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Abraham announces winners of annual University Coal Research Competition

16 August 2004 – US Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has announced that 22 universities in 18 states will receive $3.4m in fossil energy research grants through a Department of Energy program that brings science, university students and their professors together to advance the study of new clean and efficient coal-use technologies and concepts.

“This program continues to explore the best ways to use clean coal technology while protecting the environment,” Secretary Abraham said. “The selected projects are an integral part of President Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative, and focus on enhancing clean energy.”

DOE’s 2004 University Coal Research (UCR) Program projects cover a wide range of research areas, including developing new systems and capabilities to improve performance and reduce the costs of existing advanced power systems; developing materials to detect fossil fuel gases under high pressures and temperatures; finding new carbon dioxide and/or hydrogen separation technologies; and designing new turbine combustors with improved stability and emissions.

Since UCR’s inception in 1979, the Energy Department has funded approximately 675 new research projects with a combined value of almost $113 million, while giving more than 1,645 students throughout the U.S. first-hand experience in combining science and engineering advances to help solve issues facing the coal industry today.

Seven innovative concepts are entering their first phase of research, while four concepts are continuing research from last year. Of the four in Phase II, research will be focused on improving the overall efficiency of producing hydrogen, removing mercury by improving barrier filters, and improving the conditions under which solid oxide fuel cells operate.

Projects under the grants are divided into three areas. The Core Program focuses on applied research in the Office of Fossil Energy and is geared toward exploratory research that benefits the President’s FutureGen Initiative. The Phase I Program (Innovative Concepts) is targeted toward ideas that may lead to future breakthroughs and the Phase II Program (Innovative Concepts) provides funds for projects supported last year with Phase I funding.

The grants include nearly $1 million in cost-share funds from the universities, and the research will target the President’s Clear Skies, Global Climate Change and FutureGen Initiatives.

CORE PROGRAM

Material for Advanced Fossil Energy Systems
New materials, ideas, and concepts are being sought to significantly improve performance and reduce the costs of existing advanced power systems, or to enable the development of new systems and capabilities for coal combustion and coal gasification, gas separation, hydrogen storage, high-temperature fuel cells, and advanced turbine systems. Proposals were selected in three sub-areas under this broad topic.

Computer-Aided Design of High Temperature Materials

* University of Florida-Project title: “Computer-Aided Design of Advanced Turbine Airfoil Alloys for Industrial Gas Turbines in Coal-Fired Environments.” The development and evaluation of high temperature turbine materials is of great interest to gas turbine manufacturers and utilities generating electric power. In this project, the High Temperature Turbine Materials Research Center at the University of Florida, a recognized leader in this technology, will use a computational approach to further improve alloy design, thereby permitting more efficient power generation and less release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (DOE: $200,000; duration: 30 months).

Coatings for Coal-Fired Environments

* Lehigh University (Pennsylvania)-Project title: “Enhanced High Temperature Corrosion Resistance in Advanced Fossil Energy Systems by Nano-Passive Layer Formation.” Materials with improved corrosion resistance are needed for advanced power systems deriving electricity from fossil resources. Improved corrosion resistance is achieved by high temperature coatings that serve as a passive film between underlying alloy and corrosive environments. The project will design new coatings with improved corrosion resistance using sophisticated experimental techniques that include advanced electron imaging to characterize the coatings. Matching funds for the project will be provided by Pennsylvania Power and Electric Company
(DOE: $200,000; duration: 30 months).

Materials for Hydrogen Storage

* Alfred University (New York)-Project title: “A Radically New Method for Hydrogen Storage in Hollow Glass Microspheres.” Vehicles powered by fuel cells will require a safe, lightweight, and cost-competitive method of storing the hydrogen fuel. This project investigates the use of “photo-enhanced” (light-activated) glass spheres for the storage of hydrogen. These spheres hold great promise as they are made from silica, which is plentiful, lightweight, inexpensive, and recyclable
(DOE: $199,172; duration: 36 months).

Sensors and Controls
The project under this topic seeks to develop materials suitable for the production of low-cost, disposable sensors capable of a “plug-and-play” fashion for the detection of various fossil fuel gases under conditions of high pressure and temperature.

