Deliberating Issues at the BRICS Young Scientist Conclave 2021: Dr. B.K. Naik
Academics and research are two fields where the National Institute of Technology Rourkela (NIT Rourkela) has played a dominant role in India. Many people dream of representing our country on an international platform. Prof. Bukke Kiran Naik of the Mechanical Engineering Department got that opportunity after being selected as one of the Young Scientists to represent India at the 6th BRICS Young Scientists Conclave held from 13th to 16th September 2021 in the thematic area of Energy Solutions.
The conclave presents a platform for collaborations for young scientists from the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). The central theme for the conclave was "Building better societies through Science, Technology & Innovation". This year, it was based on three thematic areas: Healthcare, Energy solutions and Cyber-Physical Security and its applications. The Department of Science and Technology selected the participants for representing the country. The conclave was organised at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology, India. With the ongoing pandemic situation, the conclave was held virtually.
Team Monday Morning recently had the opportunity to briefly talk to Prof. Bukke Kiran Naik to learn about his experience at the conclave and his research journey to reach the platform.
Team Monday Morning (MM): Why did you choose Mechanical Engineering with Fluid & Thermal Engineering as your specialisation? How did your research journey in this particular domain start?
Dr. Bukke Kiran Naik (B.K.Naik): I did my M.Tech in IIT Guwahati. At that time, I was fond of refrigeration and air conditioning aspects in mechanical engineering, so that drove me to specialise in thermal engineering.
Also, during my B. Tech, one of the faculties taught me this particular topic well. Since it takes a great teacher to make one curious learner, it motivated me to learn more about topics such as cooling capacity, etc.
During my MTech, I had the opportunity to pursue Humid Subtropical Climatic Conditions related to Thermal Engineering. When I started my project on a centralised air conditioning system, I came across a dilemma; if we were to install a centralised air conditioning system in the humid subtropical climate, which one would be better? Air-cooled condenser or water-cooled condenser? Delving deeper into these aspects made me start my research journey.
MM: What are your thoughts on sustainable energy? How did this particular field spark your interest?
B.K.Naik: During my PhD, I worked on refrigeration. Refrigerants cause global warming and other greenhouse effects that in turn, lead to climatic issues. To work on minimizing the effects of global warming, I modified my topic and started looking at renewable sources and issues such as solar-based liquid air conditioning systems. Thus, I went on to research sustainable energies which would ensure a self-sustainable future.
For example, I observed that in old monuments such as the Taj Mahal, Mysore Palace etc, there used to be no external air conditioning system or fans. Yet, it remained cool enough during the hot days. This was what sparked my interest in this particular field.
Later, when I pursued my Post Doctorate at Simon Fraser University, these self-sustainable conditioning systems motivated me to learn more. Moving ahead, I decided that all the topics I work on in the future would not burden the climate, affect it adversely, and be self-sustainable.
MM: Can you please share your experience at the 6th BRICS Young Scientist Conclave 2021?
B.K.Naik: This year's conclave had many applications- particularly in the NHG solutions thematic area. They selected twenty members from different parts of India, including me. Apart from Energy Solutions, there were two other thematic areas- Cyber-Physical Security (CPS) and its applications and Healthcare. Twenty young researchers had similarly been shortlisted from each of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). All of us participants presented our research work on the domains that we were pursuing. After this, we shared and discussed our ideas with each other. We are hoping to collaborate with each other in the future and come up with some promising ideas and interesting results.
For me, this was about representing NIT Rourkela, enhancing and sharing my knowledge, and getting acquainted with the BRICS nations. Now, as an alumnus of the BRICS community, we can seek the help of each other to seek energy solutions or offer support for the same through our respective profiles on the BRICS official website.
MM: Could you please elaborate on the project that you presented at the conclave?
B.K.Naik: The topic that I presented at the conclave was Sorption-based Mobile Thermal Energy Storage which is a unique idea, and I was shortlisted because of this particular topic. The main motive of this idea is to convert unused and waste heat into usable energy.
In the Rourkela Steel Plant(RSP) operated by SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited), I, along with my M.Tech student, Atul Pavangat, did a case study of the techno-economical feasibility of the Mobile Thermal Storage in between the RSP and the academic building of our institute, the tallest building of NIT Rourkela for air conditioning and cooling purposes. The liquid for cooling can be charged (weak solution to strong solution) at the Rourkela Steel Plant and the discharged (Strong solution to Weak solution) at the centralised cooling unit in the academic building of our institute. During our case study, we found out that it is very feasible for this idea to work for short distances, such as in between RSP and NIT Rourkela (less than 8 km). This method can also be used for dehumidification, drying agricultural products, and extracting the water vapour to convert into useful drinking water. We studied this in detail and presented it in the conclave.
MM: How economically and environmentally sustainable will it be in the context of the BRICS nations?
