Engineering and Computer Science Faculty Publications

Energy: Properties and Policy Issues

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Journal Title

117th Annual Conference & Exposition of the American Society for Engineering Education


Students following a curriculum designed to provide a degree in mechanical engineering (ME) inevitably take one or more courses in Thermodynamics along the way. One of the many keys being addressed in such courses is the Principle of Conservation of Energy, otherwise known as the First Law of Thermodynamics. Whereas one of the program accreditation requirements specifically addresses the need to incorporate design of components or processes of thermal systems into the curriculum, does this necessarily include all (or any) of the following: fossil fuel combustion, greenhouse gas production, alternative energy sources, energy conservation, or energy policy?

It is our contention that, in light of the demand for global solutions to environmental problems which include unsanitary drinking water, inappropriate recycling of heavy-metal laden used electronics, and the free release of toxic gases due to the combustion of mixed-waste streams (just to name a few), mechanical engineering students should be required to incorporate energy policy issues into their required thermal designs.

This paper assumes that the reader has an introductory knowledge of Thermodynamics and thus understands the definitions of heat, work, internal energy, enthalpy, and entropy. Though textbook examples and end-of-chapter problems are designed to move students from knowing the principles to problem-solving, components such as the piston-cylinder device or the adiabatic compressor are isolated from their power sources. In an effort to complete the picture for our students, design of power plants was added to the course content of thermodynamics for mechanical engineering students (MEs). The Single Rankine Reheat power plant will be considered here for our discussion. Efficiencies along the energy conversion path are computed and projections are made for the use of alternative fuels in the supply chain.

Students, rather than simply learning how to compute entropy changes for individual process steps, learn how to place a “value” on their thermal systems. By design, the “value” is based both on economics and ethics.


Energy policy issues, energy conservation, thermal designs, ethics in engineering