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DOE Announces Winners of Annual University Coal Research Grants

July 7, 2005 - 2:06pm


Funding to Support Continued Research in Clean Coal Technology

MORGANTOWN, WV -- Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman today announced $3 million in funding under the University Coal Research Program (UCR), the department’s longest-running student-teacher research grant initiative. Secretary Bodman made the announcement while visiting West Virginia University, a $200,000 awardee.

"Coal is our most abundant source of energy and the University Coal Research Program helps us identify new ways to utilize coal in a more efficient and environmentally responsible way by tapping into the creativity and ambition of America's young scientists," Secretary Bodman said. "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."

Now in its 26th year, UCR has invested more than $116 million in science students and their professors as they develop clean and efficient technologies for the use of coal. Since the program’s inception in 1979, nearly 1,700 students have worked alongside their professors in 685 projects.

UCR research has developed concepts that are now in commercial practice-from new ways to wash impurities from coal to a spin-off technology that provides more efficient use of carbon inks in office copiers. In this round of funding, researchers will address challenges in nanotechnology, hydrogen production, power plant emission reductions, and carbon sequestration.

Nineteen universities in 15 states will share the funding among selected projects in three areas: the Core Program provides funds for projects that complement ongoing applied research in DOE’s Fossil Energy program; the Innovative Concepts Phase I Program targets unique ideas that might lead to future breakthroughs; and the Innovative Concepts Phase II Program provides funds for projects previously supported with Phase I funding.


Materials for Advanced Fossil Energy Systems-New materials are required to improve the performance and reduce the costs of existing advanced power generation systems. They are also needed to develop new systems and capabilities for coal combustion and gasification, gas separation, hydrogen storage, high-temperature fuel cells, and advanced turbine systems. Four projects were selected under two sub-areas of this broad topic.

Computer-Aided Design of High-Temperature Materials

  • West Virginia University (Morgantown, W.Va.)-The quest for high-temperature materials is one of the dominant themes in developing efficient energy systems. In extreme heat, candidate materials often lack sufficient "ductility," the ability to adapt to high-pressure loads. In this project, researchers will investigate the microscopic mechanisms that improve the ductility of molybdenum, a high-temperature structural material important to advanced power generation systems. (DOE award: $200,000; project duration: 36 months.)
  • Ohio University (Athens, Ohio)-Coal-derived synthesis gas can contain high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, a contaminant that fouls the anode (the negative electrode) in high-temperature solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems. Ohio University’s research team will investigate anode deterioration in these systems in order to develop a sulfur-tolerant anode material, which will remove a roadblock to SOFC commercialization. (DOE award: $139,872; project duration: 24 months.)

Nanotechnology for Coatings in Coal-Fired Environments

  • University of Washington (Seattle, Wash.)-Coal-fired power systems with higher efficiency and lower emissions will require a new generation of ceramic coatings to protect metallic components from corrosion. This project will focus on developing novel nano-scale reinforced ceramic coatings that can withstand high temperatures, will expand and contract with metallic structures, and can be easily applied to structures with complex shapes. (DOE award: $199,250; project duration: 36 months.)
  • University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)-Students and faculty at the University of Utah will develop a nano-scale coating to protect steel- and nickel-based structures in advanced coal-fired power generation systems with a goal of developing a commercially viable coating technology that will extend the life, increase the output, and reduce the energy consumption of these systems. (DOE award: $199,903; project duration: 36 months.)

Multipollutant Controls by Oxycombustion-Combustion in an oxygen-rich environment, called "oxycombustion," is a technically viable option to reduce NOx and manage carbon in new and existing coal-fired power plants. The two projects selected in this topic area will use simulated flue gas to experimentally demonstrate how oxycombustion can be used to control multiple pollutants.

  • Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah)-Researchers will demonstrate how NOx reductions are achieved in oxycombustion and will explore the potential for NOx to cause corrosion in plant boilers. Potential results could provide insight into the technology’s commercial feasibility. (DOE award: $200,000; project duration: 36 months.)
  • Washington University (St. Louis, Mo.)-The Washington University project team will determine how to optimize oxycombustion to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies in coal-fired power systems. Team members will then determine the effect of performance improvements on the net cost of carbon sequestration. (DOE award: $399,830; project duration: 36 months.)

