Professor’s Research Leads to Reduction in Energy Consumption

Dr. Li Song

Dr. Li Song, assistant professor in the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma, along with her fellow research colleagues created a method to overcome inefficiencies in heating and cooling systems to reduce building operation costs as well as reduce energy consumption significantly. Song’s research has the possibility of reducing energy consumption in a single structure by as much as 20 percent. Furthermore, Song estimates some buildings could save as much as 30 to 50 percent.

A mathematical formula was created by Song’s research team based on existing output data such as pump speed and power. This formula allows monitoring of energy use in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units. From these results, the formula can detect unreliable systems and faulty equipment that affects energy consumption. The formula creates virtual sensors used to identify energy waste in an air-handling unit and in a whole building.

“Waiting until exorbitant utility bills appear may be a sign that the equipment hasn’t worked optimally for years,” said Song. “This method allows earlier detection of minor equipment faults, possibly preventing an overhaul of the entire system.”

In addition to saving money on utility bills, Song’s formula is a low-cost option for commercial monitors allowing more companies to track and reduce energy consumption. An organization would need to purchase several ultrasonic flow meters, which monitor water pump performance, in order for accuracy costing roughly $5,000 per meter. This virtual process is within ±2% uncertainty range compared to commercial meters.

Previously, Song applied the energy monitoring, fault detection, and diagnosis manually in over 100 buildings saving over $70 million. For instance, in one building Song’s method reduced annual electricity consumption by 53 percent, electricity demand by 21 percent, and gas consumption by 49 percent in only one year. Another building qualified as an Energy Star building just after five months.

Song’s research has grown from the corporate sector and will now focus on the government division starting at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. The U.S. Department of Defense awarded her research team a three-year $1 million contract to increase building efficiencies at military installments.

“The U.S. Department of Defense spends $4 billion each year in facility operations,” said Song. “They have a federal mandate to reduce building energy consumption by 30 percent by 2015. My research team thinks we can double the reduction.”

Song is only one of a few researchers working on efficiency improvements in heating, ventilation, and conditioning units using virtual sensor measurements. In addition, Song is currently developing a smart-device that contains the mathematical formulas allowing building owners to easily monitor an existing system as an ongoing task.

“The virtual valve flow meter won’t replace conventional flow meters if they are needed for utility metering for billing,” said Song, “but it does offer companies an inexpensive and readily accessible solution to monitor energy consumption. Companies can use the information to create a more efficient system, saving them money while reducing energy consumption.”

Student Profile: Q&A with Jawanza Bassue

Jawanza Bassue is a junior aerospace engineering major from Basseterre, a town in the small Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.  Apart from his studies, Jawanza is a photographer whose work has been featured in a National Geographic publication. He is a student photographer for OU Information Technology where he takes pictures across campus.  Many of the beautiful photos you see in AME publications are his work. 

How did you hear about OU’s Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering program?

I stumbled on to OU’s Design Build Fly team successes.  I jumped at the chance to be at an institution that did fun competitions and was nationally recognized for all of its engineering programs.

Why did you choose OU?

I tell everyone that it’s great to grow up on a beautiful Caribbean island but, until you’re challenged outside of your comfort zone, your character growth is limited.  I looked forward to a challenge and a great place to explore. Haven’t regretted or my decision once since.

What makes you want to be an AE major?

Besides my love for science and technology, I’ve always had a passion for flight, travel and airplanes. I dabbled with the idea of becoming a professional pilot, but I realized that someday I would love to be a part of the team that had “the next great engineering  idea.”  Being able to create something on the level of Boeing’s 787 was my motivation. In the end, art and science, coupled with my passion for design and flight made Aerospace Engineering seem like the perfect avenue to explore.

What do you want to do when you finish your degree?

I hope to land a design or customer interaction job for a major (or minor) aircraft manufacturer or part supplier.  My dream job would see me interacting with a customer with unique needs or specifications for an aeronautic application then being a part of the team that designs the components of a great new aircraft.

