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Innovative plans to cleanly generate electricity from coal get $1.3 million in grants


By Beth Miller

A team of engineers at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University has received two grants totaling more than $1.3 million to develop innovative ways to cleanly burn coal for energy.

One of the grants, a one-year, $836,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, funds a project that will evaluate the technical feasibility and improved economics of a unique pressurized system, which uses a staged combustion approach. By staging the combustion, the temperature and heat transfer can be controlled, says Richard Axelbaum, PhD, principal investigator of the project. The potential benefits of the process are higher efficiency, reduced oxygen demands, reduced capital and operating costs and increased carbon dioxide purity.
Coal generates more than 40 percent of the electricity in the United States and 41 percent worldwide.
Axelbaum, also the Stifel & Quinette Jens Professor of Environmental Engineering Science, directs the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization (CCCU) and heads the Laboratory for Advanced Combustion and Energy Research, where he studies combustion of fossil and renewable fuels.
“We’re taking an old fuel and applying a new technology,” Axelbaum says. “We propose to burn the coal in stages with pure oxygen and under pressure. While the use of oxygen increases costs, it can be used to prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere. There are other approaches to oxy-combustion for carbon capture and storage, but they are expensive. Our staged, pressurized combustion approach is designed to make it affordable.”
Seed funding for this project came from the CCCU, an industry-supported consortium at Washington University that funds international collaborative research promoting the clean use of coal. Support for the CCCU comes from Ameren Corp., Arch Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy.
The grant was part of a $7 million investment by the Department of Energy into projects that advance innovative clean coal technologies. The grants focus on projects that support the development and deployment of Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) by focusing on further improving the efficiency and reducing the costs associated with carbon capture. Overall, the awards are part of a more than $5 billion investment strategy by the Obama Administration in clean coal technologies and research and development.
Axelbaum and his colleagues are performing the research in collaboration with members of the Electric Power Research Institute and in consultation with Burns & McDonnell.
The second grant of nearly $500,000 comes from the State of Wyoming’s Advanced Conversion Technology Research Program, which was created to stimulate research and development in the area of low-emissions and advanced coal technologies. This three-year funding also will support staged oxy-combustion research, specifically atmospheric pressure experiments using Powder River Basin coal at the university’s Advanced Coal and Energy Research Facility (ACERF).
For more information, visit http://cccu.wustl.edu.


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