Team Epiphyte's Lab Tour at Penn CBE: Trip Report

On Tuesday, July 18, Chuck Pierson and I toured the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) lab in Towne Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. The purpose of the visit was to plan the logistics for using this lab space for building and testing Epiphyte, the Carbon Crowd team’s next prototype Direct Air Capture (DAC) system.

Our host was Marylin Huff, the Lab Director. Marylin showed us around the lab and answered all our questions about resources, policies, and logistical issues.

Here is a view of the lab as you enter:

And an area used by students in lab courses:

The lab is used as an undergraduate teaching lab, and some of the discussion revolved around the academic schedule. Classes start August 29, but the first undergraduate lab sessions start September 14. We agreed that we should be finished with the construction aspects of the project before then.

We also discussed the issue of noise. The fans and vacuum pump that will be installed in the early phases of Epiphyte are expected to be fairly quiet, and can be made quieter with additional sound-absorbent material. A compressor (as was used with Thursday) could be a noise problem, but that would come later and might not ever be needed if the goal of Epiphyte is not to fill tanks with CO2 for shipping.

Marylin showed us two areas that are available for work. Both areas include lab tables, and we can move more in if needed. The first space was on the ground level near her office:

The second is up a short flight of stairs:

We chose the second because it is more isolated and less likely to interfere with other lab activities. The equipment we bring in will not be too heavy for two people to carry up the stairs. This area is only scheduled for one weekly afternoon lab with about 25 students; we agreed that we can easily work around this.

There is also a quiet room for sitting:

Marylin answered a number of questions for us:

  1. Q. How will we gain access to the building and the lab? A. She can get us key cards that will allow 24-hour access; she just needs to find out what the process is for getting the cards.
  2. Q. Will we have access to WiFi? A. Yes.
  3. Q. Can we have items shipped to the loading dock at the location? A. She was not sure, and will find out; in any case we could have things shipped to her directly.
  4. Q. Is there a machine shop available? A. Two possibilities which don’t seem promising: (1) There’s one in the building but you have to reserve time, it’s hard to get time on it and may be tied up during the semester; (2) There is a makerspace nearby, but it may only be for students.
  5. Q. Are fume hoods available? A. There are a couple in the lab which we can use when not needed for students; we might also be able to run a hose with captured CO2 to these since there are no windows.
  6. Q. Are the following items available to use?
    6a: Soldering iron? A. Can borrow
    6b: Multimeter? A. Yes
    6c: Oscilloscope? A. No
    6d: Power strips? A. Yes
    6e: Drill? A. Yes
    6f: Calibrated CO2 sensor? A. No, but Pete Psarras might have one.

After this very successful visit, we took a stroll through campus.