Novel Sensors for Slagging Coal Gasification Systems-The highly efficient power plants of the future will use novel sensors and control systems that have yet to be invented. Research in this area will develop methods to accurately measure the integrity and thickness of materials used in slagging coal gasifiers, thus improving the reliability of gasification-based power systems.

  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Va.)-This project will develop an accurate and reliable fiber-optic sensing system for use in high-temperature, high-pressure corrosive environments. A silica-based fiber sensor that can operate in temperatures up to 900°F will monitor material wear, while a sapphire-based sensor will measure temperatures inside the gasifier. (DOE award: $200,000; project duration: 36 months.)

Electrically Conductive, Low-Temperature Sintering Materials for Cathode/Interconnect Contacts in Solid Oxide Fuel Cells-The development of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) that can operate on coal-derived synthesis gas presents unique technical challenges. Research in this area will address one of these challenges by developing electrically conductive, low-temperature sintering materials for cathode/interconnect contacts in SOFCs.

  • Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville, Tenn.)-Team members will develop a new type of low-cost, damage-tolerant, metal-ceramic composite material to provide long-term electrical contact between the cathode and the metallic interconnect in SOFCs. The new contact materials will use a silver-base alloy, instead of pure silver, to reduce silver evaporation and migration within the fuel cell. The materials should improve the reliability and long-term stability of SOFCs, reduce production costs, and contribute to their early commercialization. (DOE award: $200,000; project duration: 36 months.)

Partitioning and Mechanism Studies for Mercury and Associated Trace Metals within Coal-Fired Processes-Understanding mercury chemistry and transformations through laboratory experiments is necessary to develop mercury-removal processes for advanced power systems. Research conducted under this topic will investigate the reactions of mercury and associated trace metals found in coal-fired systems.

  • University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa.)-Researchers will explore the chemical reactions that influence the transformation of mercury in the flue gases of coal-fired power plants and then validate a mathematical model that can predict mercury emissions. (DOE award: $400,000; project duration: 36 months.)

Water Impacts from Coal-Burning Power Plants-Thermoelectric power generation is a water-intensive process, requiring on average 25 gallons of water per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. Constraints on freshwater resources and competition for their use will challenge the nation’s ability to provide sufficient water to meet current and future thermoelectric generation needs. The project selected under this topic aims to improve the quality of wastewater for possible use in coal-fired power generation.

  • Clemson University (Clemson, S.C.)-Clemson’s project team will do pilot-scale testing of constructed wetlands to treat wastewater for reuse in power plants. The team will identify several sources of wastewater, such as water produced during oil and gas extraction, coal ash waste water, and waste cooling water. Contaminants that need to be removed will be identified and quantified, and the ability of the constructed wetlands to remove the contaminants will be determined. (DOE award: $199,721; project duration: 36 months.)


Joining and Sealing High-Temperature Gas Separation Membranes-Materials that can form an airtight seal between ceramic membranes and a dense ceramic or metal support structure are required for high-efficiency, low-emissions fossil energy conversion. The projects selected under this topic will develop materials with high melting points that can be used to seal ceramic membranes at temperatures above 600 °C.

  • University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)-This project aims to develop a reliable process for joining ceramic materials to themselves or to materials of similar or compatible composition. Of primary interest are ion-conducting materials for high-temperature coal-based applications; however, the process may be used to join or repair components in a variety of ceramic systems. (DOE award: $50,000; project duration: 12 months.)
  • Colorado School of Mines (Golden, Colo.)-This investigation proposes to develop a new material for joining ceramic and metal parts in hydrogen-separation membranes. This high-temperature "glue" would replace materials currently used at lower temperatures. (DOE award: $50,000; project duration: 12 months.)

