UTech Researcher Exploring Options for Alternative Energy Sources

With the rise in oil prices on the world market, and the rapid decline in fossil fuels, the issue of alternative energy sources is one that is earnestly being explored not just internationally, but locally as well.
As part of efforts to find solutions, Principal Researcher at the School of Engineering at the University of Technology (UTech), Dr. Audley Darmand, completed a six-month, post-doctoral fellowship in Japan focused on electrical power systems, and renewable energy resources. The fellowship was awarded by the Matsumae International Foundation.
Dr. Darmand is hoping to use what he learnt in Japan to benefit Jamaica. Currently, there are two projects that the university is focusing on local sources of renewable or alternate energy.
“UTECH is very, very serious about research, (especially) renewable energy research. We’re looking at the possibility of cooling some of the houses in Portmore with some novel research. We’re looking at the possibility of propagating solar panels across the length and breadth of Jamaica,” informs Dr. Darmand.
As it relates to alternate energy, he says the university is currently doing some major research work at Worthy Park, in St. Catherine. “We are looking at a byproduct of sugar production, which is biogas, and that is biomass, which is energy. But we’re also looking at using the baggas as biomass, to use the Worthy Park 1.3 megawatt to provide energy,” says Dr. Darmand.
He also disclosed that UTech is currently looking at converting waste at the Riverton dump into energy. “We are at the advanced technical stages of discussion, with the people that manage that technology to provide us with the systems to convert waste to energy,” he tells JIS News.
Dr. Darmond adds that “we have to make sure that what is available naturally and in abundance can be converted into energy the best way we can.”
Solar energy is a major source of renewable energy, and can be used to power a variety of things. Last year, some students at UTech embarked on a project, which was intended to redesign a golf cart to enable it to be operated by solar panels. The project, called SOLCAR, was so successful that the university is currently in discussions to use the technology to power an even larger vehicle.
“There is a solar cart at UTech, and we plan to make that solar cart, expand it in size and capacity to become a solar bus, because there is an expansion plan for the school. So we plan to have a parking lot towards the rear of the facility, and then we shuttle students on the campus. We are currently in discussion with Tankweld to build the frame of the bus, and we are going to be constructing the solar panels to get this bus operational,” he informs.
According to Dr. Darmand, the idea of a solar bus came about because it was felt that shuttle buses used within short spaces should not be using fossil fuels. He says that if the university is successful in this pursuit, the technology could be shared across campuses regionally.
“They do not need to be running fast, they do not need to be going for long distances, and their distances are defined. So therefore, these can be renewable energy systems,” he added.
Dr. Darmand also says he believes that Jamaica needs to manage its energy resources more efficiently. “We have to understand that the internal combustion engine in its current form does two things, it spews hydrocarbons in the air, and it is not the most efficient machine currently. The Ministry of Industry, Technology, Energy, and Commerce has made a very significant step, to incorporate ethanol,” he says.
He adds that, “Engines can run on 85 per cent ethanol without too much modification. We have to go the route of stepping away from fossil fuels. So the less fossil fuels we use, the cleaner our environment, and the less it costs us to operate.”
Dr. Darmand says that careful management of the country’s energy resources can be of positive economic benefit to the country.
“Energy management is equivalent to wealth creation in Jamaica. Because if we can reduce our energy costs, I believe that we will have access to a larger pool of funds that can be properly managed and expended in the inner city areas of Jamaica. Hence we make a better standard of living for those that are disenfranchised, for whatever reason,” asserts Dr. Darmand.
He expresses the view that it is important for the Government to take the lead in seeking alternate energy sources.
“There was a time when conservation was done deliberately. You would actually turn off energy, and I think it is still being done in some areas of the world today. Within these hours you would have no energy, but in today’s society it is difficult to do that. So it has to be a part of the holistic government policy,” he says.
Dr. Darmand also hopes to develop, in conjunction with the HEART Trust/National Training Agency (NTA), a programme for the training of technicians in the installation and maintenance of solar energy systems.He explains that the programme would take youngsters off the street, train them and provide them with a means of living.
“You start out by just teaching them literacy and numeracy, then you allow them an opportunity to matriculate into the HEART Trust/ NTA programme. Once they are in the programme they are taught electrical engineering. So they have an opportunity to be exposed to aspects of electrical engineering, along with numeracy and literacy,” he says.
Whilst they are in this HEART programme, he elaborates, “they will learn what is called electrical licence, so at the end of the programme they just don’t just get a certification or a high schools diploma. They end up with an electrical licence as they will be taught the rudiments of the electrical systems and along with their O’Levels will be able to matriculate to the University of Technology”.
He points out that if the participants matriculate into the degree programme at UTech, they would be mandated to do a degree with a language.
“You must have your engineering degree with a language and I also want to specifically point out that you are getting this engineering degree, but you are also looking at an engineering degree with a focus on renewable energies,” Dr. Darmand states.
The electrical engineer told JIS news that he wants to create this training programme to establish a, “plethora of renewable energy technicians to manage Jamaica’s renewable energy system that is coming on stream within the next 10 to 15 years”.
Dr. Darmand has a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Electrical Engineering from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He is a principal researcher and supervises a number of projects carried out by the Microelectronics and Energy Management Research Group at UTECH, which are aimed at improving electrical power systems.

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