Alumni generate designs for the power industry
On March 19, the MechSE alumnus visited the ME 390 class to share information about the company and the power industry. Sargent & Lundy, founded in 1891 by Frederick Sargent and Ayres Lundy, worked with big names in the trade, including Thomas Edison.
“We still do work for Commonwealth Edison today under the Exelon branch, so that is a long relationship we have,” Wright said.
By 1893, the firm was consulting at the World’s Columbian Exposition, where electricity played a central role. Today, the group’s corporate headquarters are located in Chicago’s Loop.
The firm focuses on both fossil fuels and nuclear energy generation. As an architectural engineering company, Sargent & Lundy designs new power plants and helps with the operation of existing plants by advising on capacity upgrades, obsolescence, and how to meet new regulations.
“We do technical design work,” Wright said. “What separates us from some of the other, larger firms is that we don’t do construction.”
Sargent & Lundy also has a large environmental projects subgroup under the fossil fuel division. One project includes adding scrubbers to plants to collect polluting particles and gases from the plant’s exhaust. Other activities feature power delivery services.
“There is a tremendous drive right now to move from coal to natural gas, primarily because of economics, but we are also touting the fact that they look at the improvement in the carbon footprint,” Wright said.
Prior to joining Sargent & Lundy, Wright said he only had a vague notion of what the power industry was like.
“The only thing that I remember and knew about the power industry when I was going to school here was that there was an electric bill from a company once a month that we had difficulty paying,” Wright said.
He became familiar with that business when he joined the firm. Wright quickly developed an affinity for one kind of power generation, in particular.
“Here’s where my heart lies: I’ve been working on nuclear power for the last 30-plus years,” Wright said.
Today, the nuclear power industry has three generations of power plants. Generation One, or test trial reactors, were designed to find out whether nuclear power plants were possible. The first privately funded nuclear power plant, Dresden Generating Station, was built in Morris, Illinois, and was active by 1960. Generation Two reactors include initial to modern designs. Generation Three reactors and those after provided the advanced boiling water reactor, which uses water both as a coolant and a fuel to generate electricity.
Kevin Traeger (BSME ’02, MSME ’05), a mechanical engineer at Sargent & Lundy, joined Wright to talk about his seven years at the company. He explores both nuclear and fossil fuels.
In the fossil fuels division, he worked on retrofits to counter the effects of power plants on the environment. In the nuclear power division, Traeger and other engineers are analyzing the Fukushima Daiichi accident. When a tsunami hit the Japan nuclear power plant in 2011, the plant discharged large amounts of radioactive materials.
“(We are) trying to find ways to supply water to different areas of the plant if it is completely disabled,” Traeger said. “It’s very interesting to be able to dive deep and understand what happened at Fukushima and then apply those lessons learned to new nuclear sites.”
Traeger suggests that MechSE students consider Sargent & Lundy to pick up skills in other areas of engineering.
“I’ve learned a lot about the other disciplines,” Traeger said. “I can read electrical semantics and one-line diagrams that I had absolutely no knowledge about before I started working at S&L.”