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Technology for Ecology
October 29, 2010   
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A number of young researchers in the coastal city of Gdańsk are working to develop technologies to alleviate environmental problems in northern Poland.

Michał Ryms, a chemist at the Gdańsk University of Technology, is analyzing production processes with the view to improving their efficiency through waste heat recovery.
Waste heat is any heat generated by a process or technology that is never used afterwards and gets unproductively released into the atmosphere. Greater efficiency of industrial processes can be also achieved by utilizing low-temperature heat, Ryms says.

The technology to convert low- and mid-temperature heat to electricity is based on what are called Organic Rankine Cycle units (ORC) which can be used to produce electricity from sources such as geothermal heat and biomass combustion. Ryms strives to promote wider use of this technology in Poland and design more efficient waste heat recovery systems.

In his project, Ryms aims to define the guidelines for the design of new energy recovery installations, mainly ORC units. Ryms has started working on a computer program to ensure swifter calculation of the efficiency of different operation modes in such units. The project is targeted at companies dealing with environmental technology, power engineering and new energy sources. Ryms’ interdisciplinary research encompasses classic thermodynamics, power engineering, technology, chemical and power industry equipment, economics, ecology and environmental protection.

Focus on renewable energy

Katarzyna Szybowska, a young researcher at the Gdańsk University of Technology, is working on a technology to produce electrode materials for devices used for electricity conversion and storage. Her research combines chemistry, electrochemistry and physics, aiming to develop power engineering based on renewable energy. The young researcher’s work has drawn interest from U.S. chemical giant DuPont and Polish companies such as Jabil in Kwidzyn and Oliva in Gdańsk.

Szybowska researches the synthesis of non-metal-doped titanium dioxide and its application in energy converters. “Pure titanium dioxide absorbs ultraviolet rays which account for a mere 5 percent of sunlight,” Szybowska says. “If the compound is to be used in solar cells, it has to absorb visible light as well. In order to make that happen, titanium dioxide gets modified to broaden the absorption range with the visible spectrum of sunlight. My research is about a modification of this kind.” Szybowska uses chemical synthesis to obtain titanium dioxide with admixtures of nitrogen or iodine and the product absorbs both UV rays and visible light.

Szybowska is testing systems that contain non-metal-doped titanium dioxide and convert sunlight into electricity. In February, Szybowska obtained a grant to buy new equipment. She is mid-way through her project and her current results have been published in major science magazines and presented at international conferences. Her work has also resulted in a patent application. Her research is of special interest to producers of photovoltaic cells, enterprises interested in obtaining clean hydrogen through the photoelectrocatalysis of water and companies dealing with the removal of organic pollutants.

Neural networks for wind farms

Tomasz Rubanowicz from the Faculty of Electrical and Control Engineering at the Gdańsk University of Technology is working on a computational method and software to accurately assess the power output of planned wind farms. The software may help wind farm owners avoid contractual fines that they would have to pay as a result of wrong power output forecasts. Accurate power output forecasts, in turn, will help operators control their power grids and make the most of available resources.

The power output of a wind farm largely depends on wind speed. Wrong power output assessment is a combination of plan miscalculation and imperfect weather forecasts.

“Working with investors, I will be able to upgrade my method and design an application that in the future could be made available to every potential owner of a wind farm, big or small,” says Rubanowicz.

He wants to improve the accuracy of 24-hour forecasts by using artificial neural networks. Currently used forecast support tools rely on a simple analytic model that only takes into account the parameters of wind turbines, the wind speed and air temperature and pressure. This method fails to ensure the necessary accuracy, Rubanowicz says.

According to Rubanowicz, apart from the type and direction of wind, a forecast model should take into account the rate at which wind directions change. A complex model like this necessitates a well-structured, dynamic neural network, the researcher says.

In his research, Rubanowicz also investigates the credibility of meteorological data and the structure of weather forecast models. He evaluates known analytic models, seeking to determine the structure of neural models, and carrying out simulations and experiments. He aims to introduce a computational method as a tool to assist wind farm owners and businesses maintaining power grids.