* University of Kentucky Research Foundation-Project title: “Novel Carbon Nanotube-Based Nanostructures for High-Temperature Gas Sensing.” When most carbon nanotubes are grown, they resemble wire mesh scrub sponges; however, scientists cannot engineer from them. For this project, researchers will create vertically aligned carbon nanotubes to serve as a basis for new high-temperature microsensors. These nanotubes-arranged like bristles on a brush-will be easy to manipulate and to develop useful products from. The researchers will fabricate the nanotube structures and characterize them for their ability to function as ultra-sensitive detection devices (DOE: $200,000; duration: 36 months).

Measurement Technology for Gasification Systems
Research conducted under this topic area will seek to develop advanced refractory liners or new materials with an expected useful life of three years or more, real-time and on-stream devices that measure and respond to fluctuations in quantity and quality of feedstocks into a gasifier, and completely novel carbon dioxide and/or hydrogen separation technologies.

* University of California at San Diego-Project title: “Multiplexed Sensor for Synthesis Gas Composition and Temperature.” This project comprises both laboratory development and field testing of a “plug-and-play” style optical absorption sensor. The sensor system will work over a range of pressures and temperatures using tunable diode lasers (commonly used in telecommunications applications) to measure species concentrations. Additional lasers can be easily added to the system to increase the number of gases measured. The products of this research are expected to have a direct impact on gasifier technology and the production of high-quality syngas, with substantial broader application to sensing in coal and other energy systems (DOE: $199,746; duration: 25 months).

Novel Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and/or Hydrogen (H2) Separation Technologies
This topic area includes projects that seek novel CO2 and/or H2 separation technologies with particular interest in technologies that maintain CO2 pressure and do not require a significant drop in temperature.

* University of Texas at Dallas-Project title: “Mixed-Matrix Membranes for CO2 and H2 Gas Separations Using Metal-Organic Frameworks and Mesoporous Hybrid Silicas.” The objective of the project is to develop and test various novel membranes for separating carbon dioxide and hydrogen from a number of process and waste gas streams. Applications could include the cleanup of waste gas streams from refineries, purification of natural gas produced from gas wells, and preparation of clean gas feed for hydrogen fuel cells (DOE: $200,000; duration: 36 months).
* Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Massachusetts)-Project title: “Sulfur-Tolerant Palladium-Copper Alloy Membranes for Hydrogen Separation with High-Pressure CO2 for Sequestration.” Coal will continue to be a dominant source of energy for the foreseeable future. Coal gasification processes with shift reactions, such as integrated gasification combined cycle, produce synthesis gas which is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The project will develop a palladium membrane process with very high engineering life to separate hydrogen from synthesis gas at practical rates, producing high-purity hydrogen at temperatures consistent with downstream applications, and leaving behind high-pressure, sequestration-ready CO2 streams. The membrane process will overcome known technical barriers by novel approaches and will be tolerant to some of the usual impurities of coal-derived synthesis gas. The proposed membrane process will lead to reduced capital and operating costs and higher thermal efficiencies compared to conventional hydrogen separation technologies, and will play a key role in the transition to a hydrogen economy (DOE: $397,216; duration, 36 months).

Partitioning and Mechanism Studies for Mercury and Associated Trace Metals within Coal-Fired Systems
Projects in this area will aid in further understanding the chemistry of mercury and other trace metal and organic substances in coal-fired systems.

* University of Connecticut-Project title: “Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Reaction and Transformation of Hg and Trace Metals in Combustion Systems.” For many of the unstable trace metals present in coal, both the level of emissions and the potential toxicity of the emissions are dependent upon the chemical form of the metal. The goal of this project is to develop an improved understanding of the chemical and physical transformations of selected trace metals during coal combustion. The metals to be examined include mercury, selenium, arsenic, cadmium, and antimony, those for which our understanding of chemistry and emissions parameters from various systems are poorest (DOE: $199,967; duration: 36 months).
* University of Alabama at Birmingham-Project title: “Oxidation of Mercury During Selective Catalytic Reduction.” Previous research suggests that catalysts used for NO2 reduction in power plants may be capable of oxidizing mercury. The University of Alabama at Birmingham will conduct a catalyst reactivity study. The objective is to screen 12 candidate catalyst materials looking for maximum mercury oxidation and NOx reduction with minimum SO3 production. Following screening, four catalysts will be selected for further research (two high-temperature catalysts and two low-temperature catalysts) in order to identify a catalyst material with the highest mercury oxidation potential (DOE: $399,899; duration: 36 months).

