Making the World More Efficient
Engineering doctoral student works across disciplines in Boise to find ways to improve building designs
Damon Woods wants to take things that work and make them work better. Locating efficiencies and finding ways to save money and energy, and increase sustainability, has been a hallmark of his academic career.
A doctoral student studying mechanical engineering at the University of Idaho Boise, Woods is passionate about research that impacts the real world in a positive way. As a research assistant at the College of Art and Architecture’s Integrated Design Lab (IDL) in Boise, he conducts research on energy efficiency in the built environment.
“I wanted to work at the IDL any way I could,” he said. “It seemed like the perfect place where I could use my engineering background to do research in creating better built environments for people, making people’s lives better and helping to reduce the impacts of climate change.”
Best of Both Worlds
Woods will complete his doctoral program through the College of Engineering in summer 2018. After which, he hopes to continue to work at IDL and pursue his dissertation theories about creating new thermostats to control radiant heating and cooling in buildings.
“Instead of putting on a sweater and turning down the thermostat to try to save the environment, this thermostat would keep people comfortable without using a ton of energy,” he said.
Woods said there are economic and environmental impacts to creating better ways to regulate heating and cooling.
“In the larger scheme of things, it’s one of the best ways to reduce carbon emission to alleviate climate change. We use so much energy heating and cooling buildings,” he said. “Heating and cooling also costs money, so we get the best of both worlds when we’re saving money and being more efficient.”
His thesis work is just one of many projects Woods has been involved in over the years.
This year, Woods is working with the city of Boise on a new special Eco-District called the Central Addition. Boise city officials are subdividing the city into districts to provide a sense of place. The IDL and the Idaho Water Center are both within the Central Addition in downtown Boise.
Woods is leading the committee to help create targets for energy efficiency within the Central Addition.
“I’m using modeling to estimate how much energy will cost, what kind of savings can happen by upgrading to better light bulbs and insulation,” he said. “The idea is the Eco-District would be environmentally friendly and pedestrian friendly.”
Woods first experienced how important it is for engineers to solve real-world problems while working on his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Montana State University. In 2009, he and several other students built a biogas latrine at a school in Kenya with MSU’s Engineers Without Borders organization. The toilet processed waste and turned it into fertilizer for the school’s garden and produced natural gas for cooking.
“I saw the practical application of a lot of the math and theoretical stuff I had been studying and I want to be able to see the real-world impact,” he said.
After finishing his master’s in mechanical engineering at Boise State University in 2013, Woods completed an internship with ALSTOM Power in Bade, Switzerland, working with gas turbines. Gas turbines run on expanding gases made by burning fuel, like jet engines.
“I was testing the efficiency of gas turbines and how they could burn more cleanly,” he said.
He has also been involved in evaluating ways to make U of I’s facilities run more efficiently. Woods worked with Facilities staff find the most energy-efficient settings for the J.A. Albertson Building.
“The tests help us see how the building responds to a full year of weather within a few minutes and suggests the best settings for the building in terms of comfort and energy efficiency,” he said.
Finding ways to make buildings more energy efficient can save the university and students money, he said.
“Tuition dollars go toward utility bill at U of I, so any money that can be saved by running the buildings with less energy is a win for everyone,” he said. “The staff in Moscow were really great to work with and gave me access to the building information and data I needed.”
Woods presented his research at the International Building Performance Simulations Association conference in San Francisco in August 2017.
“Based on his work and outreach at U of I, I see a bright future for Damon, as an innovative leader in the design and operation of the next generation of high performance commercial buildings,” said Ralph Budwig, director of the Center for Ecohydraulics Research Stream Lab in Boise.
Article by Tess Fox, University Communications & Marketing
Published in April 2018.