Advanced Thermal Engineering and Aerodynamics (ATHENA) Centre

We develop clean energy technology to enable a sustainable net-zero carbon future, through cutting-edge research in thermal engineering, aerodynamics, fluid mechanics, wind engineering, design and reliability engineering

The Advanced Thermal Engineering and Aerodynamics (ATHENA) Centre helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the climate crisis by addressing key engineering challenges with the production and use of renewable energy.

New Zealand is repeatedly seeing the impact of climate change with severe storms, an increase in flooding and cyclones, and rising sea levels. More than two thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions come from energy use. Increased energy efficiency and production of renewable energy are crucial to the world’s climate change mitigation strategy. Recent scientific reports determine that strong and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can limit global temperature rise.

Our research

The ATHENA Centre leverages the expertise of our members and wider networks, as well as our state-of-the-art facilities to create real change. These enable us to:

  • Undertake both fundamental and applied research in aerodynamics, heat transfer, fluid dynamics, thermal engineering, wind engineering, reliability and systems engineering  
  • Collaborate with other groups across the University for meaningful outcomes (e.g. the Geothermal Institute, CEE Fluids Group, Hydrogen Energy Group, Electrical engineering academics, the University Energy Centre)
  • Cultivate impactful partnerships with industry and external stakeholders (e.g. the NZ Wind Energy Association; Auckland Transport; NIWA; HERA, Climate Change Commission; Fletcher Steel Ltd, NZ Sugar)
  • Influence energy research direction within the university and nationally

Our two main areas of research

Renewable and Clean Energy

While Aotearoa is abundant in renewable resources, these remain greatly underused. We undertake leading research on wind, solar, marine and hydrogen energy. We are developing reliable and highly efficient renewable energy and hybrid energy generation systems, across a range of scales (for e.g. miniature energy harvesting systems; large wind farm scale modelling).

We are also researching clean combustion, using biofuels and hydrogen, and turbomachinery at miniature scales, for ultra-micro-scale power production. These are aimed at powering portable devices and for niche applications (e.g. UAVs), without undesirable emissions.

Energy Efficiency and Reliability

To mitigate rising demand on our renewable resources, we are developing aerodynamic and thermal engineering solutions using advanced engineering processes, to design systems that can operate with maximum energy efficiency. We are also developing advanced waste recovery systems, to minimise wasted energy. 

Furthermore, our expertise in modern design and reliability engineering enables us to develop technologies and systems that are also reliable and resilient. Our expertise and world-class facilities in wind engineering enable us to develop more resilient physical energy infrastructure.

Our projects:

  • Aerodynamic performance of small UAVs in adverse weather
  • Bio-inspired UAV wing design based on gliding birds 
  • Solar chimneys and windcatchers for natural ventilation
  • Transpired solar collectors
  • Wind farm simulations
  • Mesoscale wind resource mapping of the Fiji Islands using Numerical Weather Prediction tools
  • Novel wind turbine designs (e.g. telescopic blade; ducted)
  • Modelling and Control to Mitigate Resonant Load in Variable-Speed Wind Turbine Drivetrain
  • Tidal turbine performance in unsteady tidal stream flows
  • Organic Rankine Cycle for waste energy recovery
  • Carbon neutral electricity generation from waste heat
  • Buoyancy vortices for industrial waste energy harvesting
  • Bio-inspired triboelectric nanogenerator
  • Small-scale wind energy harvesting based on aerodynamic instabilities
  • Thermoacoustic engine based power generator
  • Novel cooling systems for gas turbine engines
  • Microscale thermal management using micro jets, pulsating heat pipes and microchannel heat exchangers
  • Mitigating wind gusts on high-sided vehicles on the Auckland Harbour Bridge 
  • Wind flows around and wind loads on buildings and structures
  • Wind loading of solar panels
  • Interaction of the tropical cyclone winds with the built environment
  • Wind hazard investigation of a tropical cyclone making a direct hit on Auckland
  • Wind hazard infrastructure resilience investigation of wind and ice loads on NZ transmission lines
  • Computer modelling and simulation of engineering projects for the development of integrated energy systems

How can you work with us?

The ATHENA Centre offers a variety of ways for you to access our wide-ranging expertise and state-of-the-art facilities. 

  • We have a proven track record of delivering solutions through collaborative research with government agencies, industry, institutes and the community at large in New Zealand and internationally.
  • We can help academic researchers think more broadly about the applications of their research, connect them with commercial opportunities and encourage entrepreneurial thinking. 
  • We offer innovative student research through postgraduate studies, internships, and other programmes that provide career opportunities globally, across industry, research and academia. 

Our people

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

ATHENA collaborates with iwi and Māori land-resource owners on renewable energy projects. Some of the projects we work on include:

  • A wind and solar resource assessment project, via Finox Capital Ltd, a proposed energy farm in the Hawkes Bay
  • An energy audit project with Māori-owned industries
  • Renewable energy solutions for inter-generational Māori housing

In order to grow we work with communities and iwi on relevant projects, while inspiring and appealing to students to join. We encourage Māori undergraduate and postgraduate students within the Centre by offering summer research, final-year (Honours) and postgraduate research projects.

Additionally, we identify and nominate Māori researchers and engineering alumni who are connected with their communities, to participate in community projects, and act as champions to work with Māori students.

Members of ATHENA participate in discussions and workshops with Māori panels on campus and seek guidance from the Faculty of Engineering kaiārahi.