SOFC Sealing Systems
The purpose of this project is to develop seal materials to address planar solid oxide fuel cell sealing needs.

* University of Missouri at Rolla-Project title: “Resilient Sealing Materials for Solid Oxide Fuel Cells.” Solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) stacks require seals between various stack components for efficient operation and adequate reliability and service life. These seals must separate high temperature (700 º C to 800 º C) fuel and air flows and be electrically insulating. The objective of this project is to develop and evaluate glass-based seals for SOFC applications that are resistant to stress-induced cracking and failure resulting from the large temperature changes experienced by the stack during start-up and shut-down (DOE: $188,600; duration: 24 months).

Turbines Combustion: Flashback
Research conducted under this topic area will provide fundamental information, data, and/or computational tools that will enable design of turbine combustors with improved stability and emissions, particularly when using syngas and alternate fuels in gas turbine combustors.

* Georgia Tech Research Corporation-Project title: “Flashback Characteristics of Syngas-Type Fuels Under Steady and Pulsating Conditions.” This project will improve the state of the art in understanding and modeling of the phenomenon of flashback in gas turbine combustors. Flashback is a significant issue in low emissions combustors burning fuels containing higher levels of hydrogen. Measurements and analysis will be performed under steady and oscillatory flow conditions. Particular attention is given to coal-derived gaseous fuels while other candidate fuels, such as process gas or other fuels containing hydrogen or higher hydrocarbons will be given consideration as well (DOE: $188,818; duration: 36 months).

INNOVATIVE CONCEPTS – PHASE I

Water Impacts from Coal-Burning Power Plants

* Clemson University-Project title: “Specifically Designed Constructed Wetlands: A Novel Treatment Approach for Scrubber Wastewater.” Flue gas desulfurization (FGD) systems, or scrubbers, are a process in coal-fired power plants to remove sulfur from air emissions, and they also remove trace contaminants such as mercury, selenium, and arsenic which are then contained in the FGD wastewater at low levels. This research will evaluate a pilot-scale constructed wetland to remove these harmful constituents which are present at such low concentrations that traditional treatment methods are cost prohibitive. Performance will be tested over various conditions and seasons to demonstrate the robustness of the system (DOE: $49,982; duration: 12 months).
* University of Southern California-Project title: “Novel Anionic Clay Adsorbents for Boiler-Blow Down Waters Reclaim and Reuse.” Electric utilities are large users of water in the United States, and power plant effluents can contain heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, and selenium in a very high-volume, extremely low-concentration form. This novel clay sorbent, in combination with a separation technology, will allow recycle and reuse of these waters (DOE: $49,999; duration: 36 months).

Novel Uses of the Calcium Sulfate- and Calcium Sulfite-Based FGD Material

* Southern Illinois University-Project title: “Value-Added Products from FGD Sulfite-Rich Scrubber Material.” Southern Illinois University proposes to combine sulfite-rich flue gas desulfurization (FGD) scrubber materials with renewable agricultural by-products. These structural composites should be more economical and offer many advantages over typical wood products. Developing technologies which will convert such materials will aid in successfully competing with commercially available construction products currently in the marketplace (DOE: $49,997; duration: 12 months).
* Pennsylvania State University-Project title: “Autoclaved Building Products from FGD Sludges.” Solids removed from the Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) System of a coal-fired electric power station harden in a reaction similar to that of concrete. FGD solids can be recycled as an ingredient for manufacturing cost-effective building products like masonry block and wall panels. Penn State will explore the solids curing (hardening) process, physical properties, and performance of various FGD mixtures in their materials laboratory (DOE: $50,000; duration: 12 months).

