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Taber Scholars find flexibility in designing their Energy Systems programs

6/24/2016

Susan Mumm, Editor

Taber Scholars find flexibility in designing their Energy Systems programs

College of Engineering at Illinois Energy Systems students selected for the first Taber International Scholarships are focusing on a diverse set of energy studies.

One is comparing benefits of electrically-powered vehicles to those running on biofuel. Another wants to determine how solar and wind systems can power rural communities while reducing carbon emissions. A third is excited to explore all technologies in producing clean energy.

Anthony Ekeopara of Nigeria and John Flanagan of Wheeling, Illinois, were chosen this spring as the 2015-16 Taber Scholars. Kevin Kubis of Chicago, Illinois, was more recently chosen as the 2016-17 scholar.

Anthony Ekeopara

Ekeopara came to Illinois in August 2015 having earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering two years earlier from Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State. He worked for the Transmission Company of Nigeria for a year as a field engineer on high voltage electric transmission and equipment maintenance. Wanting to acquire theoretical and practical experience about renewable energy production, integration, and transmission, he searched the web to locate a master’s degree program.

Considering those at Purdue and Illinois, he picked the latter because of its flexibility. “(Energy Systems) allowed me to choose my program based on my interest,” Ekeopara explained.

Students of Energy Systems, administered within the College by the Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering Department, must complete a project or internship in addition to coursework.

Ekeopara is conducting a life-cycle analysis comparison of vehicles that run on biofuels to plug-in battery-powered vehicles running on electricity from a variety of sources, including off-peak nuclear power, solar, wind, natural gas, and coal. “Most families charge their cars at night, and nuclear power plants have a constant power supply. I’m trying to see if that tradeoff is more environmentally and economically beneficial than biofuels.”

Nuclear waste storage will be one of the issues Ekeopara will consider in examining the comparison.

With plans to graduate in December, Ekeopara hopes to gain practical experience in the field, and contribute to innovation in renewable energy production, grid integration and grid reliability. Long range, he would like to return to his homeland equipped with knowledge that will benefit his country. “In Nigeria, there is not sufficient innovation; there is a 7.5 percent loss in electricity in transmission,” he said. “My gaining some practical knowledge and experience might help with that.”

John Flanagan

A work trip to Africa also inspired Flanagan to pursue the degree in Energy Systems. He had earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and French in 2008 from Loyola University, and then went to work for Pearson Education.

“I worked in their North American Higher Education Mathematics Software Development Division. I developed assessment software for higher education math classrooms,” he said. “While there (in March 2015), I was in an impoverished area south of Cape Town. I noticed that the people had limited access to electricity. It got me to think about energy and its relation to the quality of life. I had been studying renewables independently for about a year, and it felt like this was a good thing for me to be pursuing.”

Flanagan spent the summer working for Saha Global and installing solar charging stations in rural areas in Ghana. Native female entrepreneurs own the stations. “This empowers women to be in business and provides access to electricity,” Flanagan said.

“During my summer in Ghana I witnessed how a successful non-profit brings solar energy solutions to areas where energy poverty is high,” he said. “I learned the dynamics and scope of non-profit work including how an enterprise identifies and embeds itself inside a region and how to thoughtfully and collaboratively provide a solution with the buy-in from the people you are helping in a culturally sensitive way.

“This (Fall 2016) semester I'm taking a design class called Sustainable Products for Subsistence, where I will work on a product design and develop a business model to serve people living in subsistence. The course brings together businesses and students to develop products and services for subsistence. I hope to learn the methods of how a for-profit business model can provide solutions and enhance quality of life and contrast its efficacy and outcomes with non-profit work."

Although he hasn’t yet pinpointed a project for the Energy Systems degree, Flanagan finds himself drawn to studying how electrification can impact communities’ economic status. “I’m hoping to primarily work on this in the long term, but it might be a side project as I network and figure out my own business or someone else’s business.”

In addition to courses for the degree, Flanagan is taking an entrepreneurship class with the Technology Entrepreneur Center at Illinois to learn how to develop business models.

Kevin Kubis

This past academic year while a senior in Mechanical Sciences and Engineering at Illinois, Kubis worked on a design project involving lighting from solar panels. “I found myself fascinated by renewable sources of energy,” he said. “I also found myself disheartened by the bleak future for global warming, in large part due to dirty energy production methods.

“I made it a goal to pursue a career in clean energy that would help alleviate this problem. After doing research of different programs, I realized the M.Eng. in Energy Systems is an absolute perfect fit because of the flexibility in specialization areas and the exciting courses they offer!” Kubis said.

He plans to earn his bachelor’s this summer and start in the Energy Systems program in the fall. Kubis hasn’t pinpointed his project work yet, but will focus on renewable energy production. “I am anxious to start exploring possibilities and getting to work,” he said

About the Taber International Scholarships

NPRE alumnus Brad Radl, the President and Chief Technology Officer of Taber International in Chardon, Ohio, established the scholarship program as a means to support the Master of Engineering program in Energy Systems. Taber International is an engineering services firm providing solutions to fossil-fired power plants, focusing on heat rate gains and nitrogen oxide emissions reductions through applications of intelligent sootblowing, combustion optimization, and hydrogen pressure optimization on generators.