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Engineering department receives grant to promote renewable energy

By Sally Jongsma

The Dordt College engineering department was awarded $7,000 from the Iowa Energy Center to promote renewable energy systems. The grant money is being used to develop small-scale demonstration units and host community workshops for anyone interested in exploring options for small-scale renewable energy use.

The Iowa Energy Center awarded the funding to Dordt’s engineering department so that it could serve the public by sponsoring research and educational programs that encourage the use of renewable energy resources in the state of Iowa.

A grant awarded to Dordt College by the Iowa Energy Center will be used to design and build a biomass greenhouse heating system. Senior engineering students (right) Steve Daining, from Pella, Iowa, and (center) Nathan Docktor from Freeman, South Dakota, developed the system under the supervision of Professor Ethan Brue (left).

A grant awarded to Dordt College by the Iowa Energy Center will be used to design and build a biomass greenhouse heating system. Senior engineering students (right) Steve Daining, from Pella, Iowa, and (center) Nathan Docktor from Freeman, South Dakota, developed the system under the supervision of Professor Ethan Brue (left).

“The focus of this project is on small-scale applications, not on large-scale power generation,” says Dr. Ethan Brue, engineering professor and project leader for the Dordt College grant. The target audience is small business owners, farmers, homeowners, and individuals interested in renewable energy applications.

“The history of technology shows that technological change almost never comes from the top down,” says Brue. He believes that innovative and lasting technological change will only take place when people from a variety of backgrounds share skills, experiences, needs, and ideas. Reflecting the mission of the Dordt College engineering department, Brue’s motivation for pursuing this project came from a desire to better steward energy resources by designing systems that responsibly use natural resources in our community and that reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy resources from abroad.

Dordt College currently has a functional photovoltaic energy system and a solar thermal system that convert sunlight to useful energy. These systems will be upgraded with funds from the grant and serve as examples that could be used in the community.

Two senior engineering majors, Steve Daining, from Pella, Iowa, and Nathan Docktor, from Freeman, South Dakota, designed and built a biomass greenhouse heating system. The system demonstrates how a biomass gasifier can be used for agricultural applications, including grain drying or space-heating. The first public presentation of this design was given as one of the annual Senior Design Project Presentations on April 20. Brue also hopes to draw farmers, business owners, engineers, technicians, and other individuals interested in renewable energy to both a summer demonstration and a renewable energy workshop in the fall. The demonstration units will continue to be an integral part of the engineering education at Dordt College in the years to come.

“Who knows what will come of it,” says Brue, adding, “You have to start somewhere.” His goal is simply to spark interest among the broader community to begin thinking about ways in which they can make better use of renewable energy resources.