2017 Research Magazine

Research Centers and Institutes Spotlight

By Scott Balyo

Michigan Tech has many research centers and institutes. Learn more about the Advanced Power System Laboratories (APS LABS) and the Sustainable Futures Institute (SFI).

Advanced Power System Laboratories (APS LABS)

APS LABS at Michigan Tech are a multidisciplinary collaborative that fosters research efforts in the development of clean, efficient, sustainable power-systems technologies. Its researchers are advancing the fundamental and applied knowledge required for the next generation of low-emission, high-efficiency power generation systems.

Research Areas


The combustion lab, housed at the Alternative Energy Research Building, is home to a 1.1 L optically accessible constant volume combustion chamber. Using this combustion chamber, studies can be conducted on spark ignition; diesel and gasoline fuel injection, alternative fuel ignition, combustion, and emissions; and interaction of spray jets with pulsed injections. Data can also be analyzed to characterize droplet, spray, vaporization, and soot using optical and laser-based diagnostics.


The engine laboratory contains six modern engine dynamometers and testing equipment for spark ignition and diesel engines. All the standard engine measurements, including emissions and combustion analysis, can be obtained. In addition, both the physical and biological characteristics of diesel exhaust can be obtained.


Advanced aftertreatment and emissions for medium- and heavy-duty industry consortium research is conducted at our Advanced Power Systems Research Center facility in the diesel engine laboratory to collect standard engine measurement information. In addition, our automotive engine laboratory has emission measuring and high-speed data acquisition capabilities. Our two-stroke marine engine laboratory is a dynamometer facility devoted specifically to research associated with two-stroke engines with emission measuring and high-speed data acquisition measuring equipment to collect the right information for your research and development needs.

Power Transmission:

The Powertrain Research Laboratory features two 465-horsepower dynamometers for testing automotive torque converters and transmissions. The facility offers full LabVIEW automation of all tests, which includes dynamometer controls and hydraulic-system controls. A full suite of state-of-the-art, data-acquisition hardware systems, including a microwave telemetry system, is available to lab users. Studies performed in the lab include cavitation studies and dimensional-analysis correlation, turbine-noise studies, and pump, turbine, and stator pressure-map testing. Any element of a torque converter can be instrumented and tested under nearly any test condition.

Vehicle Lab:

A fully equipped vehicle lab is used for contract projects requiring vehicle level integration. Vehicles are instrumented and updated with experimental hardware or software prior to being tested. The shop is sized to accommodate vehicles from snowmobiles and ORVs to Class 8 Tractor Trailer combinations and off-road equipment. The lab includes two chassis dynamometers (automotive-sized and motorcycle ORV-sized), an automotive-sized cold room, two automotive lifts, and additional tools and equipment.

Mobile Lab:

The mobile lab consists of an expandable semi-truck trailer and includes two fully functional powertrain dynamometers and a fleet of 30 vehicles. It is used for hands-on professional development courses, product and technology awareness, STEM outreach, and research.


Issues of energy and sustainability are at the front of everyone’s minds—and it’s especially true for Michigan Tech researchers. Scientists and experts from countless disciplines come together at Michigan Tech to tackle some of today’s most vexing problems. Involving researchers from almost every academic unit, energy and sustainability is one of the most interdisciplinary areas of research at Michigan Tech. And given the complex, interconnected nature of energy and sustainability, that’s precisely what makes our research excel.

At Michigan Tech, researchers from biology, chemistry, physics, forestry, and environmental science, and nearly every engineering discipline collaborate in order to study issues of energy and sustainability. Scientists study our planet’s resources and find novel ways to transform them into the energy that powers our evolving society. From investigating alternative energy sources, like wind and bioenergy, to studying high-energy particle astrophysics, to the sociology of adopting renewable energy sources and recycling programs, research at Michigan Tech reaches across departmental divisions to provide solutions to monumental problems.

