The beauty of thermal dynamics

The beauty of thermal dynamics

Bjarni from Iceland (graduate of 2015) has experienced a lot during his studies; he did a project in collaboration with Sønderborg District Heating and did an internship with Grundfos.

"On the 2nd and 3rd semester of my studies, I chose to work with thermal dynamics. The topic of thermal dynamics first caught my attention in 2nd semester, when my group seized the opportunity to take part in a “real-world” project. The project was done in cooperation with Sønderborg District Heating, who has recently started to exploit geothermal energy for district heating. The company had some problems with one of the engines, i.e. the heat pump, which moves thermal energy from the underground water over to the district water. Hence, our task was to understand the functionality of a heat pump and to develop a model using model identification and then apply control to it. During the semester, we took a fieldtrip down to Sønderborg District Heating where we got to see the actual heat pump and talk to the company’s technicians. The company even provided us with access to real drift data which we could analyse, and throughout the project, we were in contact with one of the technicians. Ultimately, the focus of our project became optimal control, or more specifically how to optimise the heat pump’s energy efficiency.

The 3rd semester is known for flexibility where students get the opportunity to choose something different, i.e. to go abroad, to begin their master’s thesis or do an internship. I chose to apply for an internship and I was accepted by Grundfos, a company which is one of the world leaders in pump production and pump-related solutions. Grundfos is interested in research of steam-boiler boiler-feed control, which is basically the part that feeds the correct flow of water to a steam boiler and ensures the correct water level within the boiler. Although this may sound simple, the beauty of thermal dynamics makes this task difficult and exciting at the same time.  During this semester, I spent the majority of my time at Grundfos’ headquarters in Bjerringbro. My task was quite similar to my 2nd semester project, namely analysing and understanding a boiler system, develop a model and design control. I was located in the development department where, one could say, new solutions and products are “born”. Another great advantage of working in that department was that I was surrounded by experts in the field and I was given a taste of how life is like after school. I also took a fieldtrip, this time to a Danish Crown slaughterhouse near Sønderborg. I was  actually given access to their boiler setup, so that I could take measurements regularly throughout the semester. The measurements helped me to develop my model and to understand such a complex system.

Typically, when the topic of thermal dynamics is raised, students don’t get all that excited, mainly because of the slow dynamics of the systems in question. I used to be one of those students, and the majority of my projects have focused on systems that contain relatively fast dynamics, e.g. helicopter control, automotive vehicle, audio amplifier and signal processing. However, I think the nature of thermal dynamics introduces a whole new set of challenges that make the topic most interesting and exciting. I would recommend any student to familiarise themselves with thermal dynamics and  to get some experience within that field; not only is it exciting and challenging, but the field also contains one of the largest number of jobs opportunities in Denmark, and that´s always a plus.”

Bjarni Geir Pétursson

Iceland in control and automation