US universities receive coal research grants

WHILE paying a visit to West Virginia University in Morgantown this week, US Department of Energy (DoE) secretary Samuel Bodman announced $US3 million in funding to be awarded by the University Coal Research Program (UCR).

Donna Schmidt

UCR, at 26-years, is one of the DoE’s longest-running research initiatives. The program has invested more than $US116 million to date to help students studying science and their professors to identify and develop technology for cleaner, more efficient uses of coal.

“Coal is our most abundant source of energy and the University Coal Research Program helps us identify new ways to utilise coal in a more efficient and environmentally responsible way by tapping into the creativity and ambition of America’s young scientists,” said Bodman. “The UCR programs continue to build on the growing scope and tradition of the Department of Energy’s commitment to overall basic science and to the development of cleaner, more efficient uses of fossil fuels.”

Nineteen universities in 15 US states will receive the funding to further selected projects in three areas of study: the Core Program (projects that harmonise with ongoing applied research in DoE’s Fossil Energy program), the Innovative Concepts Phase I Program (projects using target novel ideas that may make future breakthroughs possible), and the Innovative Concepts Phase II Program (projects previously supported with Phase I funding).

The Core Program

Under the Core Program, ten universities will receive funding in several major areas. For computer-aided design of high-temperature materials, West Virginia University and Ohio University will further multi-year projects using grants of $US200,000 and $US139,000, respectively.

Under the heading of nanotechnology for coatings in coal-fired environments, the University of Washington and the University of Utah will utilise their nearly identical grants of $US199,000 to further research that will lengthen the life of power systems, make them more efficient, and protect them from corrosion.

Brigham Young University in Utah and Washington University in St Louis, receiving awards of $US200,000 and $US399,000 respectively, will conduct research classified as multipollutant controls by oxycombustion, a technology capable of managing carbon in coal-fired power plants.

One university, Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University, received $US200,000 for its project on novel sensors for slagging coal gasification systems, some of which have yet to be invented.

Under the heading of electronically conductive, low-temperature sintering materials for cathode/interconnect contacts in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), team members from Tennessee Technological University, using their funding of $US200,000, will further studies to improve the reliability and long-term stability of SOFCs.

With funding of $US400,000, the University of Pittsburgh will explore partitioning and mechanism studies for mercury and associated trace materials within coal-fired processors, a 36-month project.

Finally, Clemson University will conduct pilot studies of wastewater, a project under the heading of water impacts from coal-burning power plants. The three-year study will be funded by the DoE’s $US199,000 grant.

Innovative Concepts Phase 1 Program

With regards to joining and sealing high-temperature gas separation membranes, the University of Florida and the Colorado School of Mines will perform research to develop materials with high melting points that can be used above 600C. Each school received a $US50,000 grant for their respective studies.

The University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University each received $US50,000 in funding for projects classified as computational chemistry in support of hydrogen from coal. Both projects intend to develop models to support hydrogen production, separation and storage.

The topic of hydrogen production and separation will be further studies by two universities receiving money, with the University of South Florida and University of Southern California each receiving virtually identical grants of about $US50,000 so that their team members can work to develop critical supporting technologies for next-generation power systems.

Identical funding awards of approximately $US50,000 will also be given to the University of Michigan and the University of Kentucky for projects regarding characterising health-relevant fine particle emissions from coal-fired utility boilers. Both projects aim to improve characterisation of fine particles.

Lastly, under the classification of turbine combustion: chemical kinetics, research to help enable cleaner, more efficient turbine combustor design, Princeton University will apply its $US50,000 grant to further the topic.

Innovative Concepts Phase II

The University of South Carolina, with its $US200,000 grant, will utilise the insights it gained during Phase I research to improve carbon dioxide separation form coal gasification processes. It was the only funding awarded this year for a Phase II project continuation.

Since the program’s launch in 1979, some 685 projects have been conducted by almost 1700 students working along with their professors. Past UCR research has helped to develop concepts that are now in commercial practice, including innovative methods for washing impurities from coal to an offshoot technology to make more efficient use of carbon inks in office copy machines.