Computational Chemistry in Support of Hydrogen from Coal-Computation chemistry has the potential to uncover new reaction mechanisms and unique interactions between materials and species used to produce hydrogen from coal. These two projects will develop computational chemistry models that support hydrogen production, separation, and storage. They will also identify experiments to validate the models.

  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)-Researchers will use a range of computational and experimental tools to understand the principles of hydrogen separation from various coal-gasification byproducts. After identifying the underlying physical factors governing hydrogen separation, the researchers will use that insight to improve hydrogen-separation membrane performance. (DOE award: $50,000; project duration: 12 months.)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.)-A hydrogen-separation membrane can fail due to chemical poisoning of the membrane. This investigation will use computational chemistry to gain data about chemical poisons that cannot be achieved experimentally, and will potentially lead to new classes of materials that are not susceptible to chemical poisons. (DOE award: $50,000; project duration: 12 months.)

Hydrogen Production and Separation-Hydrogen separation membranes are critical supporting technologies for next-generation power systems. This research area includes the development of hydrogen- and CO2-selective membranes for eventual use in commercial hydrogen production and the development of novel hydrogen-production systems.

  • University of South Florida (Tampa, Fla.)-Team members will develop a process to produce byproduct hydrogen and sulfur using a low-energy, low-voltage electrolytic process to decompose the waste hydrogen sulfide produced by integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants. The procedure will potentially mitigate the high costs that inhibit the deployment of IGCC, with its increased efficiencies and near-zero air emissions. (DOE award: $49,948; project duration: 12 months.)
  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles, Calif.)- Future power generation systems would realize significant capital savings by using a single reactor in place of current double reactors. Researchers in this project will develop a unique reactor that uses high-temperature CO2-selective membranes to combine water-gas shift-the chemical reaction that produces CO2 and hydrogen from carbon monoxide and water-and CO2 separation into a single step. (DOE award: $50,000; project duration: 12 months.)

Characterizing Health-Relevant Fine Particle Emissions from Coal-Fired Utility Boilers-Epidemiologic studies have shown consistent associations between elevated concentrations of fine particles in the air and adverse health effects, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, but the links between coal-fired utility boiler emissions, ambient particulate concentrations and composition, and specific health effects are still uncertain. The projects selected in this area aim to improve methods for characterizing fine particles, providing researchers in other disciplines with tools to address remaining uncertainties.

  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)-The project team will use a state-of-the-art mobile laboratory to collect air samples containing coal-source fine particles at sites in Detroit, Mich., and Steubenville, Ohio. They will then use electron microscopy and other advanced techniques to identify and characterize individual fine particles and their sources. The research will aid in the development of an analytical tool that can provide detailed information on individual particles. (DOE award: $49,968; project duration: 12 months.)
  • University of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)-While the correlation between airborne fine particles and human morbidity and mortality is well established, toxicity varies by particle type, making further studies necessary. Studies have shown that a single particle in the air can actually be a complex mixture of chemicals. Researchers will modify an EPA-certified air sampler to collect and sort fine particles for use in future toxicological studies. (DOE award: $50,000; project duration: 12 months.)

Turbine Combustion: Chemical Kinetics-Research in this area will provide fundamental combustion information to enable the design of turbine combustors with improved stability, fuel flexibility, and emissions. This supports the goal of high-efficiency, low-emission power plants with turbines capable of stable operation over a broad range of fuel-gas compositions.

Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.)-The project team will measure and calculate fundamental combustion data to better understand the combustion properties of hydrogen-rich fuels used in gas turbines. The data will provide important information in developing advanced turbine combustion technologies. (DOE award: $49,999; project duration: 12 months.)


The research project chosen under the Innovative Concepts Phase II Program was previously supported with Phase I funds and has shown sufficient promise to be selected for follow-on funding.

  • University of South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.)-This program will complement the university’s Phase I simulation and feasibility study aimed at improving CO2 separation from coal gasification processes. Insights gained in Phase I will be applied to concentrate and capture CO2 during coal gasification. (DOE award: $200,000; project duration: 36 months.)

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Drew Malcomb, 202/586-5806