team’s patent-pending technology outside of the labs at CPP and into the marketplace, Lakeh said.
Rozina Nalbandian, a mechanical graduate student and the project’s lab demonstration committee leader, said participation in the project has expanded her knowledge related to technology and business.
“I learned a considerable amount of thermal design concepts while working on this project,” she said. “I also learned how to use the software ANSYS Fluent, which utilizes computational fluid dynamics, to simulate charge and discharge cycles. Additionally, I was fortunate enough to participate in I-Corps with my team where we gained knowledge on the business aspects of a startup.”
The grant applicants were judged on six criteria: community impact, environmental impact, depth and scale, innovation, safety and reliability, and communities and collaboration.
Strong proposals have broad community impacts across a large population, clearly outline the potential for making positive environmental impacts, and illustrate how a solution can be expanded to deepen its impact, according to those spearheading the initiative.
In addition, successful proposals incorporate novel approaches into climate solutions, offer sustainable and adaptable strategies that are useful for a community over time, especially during extreme weather. Also, solutions must consider the diverse needs of the communities they serve.
Baghaei Lakeh is currently recruiting more undergraduate and graduate students to work on this project. Any CPP students interested in participating may reach out to him via email at email@example.com and include a resumé.
One benefit of participating is that this project can be used as a senior project or as a graduate project/thesis. Participants will also gain plenty of conference paper and poster writing experience.
“It is a great team to be part of, and if you enjoy solving real life puzzles with innovative ideas, then you should definitely look into joining,” said project participant and mechanical engineering graduate student, Tihamer Engel.