Biomass and Waste to Energy:

APS LABS researchers have developed a combined torrefaction-pyrolysis process that produces bio-oil devoid of organic acids and reduced oxygen, resulting in a high-quality and enhanced biofuel. The main advantages are very little degradation of the biofuel and high calorific value of the fuel. This material can be used either as-is in compression engines or further upgraded in a biorefinery to produce transportation fuels, identical to the ones used in spark ignition engines. The concept has been tested successfully at 1 kg/hr system and is now upscaled to 50 kg/hr. In the upscaled system, biomass wastes, such as agricultural waste and forest residue, as well as municipal solid wastes are used as feedstock. These types of wastes are considered renewable and are low- to negative-cost as they impose an ecological hazard.


The Rail Transportation Program (part of MTTI) collaborates with APS LABS at Michigan Tech to provide an independent review of a proposed High Pressure Heat Exchanger (HiP-HEX) System for use on rail locomotives. A group of mechanical engineering faculty, staff, and students are engaged in a theoretical review of the waste energy available at the engine manifold and how much of that energy can be captured and converted to electrical energy to help drive a locomotive, without adversely affecting engine performance.

Established as a research, education, and outreach incubator, SFI addresses sustainability.

Sustainable Futures Institute (SFI)

The Sustainable Futures Institute was established at Michigan Tech as an incubator for research, education, and outreach efforts related to sustainability. SFI addresses sustainability from multiple disciplines—fitting the discipline to the challenge, rather than expecting the challenge to fit pre-established disciplinary methods.

SFI is an education and research leader on sustainability initiatives related to water, air, and energy; industrial ecology; environmentally conscious manufacturing; green engineering; public policy; the built environment; sustainable development that includes issues of the developing world; pre-college education for students and teachers; community outreach; and university campus eco-improvements. SFI has more than 100 participating campus members and oversees more than $15 million in research projects addressing all areas of sustainable systems development.

Research Areas

SFI facilitates collaborative research between Michigan Tech faculty, global organizations, and industry partners in 11 countries. Research is focused on unique, multi-perspective sustainable development.

International/Developing World Sustainable Development:

How can the SFI foster sustainable development in other regions of the world and encourage best practice adoptions or creation of home-grown, localized solutions?

Manufacturing and Materials Sustainability:

How can systems be developed to maximize the utility of materials while minimizing environmental and social impacts?

Systems Analysis for Sustainability:

What are the best methods to use to analyze complex, interrelated sustainability issues in a particular system and how might those issues affect other systems?

Sustainable Energy:

What sources of energy offer the best combination of low environmental impact, high economic return, and social acceptability?

Current Highlighted Projects

Research Coordination Network for Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability:

Many communities and countries are adapting to the opportunities and challenges presented by local biofuels development. While the particular aspects of each biofuels case may be different, many aspects of these emerging markets and technologies can create useful experiences that should be shared widely to benefit many different groups. This project is focused on creating a community of researchers across the Pan-American region with interests in several aspects of bioenergy sustainability.

Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE):

From Canada to Brazil, the PIRE team analyzes several bioenergy development case studies to evaluate environmental and socioeconomic impacts. Similarities and differences among the case studies in different regions are assessed to learn more broadly about biofuels development across the Pan American region.

Sustainable Energy Pathways (SEP):

This project is the latest in the line of SFI research activity in our “Wood to Wheels” integrated program. Research across the woody bioenergy life cycle—from plant genetics to engine research—will be combined with a broader view of the sustainability of the entire bioenergy life cycle in order to assess socioeconomic and environmental impacts of these new biofuels technologies.

Sustainability Assessments with Industrial Partners:

SFI has developed a successful track record of consulting research with companies interested in obtaining third party, critical reviews of their product or process configurations to assess environmental sustainability. SFI staff and affiliated faculty have expertise in life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to quantify environmental impacts of a system according to internationally accepted standard practices. Most projects have focused on the alternative energy sector, but the approach is adaptable. Some of the current and previous project partners include: LanzaTech, UOP, GTI, General Motors, Frontier Renewable Resources, Walmart, and API.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.