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Trucks, port and water sanitation

Engineering a Greener World

Most modern problems shared by our global societies must be solved by a consortium of our communities, and solutions to critical environmental issues are no different. One of the most pressing needs is reducing the pollutants released into our air, soil and water, so CSULB’s College of Engineering (COE) is taking a leadership role in developing environmentally responsible technologies.

The impact of ships and vehicles on air quality is particularly significant in port cities like Long Beach and Los Angeles as well as coastlines adjacent to shipping corridors, and has been linked to a variety of health issues.

According to the California Air Resources Board (ARB), in 2010, heavy-duty diesel trucks are estimated to account for up to 28 percent or 559 tons per day of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and up to 12 percent of particulate matter emissions statewide. In response, ARB has proposed regulations limiting emissions that would have a direct impact on the nearly 6,000 existing trucks serving the mega-ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Through funding provided by METRANS, a center jointly operated by CSULB and USC which funds research on transportation issues within large metropolitan areas, Professor Hamid Rahai of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) is researching the development of components of a high-efficiency selective catalytic reduction filter.

Additionally, with funding from METRANS, Rahai is working with Bei Lu in the college’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research and Services (CEERS) to develop a new remote sensing system to verify emissions reduction compliance of Los Angeles/Long Beach port truckers.

Of course, some research is looking into alternative means of moving goods from the ports to inner transportation zones. Ken James’ work as technical coordinator with the Center for the Commercial Deployment of Transportation Technologies (CCDoTT) is on the cutting edge. Among issues on CCDoTT’s “to-do” list is developing an Agile Port Concept, which involves moving freight containers from the port to inland ports or intermodal container transfer facilities, where containers can be redirected to local shippers or organized into transcontinental trains.

James, a professor of electrical engineering and chair of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, has created an innovative solution—the Electric Cargo Conveyor, or ECCO system, which applies magnetic levitation technology developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, then licensed and prototyped by General Atomics of San Diego, Calif.

Utilizing magnetic fields, the technology allows containers to “float” along a guideway without moving parts and to travel at increased speeds. Advantages include accommodation of port container growth with on-dock service, reduced stress on the existing highway system and negligible noise and air pollution. The Office of Naval Research granted CCDoTT and James $376,154 to define and implement a plan for the ECCO system.

In 2006, CSULB, in conjunction with General Atomics, demonstrated the reality of the ECCO system through a full-scale, 20-foot-container-carrying prototype on a maglev test track. According to projections based on moving 200,000 containers per year on a 20-mile round trip, ECCO will reduce diesel particulate emissions (DPE) to zero tons per year and NOx to 2.8 tons per year. A typical truck fleet emits nearly seven tons of DPE and more than 124 tons of NOx.

The project has caught the attention of government officials, prompting U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) to sponsor an amendment to H.R. 2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 that “authorizes funds to the Secretary of Transportation to design and develop a pilot program to test ECCO as an alternate cargo container transportation method to and from America’s ports.”

Ocean-going vessels transport nearly 80 percent by weight of all goods shipped in and out of the United States, contributing substantially to emissions. ARB awarded CEERS a one-year, $98,837 grant to investigate technologies that have the potential for reducing emissions from ocean shipping, currently the dominant mode of transportation for international cargo. Hamid Hefazi, MAE professor and department chair, and Rahai head the study, which will rely on faculty members and students across all COE disciplines.

With $1.26 million in funding from the Port of Los Angeles, Rahai and Hefazi also will develop a pollution control system that combines innovative technologies for significant reductions in emissions from heavy fuel oil of OGVs. The system will be installed and tested on a SeaRiver Maritime Inc.

vessel that operates between Long Beach and Alaska. This two-year project is a collaborative effort between CSULB and industry partners Seaworthy Inc. and SeaRiver Maritime Inc., and is a technology spin-off initiated at CCDoTT.

While improving pollution control of current oil and gas usage is important, research into alternative fuels is key to a “greener” future. Cal Macy, a 1976 CSULB industrial education alumnus, is the grants and project director at Long Beach City College’s Advanced Transportation Technology Center, which conducts training and research on alternative fuel vehicles including fleet trucks and buses. He also serves on several industry boards and is helping develop national training and certification standards for compressed natural gas-fueled vehicles.

“We’re way too dependent on foreign oil,” Macy commented. “We need to eliminate and reduce, at least, our use of fossil fuels as much as possible, and I’ve been touting that for about the last 30 years. We need to be thinking about fuel cells and other alternatives like compressed natural gas, which is what I teach a lot of, to be a better partner in the environmental world. Hydrogen, as far as I’m concerned, can also be made to be a very safe fuel.”

The Chemical Engineering Department is working with the Long Beach office of the international firm Intelligent Energy (IE) on a number of “green” energy technologies. According to IE Vice President Hazen Burford, CSULB consistently provides “support through work programs and exceptionally gifted and well educated graduates.” Department lecturer Greg Smith also consults with IE on their hydrogen generation pilot plant testing.

In 2007, IE was awarded $2.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy over a three-year period as part of a $4.3 million project to demonstrate a high-efficiency fuel cell-based combined heat and power system that could provide the foundation for commercial, mass-produced units. Additionally, supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, IE secured an additional $2 million to advance green energy solutions.

The firm pioneered the evolution of two fuel desulfurization technologies, one of which is led by CSULB alumna Diane Aagesen, assisted by another alumnus, electrical engineer Dale White. Two CSULB interns, Eric Hernandez and Sterling Harris, participate in both programs.

Industry and wastewater plants provide plenty of opportunity for additional research projects. Three years ago, the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) contracted with Earth Tech Inc. to explore ways of improving mixing systems. Earth Tech then invited the Chemical Engineering Department to participate in this project.

The team, including Professors Larry Jang and Shirley Tsai and students Pea Chee Hong and John Lalich, examined the properties of the sludge taken in different stages of the treatment process, which helped OCSD devise a more efficient mixing system in its sewage treatment process.

Jang, assisted by graduate student An-Shun Lee, also developed a new method of analyzing and controlling emissions from chemical plant flues, particularly “sour gas” gas streams such as those containing hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide. Results from this project may lead to more understanding of how to tackle rising carbon dioxide (also a sour gas) in the atmosphere. Local industry leaders such as BP, BASF, ConocoPhillip, and Meissner Engineering contributed $10,000 toward equipment and software.

Moreover, Chemical Engineering offers a bachelor of science in engineering technology with an environmental technology option for students who are interested in working in California’s environmental industry. Alternately, undergraduates who are interested in applying engineering approaches to environmental issues can earn an interdisciplinary minor in environmental engineering.

The college is reaching out to younger generations as well. The CEERS High School Summer Research Fellowship Program, which exposes area school students to engineering research and education, received support in 2007 from ASHRAE Southern California Chapter, Long Beach Transit, Long Beach Airport and P2S Engineering.

“The resolution to all of our problems is going to be coming from our youth,” Macy concluded. “We need some fresh ideas, we need some people to study the current processes that are being used and work to develop a new process. That’s going to take some pretty ingenious people, some people dedicated to the thought, and people with a good educational background.”