Department Updates

Tony Petrella
Braun and team win $7.7M to test full-scale, hybrid stationary power system

Fuel cell researchers at Colorado School of Mines have been awarded $7.7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop and test a full-scale hybrid stationary power system that could provide highly efficient electricity to hospitals, supermarkets, large retailers and more.

“We’re targeting the highest electric efficiency ever for something that’s powered by a fossil fuel – the world’s first 70 percent efficient natural-gas fueled power generation system,” said Robert Braun, professor of mechanical engineering and principal investigator on the ARPA-E project. “It’s natural gas, but it’s clean and there are very few emissions other than carbon dioxide.

”The system, which was developed by Braun’s team at Mines, integrates pressurized solid oxide fuel cells with a highly efficient stationary engine fueled by pipeline natural gas – a combination that both increases the efficiency and lowers the cost of power generation. Read more in Mines Newsroom »

Tony Petrella
Petrella launches fully online certificate in applied finite element analysis (FEA)

FEA Pro, led by Associate Professor Anthony Petrella, is a unique program launching this fall that offers a fully online professional certificate. The certificate comprises four 8-week online courses offered sequentially – two in the fall semester, two in spring – which makes the certificate achievable in one academic year.

Petrella has had a strong connection to Abaqus, a software suite by Dassault Systèmes for finite element analysis and computer aided engineering, for more than 20 years. This relationship, and his desire to provide more opportunities for professionals and recent graduates to pursue advanced technical training with a strong applied focus, led to the development of the FEA Pro certificate program. For the layperson, FEA is a method for using a computer to estimate internal forces in a part to determine if it will be able to do its intended job without breaking

Petrella says the goal of the FEA Pro certificate is not just proficiency, but effectiveness. “Anyone can learn where to click in the software to get an answer,” Petrella said. “What makes FEA Pro unique is that we’re delivering not only proficiency with the software but also the more challenging skills needed to actually be effective using the software to drive real business decisions.”

The skills students learn in FEA Pro are applicable to almost any industry, making the program a valuable asset to recent graduates and working professionals across disciplines and focus areas. Petrella developed the certificate’s four core courses with the assistance of Mines’ Trefny Innovative Instruction Center and newly hired teaching professor Steve Geer, who as an adjunct assisted Petrella in assembling problems and videos for one of the courses. The program was also made possible with startup funds from President Paul Johnson’s Innovation Fund. 

Learn more at

Tony Petrella
ME Contributes to Colorado's Make4COVID

A team that included Advanced Manufacturing master’s students Kelly Pickering, Steven Sullivan and Noah Mostow and ME research assistant professor Garrison Hommer (MS ’16, PhD ’18) printed 408 headbands for medical face shields as part of Make4COVID (, a coalition of Colorado manufacturers and makers working to provide health care professionals with needed personal protective equipment (PPE).

Most of the headbands were fabricated on the high-end industrial printers in the Advanced Manufacturing Teaching Lab, particularly the HP MultiJet Fusion 580 and Stratasys F170. Additional headbands were made on the printers in the ME department’s makerspace in Brown Hall, the Blaster Design Factory. The Advanced Manufacturing program supplied the material for the effort.

The team worked tirelessly for about six weeks to fill a critical supply gap for local health care workers. Additional help came from recent ME graduate Bradley Jesteadt, ME undergraduate Quin Guy, ME research faculty Bryan Marsh (BS ’19), ME alumna Allison Bateman (BS ’19) and Engineering and Tech Management grad student Kyle Barras.

“I am extremely proud of the efforts that this team was able to set forth,” said Kelly Pickering. “The group’s compassion for the larger Colorado community was extremely apparent.” Garrison Hommer added, “As a few individuals, we were able to make a substantial contribution to the Make4COVID effort, thanks to the abundance of additive manufacturing resources at Mines and the financial support of the Advanced Manufacturing program.”

Finished headbands were brought to Make4COVID drop-off locations in the Denver metro area. The headbands were warehoused and then distributed as needed to local medical facilities where final face shield assembly took place.

Visit Mines Newsroom to learn more about Oredigger contributions to Make4COVID, including recent ME graduate Chance Reeves’ Montana masks.

Tabares-Velasco secures funding to study cross-laminated timber

Assistant Professor Paulo Cesar Tabares-Velasco won funding from the U.S. Forest Service for a project to characterize the environmental and economic benefits of cross-laminated timber (CLT) buildings. CLT is a mass timber material that has the potential to expand the wood building market in the U.S., but for broad adoption of CLT, extensive field and numerical validation is needed. Tabares-Velasco is partnering with Viega, the University of Denver and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop models and optimize the performance and design of CLT to quantify the benefits of this sustainable material.

In his six years with Mines, Tabares-Velasco has focused on making buildings more energy efficient, sustainable and grid-friendly. Because they are prefabricated, massive wood buildings made from CLT are a sustainable option that also reduce onsite construction waste. This project advances his goals of finding new and sustainable ways to build and having accurate energy modeling tools to simulate sustainable buildings.

The image to the left shows the Burwell Center on the University of Denver campus, one of the CLT buildings that will be studied in the USFS project. Photo credit: Jeremy Vera, DU

ARPA-E funding for electrochemical energy storage research

The Colorado Fuel Cell Center (CFCC) has been awarded $1.1 million in additional funding to advance its work on electrochemical energy storage technology. Through support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E), the researchers in the CFCC, together with faculty in the Colorado Center for Advanced Ceramics (CCAC), are integrating advanced proton-conducting ceramics with novel ammonia-synthesis catalysts to store intermittent renewable electricity in the form of chemical 
energy – specifically, ammonia.

The reversible electrochemical conversion of solar and wind energy into ammonia, a carbon-free, easily transportable chemical, addresses the challenge of matching intermittent renewable energy generation with demand. One challenging aspect of synthesizing electrofuels is the need for high-pressure, high-temperature electrochemical operation. CFCC researchers have developed this technical capability and are using their pressurized test stand assembly to advance reversible proton-conducting electrochemical cells. This research project is part of the ARPA-E REFUEL program to store solar and wind power in the form of a carbon-free, liquid fuel. The principal investigator on the program is Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Neal Sullivan. The CFCC and CCAC are working with industrial partner FuelCell Energy of Danbury, Connecticut.

This follow-on award brings the total program funding level to nearly $5 million, with Mines receiving over $2 million in federal support over the 3.5-year effort. More about this program »

Dr. Robert Braun promoted to Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Congratulations to Dr. Robert Braun for his promotion to Professor of Mechanical Engineering! Dr. Braun leads research in the Thermal Fluid and Energy Systems division of the ME department. He is the director of the Advanced Energy Systems research group, which applies systems-level modeling, analysis and optimization to accelerate the development of highly efficient and cost-effective clean energy systems, including high-temperature fuel cell and membrane technologies, biorefineries, and concentrating solar power plants. Prior to joining Mines in 2008, Dr. Braun was a project lead and senior engineer with United Technologies Research Center and UTC Power. He holds BS and MS degrees from Marquette University and a PhD from University of Wisconsin–Madison. After earning his PhD, he had a visiting researcher appointment at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. 

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