I have already decided I will use my new-found knowledge in the education system back in my homeland, encouraging younger students to consider a degree in engineering. Another thought I’ve had is if I have the energy and/or finances available, I’d love to expand my undergraduate degree into a graduate research project. I dream big.

How has your photography helped you to connect to OU and AME?

I have been able to interact with the people who really make OU tick behind the scenes. From meeting the likes of Sarah Warren at AME to being on first-name basis with President Boren and the lovable Clarke Stroud, university vice president for student affairs and dean of students – I think I have shed lots of photographic cheer to hundreds of staff and students at OU.

At AME however, I get the unique chance to see what other students are doing for capstone projects, witness groundbreaking graduate research and get the inside scoop on available opportunities.  I’ve become a regular site around the engineering buildings, wielding my almighty camera gear.

Do you hope to merge your photography and engineering in your career?

Yes. I hope to use my artistic talents to bring something unique to the engineering circle.  It’s not every day an employer gets to hire a young engineer who just happens to be a semi-professional and accomplished photographer who has good business and marketing sense.

What advice do you have someone who has a skill outside of engineering that they want to continue developing while a student?

Find a way to use the school to your advantage. Target people around OU who you see every day that can help you take your skill from hobby, to a successful business or enrich your engineering degree. In the end, employers seem to be looking for the engineer with a difference.

What is your favorite picture you’ve taken of the OU campus?

My night shot of the Bizzell Library done in a High Dynamic Range (HDR) my freshman year.

OU Library

Bizzell Library, photo by Jawanza Bassue

What is your favorite picture you’ve ever taken of a person or of people?

During Carnival season in my home country of St. Kitts I took this black and white portrait of a “Rasta-man” (possibly of the Rastafarian religion). It has always been my favorite just because of the strong features of his face, his hair, and the way he tells the story of a lifetime with his eyes.

Rasta Man, photo by Jawanza Bassue


Inside AME: The AME Shop

Today we welcome guest blogger Billy Mays, AME Shop Supervisor.

One of the most popular labs at AME is the AME Shop.  Facilitated by shop personnel Billy Mays and Greg Williams, the AME Shop not only provides students with hands-on engineering experience, but also supports AME’s teaching labs, class projects, capstone projects, faculty research initiatives and competitive teams.   

Billy and Greg

Billy Mays (L) and Greg Williams (R) run the AME Shop.

By Billy Mays

We at the AME Machine Shop invite AME students to stop by and learn more about us.

The AME Shop is a fully functional machine shop with a diversified group of equipment: manual lathes, manual mills, welding equipment, sheet metal equipment, a CNC lathe, mills and router, and other supporting equipment.

We help students take their projects from computational simulations to a finished product, while creating hands-on, project-based learning opportunities for you.  We want to get to know more about you and your projects.

When students work with us, they have a safety net of experts standing by to help if they run into trouble, and we train students with the necessary safety and operation of the equipment they will use for building projects.

Students who make use of the AME Shop during their time at AME graduate with a greater understanding of the design processes and have experience with manufacturing.  Their project completion times from computer to product are generally shorter, and once they start a job, their time between training and becoming a productive engineer is less.

Along with working with students, the AME Shop supports experimental projects for undergraduates and graduates students, class room projects, senior capstone projects, graduate research projects, faculty research, and AME’s four competitive teams – Design/Build/Fly, Sooner Off-Road, Sooner Powered Vehicle and Sooner Racing Team.

We help with everything from design challenges and equipment capabilities, material procurement, to the necessary cutters and tooling needed to successfully complete the project.  We also help with a test run of the project.

The AME machine shop is truly a student use shop.

Students and alumni, let us know how working in the AME Shop has impacted your work as an engineer!


Students in Dr. Siddique's Pre- Capstone course test their projects in the AME Shop.