#Eweek2022 Spotlight | Rick DeMarinis

Engineering for an energy-efficient future

For National Engineers Week 2022, we’re sharing stories from Cushing Terrell’s engineering talent to learn more about how they chose their profession and what makes them tick. 

Who (or what) inspired you to become an engineer?

I didn’t know anything in particular about engineering in high school but felt that my strengths were related to the sciences. When I looked at college opportunities in my state, Montana Technology University (Montana Tech) stood out as a high quality small college that would be a great choice. Since they had strong engineering programs and a world-wide reputation, I chose to go there and challenge myself with Environmental Engineering. That was very attractive to me as I was interested in protecting the environment.

Who is an engineer you look up to and/or admire?

Because I ended up doing HVAC design, I was always interested in Willis Carrier who is often called the “Father of Modern Air Conditioning” and did much research to advance the field. As my career developed, a contemporary engineer I look up to is Stephen Taylor, a leader in the fields of energy-efficient design and commissioning, both of which have been central to my career.

What is your area of expertise and why did you choose it?

My expertise is in the area of energy-efficient systems design, which includes renewable energy. I became interested in this area during college while taking outstanding classes such in solar energy, HVAC design, thermodynamics, and heat transfer at Montana Tech. The instructors showed us how we had the ability to create a better world through engineering more efficient systems.

What is one of your favorite projects and why?

Recently, my favorite project is the combined heat and power plant at the University of Montana. This project will make the campus more energy efficient by recovering the exhaust heat used to generate electric power, which is then used to make steam to heat the campus. The system is expected to result in a 20-30% reduction in UM’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The current University of Montana steam plant burns natural gas to boil water, which creates the steam used to heat the campus. With the new combined heat and power technology, the plant will use natural gas to create electricity through two turbines. The waste heat from that process will then be used to boil water to create steam to heat the campus, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Do you have a passion project or initiative you’re working to advance?

For the Romney Hall renovation at Montana State University, we designed a ground-source heat-pump field composed of eighty, 700 ft. deep boreholes to provide the renewable energy source/sink for the HVAC heat pump system serving the building. This borehole field has enough capacity to serve additional buildings so we also designed the first stage of infrastructure to create an energy district concept that can be extended throughout the entire campus.

Above ground, MSU’s Romney Hall was recently renovated to serve as a pivotal academic building with 17 classrooms and more than 1,000 classroom seats. Below ground, 80+ boreholes will anchor a high-efficiency geothermal energy system. Image: Renovation rendering from Cushing Terrell.

Tell us something about the field of engineering that is surprising or not common knowledge.

The diversity in the application of engineering is so wide that it’s involved in almost every aspect of our lives. So whatever passion you have in life, there’s an engineer in the background somewhere helping to make it happen.

What is the most interesting/strangest thing someone has asked you to ‘engineer’?

I was asked to design a heat-pump system for a Navy facility that could use the ocean as an energy source. The trouble was that the heat exchanger placed on the ocean floor would become inoperative in previous designs due to marine life attaching to the heat exchanger and turning it into a great reef, but not so great at exchanging heat. With some research, we found a metal that sea life wouldn’t attach to (copper-nickel alloy). Apparently, those life forms don’t like the taste of copper!

What things can you not help but engineer in your life?

There’s nothing in my life that is immune from engineering principles. If you think there’s a best way to do anything, it deserves analysis by a thoughtful process. I have to say, though, it hasn’t helped my golf game over three decades. I think that game is rocket science!

What piece of advice would you give a young person interested in becoming an engineer?

Think about the things you are really interested in and find the area of engineering that will allow you to create new ideas and solve problems and be a leader in those areas. That will keep you motivated to tackle difficult engineering classes and give you purpose.

Rick at a glance

  • Mechanical/Environmental Engineer
  • Living in Helena, Montana
  • Defining characteristics: Thoughtful, fair, and un-biased
  • Interests: Finding solutions to today’s energy and emissions challenges and exploring the great outdoors with family

Read about the other engineers we’ll be highlighting for National Engineers Week 2022!