B.K.Naik: In this project, we tried utilising waste heat. We chose to heat our applications using waste heat instead of other common ways like using biogas or electric heaters. This means that we are reducing global warming. This is also a renewable way of the heating process, so electricity consumption is less. We are utilising unused energy, so this model is a kind of net-zero energy model. Although it isn't entirely so, 80% of the energy that has been emitted to the atmosphere can still be converted through this technology. When using a vapour compression refrigeration system, although the refrigerants used are eco-friendly and do not deplete the ozone layer, they still have global warming potential. They also have to use electrical energy, which is very power-consuming; for 300 tonnes of refrigeration, it will take around 916 kW of electricity consumption. But, this can be minimised using the system which we have proposed- vapour absorption refrigeration system.
So, firstly we are converting waste heat into usable energy. Secondly, we are reducing global warming as using this system has extremely less ozone depletion potential or global warming potential compared to the previous technologies and thirdly, we are reducing energy consumption. Thus, we can conclude that it will be economically and environmentally sustainable for the BRICS nations.
MM: Having worked on several projects on sustainable energy, how helpful were your past research projects for this project?
B.K.Naik: I have worked on several research projects. During my PhD, I worked on air-cooled and water-cooled centralised air conditioning systems, specifically, energy-saving technologies in the air-cooled and water-cooled air conditioning systems. Afterwards, I also worked on my projects on air conditioning system components. Then, as a project engineer in IIT Guwahati, I worked on latent-based energy storage for collecting heat from solar and using it for power generation purposes like steam power plants using thermal energy storage-based devices. And then, at Simon Fraser University, I worked on two assignments; one on mobile thermal energy storage which I was talking about, and the other one, on designing a plate type of heat exchanger using graphite as the material to exchange heat between hot and cold devices. Simultaneously, we also explored the possibilities of sorption materials like liquid and solid sorption and their advantages over each other for mobile thermal energy storage applications and how they are feasible. After I joined NIT Rourkela in April 2020, I started working on a liquid desiccant-based drying or desalination system, a project worth Rs. 28 lakhs. The institute has also supported me by providing me with the NCD grant for working on desiccant-coated energy exchangers for HVAC applications. These projects helped me in working on the project that I presented at the conclave.
MM: It takes a lot of dedication to continue a project for such a long time. What is your source of motivation which keeps you going ahead with determination?
B.K.Naik: Nowadays, technologies are improving. Ten years back, solar photovoltaic (PV) cells generating a certain amount of electricity would take 1 hour, but now, we can do it in a matter of minutes. Right now, India is more focused on energy storage batteries. These play a vital role in storing solar, wind, renewable, or waste heat-based energies into a storage device. These can be utilised for several applications. We are also working towards technology advancement. Thinking about these things, I was motivated on working on my projects.
MM: Was the conclave fruitful for creating future collaboration opportunities with other researchers from the conclave?
B.K.Naik: Yes, in my domain of energy solutions, there were other researchers from the other five countries working on similar ideas. Previously, I didn't know who was working on the research areas similar to mine or what they have been working on. But, the conclave helped me know. So, it has undoubtedly helped. For instance, one of the researchers from Brazil, Ms Carolina, is working on a similar research topic as mine- desalination and building heating or cooling. So now, I can collaborate with her for future research proposals. Similarly, one researcher from South Africa has used waste coffee to convert it into a desalination-based phenomenon. I found these very intriguing and so, maybe I can also work on something similar to gain knowledge from it and collaborate with him.
Now, all of us are like colleagues. The government of India has also provided us with ample opportunities to collaborate with them, and it would be very easy for us to come up with technologies that would be helpful for BRICS nations.
MM: What projects are you working on right now?
B.K Naik: Currently, my students and I are working on the vapour compression refrigeration system as it is readily available for the farmers, and then slowly, we shall work towards converting it to vapour absorption refrigeration systems in the future.
We also applied for an Australian patent to design a hollow fibre membrane-based module. Its uniqueness lies in its coating surface acting as a coolant and having more mass-heat transfer efficacy than the conventional hollow fibre membrane module. Simultaneously, we can also get purified water and drying of agricultural products.
I am also working on theoretically analysing some projects for ISRO. We are also working on portable cold storage units to be installed in any rural villages to store the seasonal vegetables, fruits, seafood, and other things and sell or use it afterwards. We are working on it to be solar-powered and portable, and self-sustainable using solar PV panels.
I am also working on desalination ordrying applications. This is applied for multiple purposes. I have also published two papers on this. One of the applications I am working on is a seawater desalination system using membrane technology. As across the seawater, the air will be very humid. If we heat the seawater through a hollow fibre membrane up to a specific temperature and pass air through it, they will interact. Then, the air will absorb the moisture due to vapour pressure difference, and the humidified air is cooled using deep seawater so that we can extract the freshwater.
