News - Corrosion and Copper: Local Business Teams Up With GU Students to Solve the Geothermal Piping Puzzle

Corrosion and Copper: Local Business Teams Up With GU Students to Solve the Geothermal Piping Puzzle

Research-01_copperWhen it comes to homeowner comfort and energy savings, Greenville’s Enertech Global has mastered much of the geothermal heating and cooling puzzle. But one niggly little piece remains challenging: corrosion in copper piping.  

Only three percent of copper piping in geothermal units fails prematurely (that is, it gives less than 10 years of service), but those failures can cause substantial damage to some internal components.

Though its warranty covers replacement—and three percent still seems small—Enertech continually strives to increase the lifespan of its products. 

Extending the Life of Copper: Enter the Chemists

Copper corrosion is a chemistry problem requiring a chemistry solution. This summer, two young chemists at Greenville University, just minutes away from Enertech, accepted the challenge to prolong the life of Enertech’s copper piping.

Senior Brenna Wiens and junior Kristin Frailey, students participating in GU’s Summer Research Experience, dedicated every ounce of creativity and problem-solving they could muster to establish:

  • a water standard that prolongs the life of copper, 
  • a solid methodology for gathering data, and
  • a sound base for continued research this fall. 

They drew from their expertise, majoring in math as well as chemistry.

Owning the Problem, Doing What Needs to Be Done 

The researchers made headway on the corrosion conundrum and also jumped on the fast track of developing valuable workplace skills. This included:Research-04_note

  • Shared workspace– Kristin and Brenna shared their research space in GU’s 
    Snyder Hall of Science with other summer research teams. “We used plastic bottles, syringes and filters that the well-water testing group also used,” said Kristin. Common courtesy, she added, meant wisely stewarding consumables and equipment.
  • Expanding skills with instrumentation– The pair embraced a steep learning curve familiarizing themselves with GU’s recently-acquired inductively coupled plasma emission spectrometer, or ICPE. They used the spectrometer to measure copper concentrations. 
  • Pioneering when needed – Establishing solid methodology sometimes required adopting a new perspective: “Instead of using the typical axial view for the ICPE, we switched to a radial view that had never been used before,” said Brenna. That adjustment—along with trial and error improvements like diluting samples and increasing sample size—delivered usable results.
  • Unfailing focus on excellence – Mindful that they addressed a “real” problemResearch-02_Kristin4 with “real” consequences for Enertech and Enertech’s customers, Brenna (at the computer below) and Kristin (at right) set accuracy, thoroughness and efficiency as priorities. Eight weeks of research exposed them to a steady stream of problems that called for creative problem-solving and commitment. For example, the pair devised one solution that involved taking turns coming to the lab on weekends. They adjusted their personal schedules to ensure progress.

The copper corrosion research continues this fall, thanks to continued sponsorship from Enertech. Enertech, an award-winning innovator, has tapped student talent in other areas such as sponsoring internships and participating in GU’s Experience First program.

Nearly 10 Years Producing In-Demand Contributors

Greenville University has engaged student researchers as part of its Summer Research Experience for nearly ten years. Alumni of the program now work as chemists, engineers or analysts in a wide range of industries from pharmaceuticals, health care and food processing to manufacturers of aircraft and telecommunications equipment.

Research03-BrennaLearn More

G.U. Gives Undergrads Much-Needed Research Experience in STEM
Benefits of Undergraduate Research Reach Far Beyond Campus
Undergraduate Research: A High-Impact Learning Experience For G.U. Princeton-Bound Chappel
University Students Continue Testing Well Water Quality In Southern Illinois
Research Team to Publish in Stanford U. Scientific Journal

Support students like Kristin and Brenna today with your gift toward scholarships and/or the Catalyst Fund, a primary source of funding for student research. Click here to give.

This story was published on August 05, 2019

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