Energy-Saving Innovation Lands Students Internships With U.S. Department of Energy

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University engineering students Jared Williams and Spencer Marinac were recently awarded highly competitive paid summer internships at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) after their thermal energy storage project — aimed at reducing energy consumption in the residential sector — won the top prize at the 2024 JUMP Into STEM Challenge.

“They were awesome, nailed all the questions and knew their project inside and out,” said Dr. Sandra Boetcher, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Thermal Science Laboratory at Embry Riddle’s Research Park, of the students. “This competition exposed them to other professionals in the field, and they presented their ideas while gaining confidence.”

Williams and Marinac presented their project last month at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee. Presentation winners received 10-week internships at one of three sites — Oak Ridge; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in Colorado; or Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), in Washington.

“Being awarded this internship is huge,” said Williams, a senior Mechanical Engineering student from Jacksonville, Florida, who is enrolled in the accelerated master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. “Plus, we got to tour the national lab and network with other students and professionals.”

Williams is headed to ORNL for his internship this summer, while Marinac will be interning at NREL.

“Working on this project allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in class,” said Marinac, a senior Mechanical Engineering student from Avon, Ohio, who plays on Embry-Riddle’s baseball team and plans to pursue his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

Casey Troxler, a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering who mentored the team, has interned at the NREL for two summers and said the experience exposed him to a variety of research topics and scientists from a diversity of backgrounds.

“It’s game-changing,” Troxler said.

The JUMP Into STEM Challenge is an annual student competition aimed at developing ideas to optimize energy use and reduce carbon emissions.

Casey Troxler, John Bai, Martin Rosales, Spencer Marinac, Jared Williams, faculty advisor Dr. Rafael Rodriguez and Gianluca Borgese
The Embry-Riddle team’s modular thermal energy storage system placed first in its category in the 2024 JUMP Into STEM Challenge. Students who worked on the project are pictured in the university’s Thermal Science Laboratory (from left to right): Casey Troxler, John Bai, Martin Rosales, Spencer Marinac, Jared Williams, faculty advisor Dr. Rafael Rodriguez and Gianluca Borgese. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/David Massey)

Save Energy, Save Money

The winning JUMP Into STEM project originally grew out of a senior design project, according to Dr. Rafael Rodriguez, associate professor and associate chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Williams and Marinac — along with fellow seniors Gianluca Borgese, Martin Rosales and John Bai — teamed up to design a modular thermal energy storage system that could be easily installed on homes to reduce energy consumption, lower electricity costs and store thermal energy in the event of an outage.

“Thermal energy storage is very big at a commercial level,” said Rodriguez, who mentors the team along with Boetcher. “But there is little being done at a residential level for thermal energy storage.”

The Embry-Riddle team’s modular thermal energy storage system could be easily installed to work in tandem with a home’s existing heating and cooling, he added, to reduce homeowners’ energy consumption at peak hours, thus decreasing their electricity bills. Additionally, the system could store backup energy to cool a home for a certain amount of time during a power outage.

“It would be a cost-saver for consumers and reduce energy consumption for communities,” said Rodriguez.

Next, the team will build/test a prototype of the winning design, backed by funding from Embry-Riddle’s College of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, and an Ignite grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Rosales — a College Park, Maryland, native who is interning at NASA Kennedy Space Center with Deep Space Logistics — said the project was a valuable way to apply classroom knowledge.

“This project allowed us to apply the knowledge we learned with real-world engineering experience,” said Rosales.

Borgese, who is from Miami, agreed, saying it’s been an interesting process to work on the project with the team. He has a summer internship lined up with NAC International in Atlanta and wants to work in nuclear engineering after graduation.

For John Bai, a Southborough, Massachusetts, native interning at Mitsubishi Power Americas in Orlando, the project tapped into his interest in renewable energy. 

“I want to work in power generation and clean energy,” he said.

Boetcher, who has been working with Rodriguez in the area of thermal energy storage for the past few years, said it’s rewarding to see Embry-Riddle students being recognized for their accomplishments in thermal energy research. A growing number of Eagle graduate students working in the Thermal Science Laboratoryhave earned multiple National Laboratory internships and have been selected by the DOE to participate in future programs.

“This latest win is a giant validation for Embry-Riddle and the Thermal Science Laboratory as a major player in the buildings technology thermal energy storage world,” said Boetcher.

Posted In: Applied Science | Engineering