My student, Mr Gaurav Priyadarshi, is also exploring desiccant coated energy exchangers integrated with UV light waste technology to enhance the indoor environment considering the COVID situation. In front of the desiccant coated energy exchanger, which we designed and patented, we will install UV lamps that will purify the air through the moisture removal process, and the bacteria present will also be killed through the UV light placed inside the duct and sent into the room. This will ensure that there is less moisture in the room, and micro-bacteria will also decrease. We also worked on a chilling unit to cool instead of heating the rooms, so that with human comfort, we can also work in healthcare systems. This is also one of the projects that I am currently carrying out.
MM: What are your thoughts on the research environment and lab exposure at NIT Rourkela? Could you tell us how all this helped you?
I feel that the research exposure at NIT Rourkela is pretty good. The faculties strive to develop a student's own way of thought. When I joined NIT Rourkela, I was given the responsibility of an entire lab to establish my research works. They have also encouraged me by providing SEED grants to help develop our Sustainable Thermal Energy Systems Laboratory (STESL). So, NIT Rourkela has given me ample support when it comes to the development of research activities. Moreover, focusing on my department, the faculties are very cooperative, collaborative and have constantly encouraged me to work and develop my own set of research ideas.
MM: What are your further plans? Will you be applying for patents shortly?
Yes, as of now, I have applied for two design patents. One of the patents is on a liquid desiccant-based drying or desalination system, and the other one is on a hollow fibre membrane-based module.
Recently, we got a collaboration opportunity from the New Leaf Dynamics company, based in Noida. It has a collaboration with IIT Patna, IIT Roorkee, and Georgia Tech University, USA. So, I feel that we are fortunate that companies have recognised our sustainable thermal energy system lab. They have also contacted me regarding the funding for the development of the technology based on this liquid desiccant-based regeneration system. They also recruited one of my M-Tech student, Athul Pavangat who has previously worked on sorption-based thermal energy storage in Sustainable Thermal Energy Systems Laboratory (STESL).
So, in the future, I am hopeful that there will be more such company collaborations so that the company can utilise more of my students who are working under my guidance, as suitable research collaborators and provide funds for the research work that is being carried out. I am also planning for a start-up and with the help of company collaborations. I hope to implement the equipment with which I am doing my research work more practically. I also want to enhance some inter-institutional and inter-governmental collaborations with many nations. So, as a step in that direction, we have written three project proposals and we are hopeful about them getting accepted.
I have this vision of making my laboratory a world-class laboratory and have collaborations with many companies. I also want to develop a small start-up, and in that way, more students from our institute can get hired and excel in their careers especially in the starting stage of their works.
MM: What do you feel about the present scope of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NIT Rourkela? What, according to you, are some of the fascinating fields of research that the students can get into?
Yes, there are many opportunities for research at NIT Rourkela if one wishes to explore the research domain. There is a rapid prototyping lab and a product development lab at NIT Rourkela if one wants to gain expertise in that domain. Apart from that, there is also a 3D Printing lab and Robotics & Automation Lab, which is at the disposal of the interested students. Sustainable thermal energy system lab and microfluidics lab are other well-equipped and advanced labs available at NIT Rourkela. We also have a huge central workshop through which students gain a lot of hands-on practical experience.
With the help of FTBI and our mechanical department faculties, we wish we could develop new and exciting start-up ideas and include our B. Tech students in this venture. Technology-wise we can see Industry 4.0 based technology coming into the picture. Recently, we also have some of the CNC Missions and Cryogenic Lab facilities at the Department of Mechanical Engineering of NIT Rourkela.
My advice to the students who are enthusiastic about research in the Mechanical engineering department is to choose their field of interest and then look out for its future scope in technology advancement. For example, the IC engine technology that is being incorporated into the fuel cells and electric vehicles, or the advent of Industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing, robotics, and 3D printing technologies, and the hot topic of sustainable energy advancements gives an immense amount of research opportunities,
Recently there have been tremendous efforts towards making the research more interdisciplinary, and this is a good sign as it will enable us to achieve our research goals even better. So, my suggestion to the young researchers would be to get into a more interdisciplinary research area as that will open up more opportunities than focussing on one research area.
MM: What message would you like to give to the aspiring researchers?
If students wish to pursue research as their career, they should aim for research-based internships rather than company-based ones from the second year onwards. They should also focus on getting out some good research papers during their B. Tech or at least some conference research papers or maybe file a patent. This will surely help them feel motivated toward carrying out research.
My personal suggestion is that going for research projects would also act as a helping hand in both cracking the company-based internships and well also give you a good start if you wish to start up in your future, especially while developing prototype models. So, research is a very good path to explore during college days.
Team Monday Morning congratulates Dr. Bukke Kiran Naik for his remarkable achievement and wishes him the best for his future.
Design Credits:- Piyush Kumar Sahoo