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ODU Mechanical Engineering Student Wins Poster Competition Suggesting Fuel Alternatives for Navy

Old Dominion University mechanical engineering student Bill Rice recently won a poster competition seeking ideas for the U.S. Navy to save on energy use in its global fleet. He was honored at the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) conference in Washington, D.C., April 9-11.

Rice's poster, "Harnessing the Wind," outlined a half-dozen existing technologies that could be used to reduce fuel costs in the Navy's existing, non-nuclear fleet.

"I was actually doing a research paper on a whole number of ways that they can cut fuel use and costs," said Rice, who will receive his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in December, with a minor in marine engineering.

"The Navy is trying to cut its fuel use by 50 percent by 2020. They want to wean their non-nuclear ships off of high-priced oil, because it's only going to go up. They're looking for new ideas to cut fuel."

That includes harnessing not only the power of the wind, but also the sun, as well as other alternatives, Rice said.

Rice noted in his poster that the Navy's fleet of slow-moving tankers and bulk-unloaders, with their large deck areas, are ideally suited to using wind energy. He suggested fuel-saving options such as soft sails, wing sails, kites, Flettner rotors and wind turbines.

"None of these technologies are new. Some of them are in use in other fleets around the world, but the Navy's not using them currently," Rice said.

A former Norfolk Ford Motor Co. employee who returned to school when the plant closed, Rice hopes to work in naval engineering in some capacity after earning his master's degree.

Tony Dean, a Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology associate professor of engineering technology at ODU, and associate director of the university's Ship Maintenance, Repair and Operations Institute, said Rice is far from the only ODU engineering student with those aspirations. And he said it makes sense.

"It's common knowledge around here that the shipbuilding/repair industry is the No. 1 employer in all of Hampton Roads. Creating a program to help feed the need for qualified engineers to work in that area has been the goal since the inception of our programs here," Dean said.

"When I first came here in 2001, we didn't have any direct curriculum that matched up with the need. We started with a class of 12 students, and now the enrollment is up over 50."

Dean said Rice's win in the ASNE poster competition came against students from strong national programs, including those at Virginia Tech, the U.S. Naval Academy and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Also, his score in the poster competition was higher than the top score among graduate students.

"This is the first time ODU has been represented at the ASNE conference," Dean said. "It helps to validate that our students bring a lot more to the table than people seem to think we would. We have a lot to offer. We have the largest marine engineering laboratory in the world right out our back door. It allows our students to stretch a little bit.

"Students are actually doing everything they can to get into this program."

This article was posted on: April 28, 2010

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