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‘Big difference’

Emerging mechanical engineer named Terra Nova Young Innovator

Part of a special feature focusing on how the Memorial community is contributing to the direction of Newfoundland and Labrador.

By Jeff Green

Dr. Xili Duan’s research could be a game changer for people living in Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond.

The assistant professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, is leading the design of a novel device that directly converts wind energy to heat, thanks to receiving a coveted faculty award.

Dr. Duan is the 2019 recipient of the Terra Nova Young Innovator Award (TNYIA), which recognizes and supports outstanding young faculty members whose research is particularly innovative and whose specific proposal has real potential to make a significant impact on society.

The award is supported through $50,000 in funding from Suncor Energy, on behalf of the partners in the Terra Nova oil field.

Unique research

“I am very glad that my research is recognized, and I am very grateful to the Terra Nova development for this award,” he said during a recent conversation with the Gazette about his pioneering technology.

Dr. Xili Duan
Dr. Xili Duan
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“At the same time, I am excited that I can start to develop the wind-powered thermal energy device (WinTEC) with the support from this award. The Terra Nova Young Innovator Award provides critical support for developing the technology.”

Dr. Duan’s unique system uses a heat generator to convert kinetic energy – created from the rotational motion of a small wind turbine – to heat through fluid agitation with specially designed propellers.

“One of the long-term goals is to develop sustainable energy technologies for remote and northern communities.” — Dr. Xili Duan

To further improve the energy conversion and storage efficiencies, a nanofluid is used as the working fluid. The heat generated from the device could then be used to warm up buildings and houses or even tap water.

“I have been doing research on thermal fluids and energy for quite a few years,” Dr. Duan explained. “One of the long-term goals in my research is to develop sustainable energy technologies for remote and northern communities. The WinTEC device will be a start toward that goal.”

‘Outstanding initiatives’

“On behalf of the Terra Nova partners, we are proud to support Dr. Duan’s important research,” said Karen Kelly, general manager, East Coast assets, Suncor.

“The innovation in Dr. Duan’s work has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for residents in remote regional communities, and having the opportunity to enable outstanding initiatives like Dr. Duan’s is what the TNYIA is all about.”

Dr. Xili Duan
Dr. Xili Duan in his office on the St. John’s campus.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Duan says the award is significant because it will allow him to expand his research, hire new graduate students, purchase equipment and materials, and develop a lab for the design, build and test of the WinTEC system.

Ultimately, he and his team aim to complete a proof of concept and develop a prototype.

“We will also conduct social economic analysis of the product and research on its market feasibility. All these are aiming at its commercialization.”

Dr. Duan says his technology would be beneficial to those living throughout Newfoundland and Labrador – the windiest province in Canada – but particularly those in remote communities in the North.

“We expect that the wind-powered thermal energy system will make a big difference to people in this province,” he said.

“The cold weather makes thermal energy a critical need, for warm water and heating. These regions often have limited access to electricity, but are very rich in wind. The wind-powered heating device could be an ideal solution and dramatically change their lives.”

Adventurous research

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), says the Terra Nova Young Innovator Award allows young faculty members to advance research that has the possibility of making a considerable impact on society.

“Memorial thanks Suncor Energy and the partners in the Terra Nova oil field for its ongoing support of emerging innovators like Dr. Duan,” said Dr. Bose.

“Through the company’s continued commitment, researchers like Dr. Duan are able to explore novel ideas as the award encourages young faculty to be adventurous in their research and to be creative in the way they investigate important research issues. I congratulate him on receiving this honour and look forward to seeing the progress he makes.”

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