Before becoming an assistant professor of energy systems engineering at OSU-Cascades in 2012, Chris Hagen had logged a dozen years working in industry, including four years as a lead fuels research engineer with the Chevron Energy Technology Company in Richmond, CA.His current research and teaching focuses on energy conversion (primarily combustion), novel transportation fuels, and development of sensors for use in harsh environments. In 2013, Hagen founded and spun out his own startup company, Onboard Dynamics, Inc., which is developing an onboard fueling system that uses a vehicle’s internal combustion engine to compress natural gas, enabling refueling of natural gas vehicles from low-pressure natural gas sources found at homes and businesses. Hagen was the inventor of the technology, served at the company’s CTO, and previously sat on the Onboard Dynamics’ board of directors. At OSU-Cascades, Hagen established a world-class research operation that includes the OSU Energy Systems Laboratory, where he leads a team of 10 undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and technician researchers investigating clean, novel energy conversion technologies. “The program is turning out top-notch graduates who are as good as anybody in the country,” Hagen said. “They are very dedicated, and I’m very proud of them.”
To date, Hagen’s OSU research has attracted $3.2 million in funding. His current research projects include designing new types of gasoline that enable more efficient, cleaner-burning automotive engines. The project has been funded by a large private company for five years. For the past year, he’s also been developing a hybrid combustion-electric power train that will allow unmanned aerial vehicles to take off and land vertically. “Liquid fuel contains more energy than batteries, so a hybrid electric engine system allows us to achieve things you can’t do with just batteries, like flying greater distances,” Hagen said. “Small combustion engines are less efficient, but they make sense as you scale up, so we’re trying to hit a sweet spot in our work on a drone with a 6-ft. wingspan.” This project was funded by grants from the M.J. Murdoch Charitable Trust and the OSU Venture Fund. “It’s been a lot of fun, with the possibility of a spinout company there,” said Hagen, who is hoping the project might help reinvigorate the local aerospace industry in Central Oregon.
Another of Hagen’s recent research projects was exploring the use of internal combustion engines as chemical reactors to convert stranded gasses, like methane, that flare off of well sites and landfills into other types of fuels that are more valuable and can be sold. “Internal combustion engines are inexpensive, so if you can employ them to perform a chemical process that adds value to waste fuel, you have a technology with good business potential,” said Hagen, whose portion of the multi-institution research project was funded by $600,000 from the Dept. of Energy’s ARPA-E, by way of the Chicago-based Gas Technology Institute. “We conducted background calculations and experiments on a wide range of potential processes,” he said. “There is a rock star team on this in Chicago, so we feel privileged to be a part of what could be a real game-changer.” Hagen was recently recognized by the Society of Automotive Engineers, a global engineering organization, with the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award. He also holds two prestigious awards from Oregon State, one for teaching and mentoring and one for innovation. “I was given both the Excellence in Post-Doctoral Mentoring Award and the Faculty Innovator Award,” Hagen said. “It was an honor and very humbling to get those two awards during the same year.”
— Gregg Kleiner