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ASU mechanical engineering doctoral student Andrey Gunawan stands inside the aircraft hangar of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California, where he and lab partner Nicholas Fette were awarded the best student research paper award at the recent American Society of Mechanical Engineers national conference.

ASU mechanical engineering doctoral student Andrey Gunawan stands inside the aircraft hangar of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California, where he and lab partner Nicholas Fette were awarded the best student research paper award at the recent American Society of Mechanical Engineers national conference.

The best student research paper award at this year’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Power & Energy Conference went to Arizona State University mechanical engineering doctoral students Andrey Gunawan and Nicholas Fette.

The winning paper detailed their research into the feasibility of incorporating a system into automobiles that would convert thermal energy (waste heat) from exhaust systems into electricity to help power the vehicles.

In addition to receiving $2,500 and travel reimbursement for the cost of attending the conference, the paper (“Thermogalvanic Waste Heat Recovery System in Automobiles”) will be published online in Energy-Tech magazine.

Gunawan and Fette designed experiments to test the effectiveness of the system and compared its performance to prototypes of similar technology being tested by major automakers such as General Motors, Honda, BMW and Ford.

Instead of using standard solid-state thermoelectric systems, however, they are testing a liquid-state thermogalvanic system — also called a thermoelectrochemical cell, or simply a thermocell.

Mechanical engineering doctoral student Nicholas Fette.

Mechanical engineering doctoral student Nicholas Fette.

“We have demonstrated that the liquid nature of the electrolyte enables a thermogalvanic device to conform to the shape of automotive exhaust pipes much more readily than a solid-state thermoelectric device,” Gunawan explained. “Expensive, cleanroom-based manufacturing processes are not required for constructing the cell, which means that their production costs are likely to be substantially lower than for high-performance solid-state thermoelectrics.”

In addition, Gunawan and Fette did an economic feasibility study based on assessment of the dollar cost per watt of electrical energy the system could produce.

The research has been done under the supervision of Patrick Phelan, a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. Phelan is also a co-author on the award-winning research paper.

Gunawan and Fette have been working on the project for the past year. Support came from a fellowship award Gunawan won from The Electrochemical Society to pursue advances in renewable and alternative energy technologies as part of his graduate studies.

Gunawan and Fette also earned support from an incentive fund from the ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association through its Graduate Research Support Program.

Gunawan will graduate this semester with a doctoral degree. He has signed on to help organize the student research paper competition for next year’s ASME Power & Energy Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.