Development of Advanced SCR Catalysts

* University of Cincinnati-Project title: “Simultaneous Removal of NOx and Mercury in Low Temperature Selective Catalytic and Adsorptive Reactor.” Some electric power stations use a large catalytic device, which works like an automobile’s catalytic converter, to treat nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the power station flue gas. For removal of mercury, injecting an adsorbent material such as activated carbon into a power station’s flue gas will attract mercury to the adsorbent, which can be removed by flue gas particulate (dust) collection systems. The University of Cincinnati will study the combined removal of NOx and mercury using a newly developed adsorbent in a multi-purpose catalytic device at their research laboratory (DOE: $50,000; duration: 12 months).
* University of Wyoming-Project title: “Supported, Alkali-Promoted Cobalt Oxide Catalysts for NOx Removal from Coal Combustion Flue Gases.” The University of Wyoming will develop a catalyst that will directly decompose nitrogen oxides found in the flue gases of coal-fired power plants into the harmless elements nitrogen and oxygen. Work on improving cobalt oxide to improve its catalytic activity to permit operation at lower temperature with smaller beds will be conducted before the catalyst can be used industrially (DOE: $49,979; duration: 12 months).
* University of Kentucky Research Foundation-Project title: “Development of Nitric Oxide Oxidation Catalysts for the Fast SCR Reaction.” Since its introduction in Japan in the 1970s, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) using ammonia has gained wide acceptance as the most effective method for deep nitrogen oxide (NOx) removal from flue gas. Given that increasingly stringent emissions legislation will necessitate increased use of SCR on a range of NOx sources, including coal-fired boilers, there is a continuing need to decrease the costs of SCR technology. The goal of this project is to identify oxidation catalysts that can be used for partial nitric oxide (NO) to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) oxidation before the introduction of the SCR catalyst. This would improve the NOx reduction rate, allowing the use of smaller SCR reactors with decreased catalyst volumes and, therefore, lower cost (DOE: $49,814; duration: 12 months).

INNOVATIVE CONCEPTS – PHASE II

Heterogeneous Reburning

* University of Mississippi-Project title: “Heterogeneous Reburning by Mixed Fuels.” The control of NOx in electric generating utility boilers by conventional reburning, the staged introduction of fuel above the primary combustion zone, appears to be limited to a reduction of 60%. Recent laboratory studies conducted by the University of Mississippi indicate that this reduction can be increased to 85% by heterogeneous reburning, the co-firing of fuels and/or ash in the reburn zone that have catalytic properties in reducing NOx. This project will conduct pilot-scale tests to demonstrate that heterogeneous reburning is capable of meeting the Phase I NOx targets of the proposed Clear Skies Act and the Interstate Air Quality Rule at a cost significantly less than today’s state-of-the-art technologies (DOE: $200,000; duration: 36 months).

Membranes for CO2 and N2 Separation/Methane Reforming

* Iowa State University-Project title: “Development of a Catalyst/Sorbent for Methane Reforming.” The researchers will try to develop a catalyst to prove the efficiency of steam reforming of methane for the production of hydrogen (DOE: $200,000; duration: 36 months).

Mercury and Other Trace Emissions in Advanced Power Systems

* University of North Dakota-Project title: “Oxidation of Mercury via Catalytic Barrier Filters.” One of the technologies used to capture power station flue gas particulates (dust) is a bag filter system-a large device filled with many sock-like fabric bags that trap particulates but allow flue gas to pass through. It is believed that applying a catalyst to the fabric bags could chemically change flue gas mercury into a form that could be removed by the bag filter system. The University of North Dakota will investigate coating of various bag filter fabric materials with catalysts and test the performance and durability of coated filter bags using a laboratory-scale furnace and bag filter to further develop mercury removal technology (DOE: $200,000; duration: 30 months).

Smart Sensing and Advanced Artificially Intelligent Control Systems

* Research Foundation of SUNY, University of Albany-Project title: “Feasibility of a SOFC Stack Integrated Optical Chemical Sensor.” The project team will be investigating the feasibility of an innovative chemical sensor based on nano-cermet Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) bands that could be integrated with a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC). Such an innovative chemical sensor would be able to withstand the demanding operating environment of the SOFC system while being directly integrated in the SOFC and would allow for the real-time monitoring of the operating temperature in the SOFC stack, the fuel concentrations and the detection of impurities in the fuel, such as sulfur (DOE: $199,987; duration, 36 months).