Aspiring Engineers Learn the Basics of Green Energy

The Energy Dynamics of Green Buildings course is preparing mechanical engineering students with the tools and knowledge necessary to break into a career in green energy design.

As another way to expand Manhattan College’s dedication to bringing green education to the classroom, the School of Engineering offered its Energy Dynamics of Green Buildings course for the fourth year in a row last fall. The course, formerly called Analysis and Design of HVAC Systems, is part of the Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering program and teaches the fundamentals of green energy in building design.

“We start with a general introduction about why green energy is important and the various features of traditional heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems that can be modified,” explains instructor Frank Henry, Ph.D., visiting professor of mechanical engineering.

Henry also cites the recent example of retrofit upgrades made to the Empire State Building last winter, which reduced the building’s energy consumption by nearly 38 percent, as a key reason why the course is important to graduate and undergraduate students.

Instructing a class of 14 during the fall 2012 semester, Henry began the course covering the basics of how heat is transferred into and out of a room or a building, and how to analyze moist air and regulate humidity. In addition, he touched on the mechanics of solar engineering, illustrating how the sun can be in the sky at any point in the day and how this changes throughout the year.

“The most interesting part was learning how to analyze all the effects that occur year-round on buildings and how engineers design to make things comfortable,” says Christopher Babino, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “The talk about tracking the sun throughout the year was very interesting because by knowing its position, you can more precisely calculate its effects on any surface.”

Mohammad Naraghi, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering and chair of the department, taught the course for its first two years at Manhattan, and draft chapters from his 2013 forthcoming book Energy Dynamics of Green Buildings were utilized as the course textbook. In fact, Naraghi was the original proponent in spearheading the exploration of solar energy within the Mechanical Engineering department at Manhattan.

“Many people think transportation is the largest energy consumer, but the building sector is after all the largest consumer of energy,” Naraghi says. “Since very little has been done with buildings thus far, this is a growing area in the future. In order to reduce energy consumption, we have to build more energy-efficient buildings, and this course tries to address the technique.”

Industry Experience

The technique and main objective of the Energy Dynamics of Green Buildings was particularly evident in the course’s final project. Each student was tasked to design a low-energy consumption family house utilizing the minimum amount of energy for heating, cooling and lighting.

“Every student was given a city in which the design must be built to the specifications of the area they are assigned,” says Clara Alcaraz, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, who will also pursue her master’s at Manhattan after graduation.

Alcaraz says that the most interesting part of the course and project was learning the impact of various environmental systems on a building’s design. Applying these concepts to another project, she is currently working on a retrofit to make the greenhouse on top of Leo Hall more sustainable, along with her senior design project group.

“In both this class and my senior design project, I am learning about green design, which most companies are heading toward,” she adds.

Both Naraghi and Henry credit this course and similar courses as the reason several Manhattan mechanical engineering graduates are choosing to pursue careers related to energy, sustainability and green buildings.

“We were introduced to notions of energy sustainability, energy-efficient buildings and reduction of heat losses,” describes Laura Billiot ’12, a French student who graduated with a dual master’s from ECAM Lyon and Manhattan, and currently works as a junior project manager for an HVAC contractor BP Mechanical Corp. “In my current profession, those subjects are essential since many new constructions have to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification requirements by managing efficiently the consumption of HVAC equipment.”