Although the blackouts and brownouts that plague California haven't reached Midwest states like Ohio yet, that hasn't stopped engineers and scientists in the buckeye state from finding better ways to produce electric power. The plan is to use a Norton, OH limestone mine as a storage facility for compressed air released from a nearby power plant. The idea is to build air pressure into the mine during evenings, weekends, and other off-peak hours, according to the Department of Energy's Steve Bauer. His job involves characterizing the limestone rock's mechanics and airflow properties, because without a clear understanding of the behavior of the rock in a pressurized state and the behavior of fluid in the rock, funding agencies are reluctant to back the plan. "The mine acts as a vessel that contains the air at pressures from 800 to 1,600 psi," says Bauer. He explains that in the rock's pores, the air will move from high pressure areas near mine surfaces to lower pressure areas away from mine surfaces when the air pressure is greater than the rock pore pressure. "The movement is very slow because of the low permeability of the rock and the fact that there is brine in the rock-pore space," says Bauer. During peak electrical usage times, the stored compressed air is bled off through turbines for creating additional electric power. Permits are currently being sought through the state's regulatory agency.
California State University, Chico was the first school in California to offer an ABET-accredited degree program in mechatronic engineering. Now its California Mechatronics Center works with industry on machinery, robotics, and surveillance vehicles.
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