Dealing with sewage

Sylwia Fudala-Książek, a Ph.D. student from the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Gdańsk University of Technology, has come up with an economical and environmentally friendly method to treat leachate, or water leaking from waste stockpiles and landfills.

Leachate is toxic and contains high levels of minerals, chlorine, ammonia nitrogen and heavy metals. The concentration of ammonia nitrogen in raw sewage which flows into sewage treatment plants ranges between 50 and 100 milligrams per liter, while an analysis of leachate from a new landfill at Gdynia Łężyce has shown concentrations reaching 5,000-6,000 mg/l, Fudala-Książek says. Neutralization of landfill leachate is a crucial part of environmental protection, especially when it comes to keeping underground and surface waters clean. However, the chemical composition of leachate makes this a hard task.

Fudala-Książek performs physical and chemical examinations of landfill leachate and analyzes the results. She wants to introduce new, economical and efficient methods to manage “difficult sewage,” as she calls it.

Fudala-Książek checks how landfill leachate could be managed along with sewage in biological sewage treatment plants located in most cities. Such combined sewage and leachate management could significantly decrease the construction and utilization costs of waste stockpiles, Fudala-Książek says.

“Waste stockpiles deal with leachate by building complicated and expensive systems that employ reverse osmosis, photooxidation and nanofiltration and systems based on chemical processes such as coagulation and precipitation,” Fudala-Książek says. “My proposal is to bring leachate to sewage treatment plants in cities… We will also offer our technology to sewage treatment plants in small towns with a population of up to 50,000, where sewage is frequently treated in sequencing batch reactors. These are simple facilities where all biological sewage treatment processes take place in a single chamber. Landfill leachate is very often fed into those systems, because small towns cannot afford to build complicated systems to treat landfill leachate right where it comes from. It is thus worth showing to local authorities how to protect microorganisms which take part in biological sewage treatment, and how to add leachate to sewage and in what proportions.”

Breaking the waves

Piotr Szmytkiewicz, a researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Hydro-Engineering in Gdańsk, is studying the mechanisms of water flow and sediment movement on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast. The shoreline keeps receding fast in a process that has yet to be fully explored, Szmytkiewicz says. The water flow and sediment movement mechanisms are frequently disrupted by hydraulic structures such as breakwaters at ports, piers and other shore protection structures.

Rivers carry vast amounts of sediments, mostly sand, Szmytkiewicz says. The movement of sediments is uneven, which explains why some sections of the shoreline are receding and eroding rapidly, while in other places beaches are growing toward the sea. When wind-generated waves interact with the bottom of the sea and rebound from the shore, they produce a specific arrangement of long waves—known as infragravity waves—that move parallel to the shore in the coastal zone.

“Close to the shore, these waves may sometimes carry more than 50 percent of the entire energy contained in the moving water masses,” Szmytkiewicz says. “As a result, they can constitute a crucial factor that triggers changes in the structure and location of the coastline.”

Szmytkiewicz’s research team is conducting experiments at the Coastal Research Station in Lubiatowo. They are surveying waves in the open sea and near the shore, measuring sea currents in the coastal zone and the thrust of waves against the shore, and watching changes in the depth of the sea and the shape of the coastline. They are also checking basic meteorological parameters such as wind speed and direction. The research has allowed the scientists to identify basic parameters of infragravity waves, surveyed in natural conditions. The analysis has become the basis for a mathematical description of the waves’ emergence in the South Baltic coastal zone. In its final phase, the research will focus on establishing the correlation between coastal erosion and infragravity wave crests.

Szmytkiewicz deals with environmental analyses and research projects that are necessary to design, build, modernize and operate hydraulic structures and shore protection infrastructure. The researcher builds hydrological, hydrodynamic, lithodynamic, morphodynamic and hydrographic models. He also examines the evolution of the coastline and the movement of selected pollutants.

Piotr Bartosz
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