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Alternative Energy Engineering: An Introduction

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
June 15, 2015 - June 26, 20152M-F 3:15-6:05POpenCraig Christensen10167

Course Description

One of the most pressing issues of modern times is how we will satisfy our future energy needs and what influence this might have on global warming. This course pursues developing intuitive insights into the benefits and limitations of various approaches to energy generation, and how to differentiate between hype, scientific analysis, and political interference. This course will provide a strong foundation for anyone interested in pursuing energy studies and their connection to environmental impact and human nature.

The course will examine the advances made since the advent of the steam engine by people who increasingly exploited energy sources to do work for them, especially in manufacturing and transportation. A brief history of energy inventions since 1760 will provide insights into how necessary technological improvements evolved to meet growing needs. This will include the steam engine, electric motor, internal combustion engine, turbines, and jet engine. We will also investigate the history of petroleum since 1859, how it dominated the energy market, and consider its significant value in many modern products.

Consumption of fossil fuels has increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Whether this and other factors are causing global warming will be investigated. Both strong and weak arguments are made on both sides of that question.

A need for alternative energy sources outside of fossil fuels is not in dispute. Traditional (solar, wind, water), exotic (geothermal, fusion, or cold-fusion) and controversial alternatives (such as cars that run on water, zero-point energy, or over-unity machines) will be reviewed. Are these practical, specious, or misunderstood?

The course will provide some hands-on experience through demonstrations, experiments, and videos. In recent summers, students have built miniature fuel cell cars and Stirling engines (from kits), driven an electric prototype car at Brown and electric bicycle, and also experimented with hydrogen injection from tap water into an old pickup truck.

Prerequisite: algebra; physics is helpful, but not required.

*Please Note: This course has a Supplemental Fee of $150.00.