PhD Student Awarded Fulbright Fellowship

May 9, 2012

Dan Sweeney in Lab

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Dan Sweeney, a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Utah, was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship, an incredibly competitive grant where US citizens engage in study, research, or teaching assistantships abroad. Sweeney will spend the next year in northern Sweden, researching clean energy.

As a Fulbright Fellow, Sweeney will travel to Piteå, Sweden, to perform research on renewable fuel production from biomass and waste at the Energy Technology Centre (ETC) in Piteå and at Luleå University of Technology in  Luleå, Sweden, where a unique consortium of industry, university, and government institutions has been formed in the pursuit of developing clean energy technologies. Sweeney will be working on a demonstration-scale biomass gasification system and developing and testing a novel gasification method.

In addition to academic research, the Fulbright Program emphasizes the development of mutual understanding between the scholarship recipient and the host community.  “I will be very active in the community,” said Sweeney, “I will be participating in discourse with local organizations about sustainable farming practices, the buckaroo lifestyle of the Western US, and traditional American folk music. At the local university, I will be helping to form an Engineers Without Borders student chapter and participating in various student-led outdoor recreation outings.”

Sweeney’s research at the University of Utah focuses on the production of renewable energy and fuels from biomass and waste materials through a reactive process called gasification. The technology is still under development, but production of fuel and chemicals from wood waste, agricultural residues, and municipal waste has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable the US to utilize domestic, renewable energy resources.  “At the U, we have a unique pilot-scale facility with several gasifiers that can convert 1/2 ton per day of biomass into a hydrogen rich fuel,” said Sweeney. “I have spent most of my time at the U assembling a fluidized bed biomass gasification system and running several experimental campaigns to assess various aspects of its operation.”

When Sweeney isn’t in the lab, he works with the local Engineers Without Borders chapter, hosts a radio show on campus, volunteers at Red Butte Garden, and picks bluegrass guitar with the Acoustic Guitar Club.

Sweeney, a student of Dr. Kevin Whitty, will graduate with his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering this summer. Sweeney leaves for Sweden in August. “The U and the ME department will always be close to me,” said Sweeney, “The atmosphere, the faculty, the students, and the staff here really have enabled me to succeed and I am forever indebted.”