As part of a five-university consortium providing research and engineering services to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Virginia Tech researchers are addressing such issues as new materials for more efficient turbines, recovery of hydrogen as a new fuel, and carbon sequestration, which is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is a byproduct of many fuels as they are converted to energy.
NETL conducts research related to fossil fuels and analyzes energy systems and international energy issues for the U.S. Department of Energy. Virginia Tech, Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, and West Virginia University make up NETL’s new Regional University Alliance for Energy Technology Innovation.
Objectives of the university alliance include developing the regional economy by introducing new and enhanced technology and training future leaders in energy research. Virginia Tech researchers are already working with the other universities and the national laboratory in the following areas:
Francine Battaglia, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is modeling and predicting biomass fluidization to improve co-gasification, a blending of biomass and coal to produce synthesis gas.
Danesh Tafti, the William S. Cross Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will model the heat and mass transfer that occurs in the porous particles used in power plants to capture carbon dioxide. The goal is to better understand the influence of porous microstructures on carbon capture. He will also work with NETL to develop the next generation of software for simulating the interactions of solid fuels and gases in energy conversion and chemical processing reactors including coal and biomass gasification, and in carbon dioxide capture reactors. Watch a simulation.
Srinath Ekkad, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is working on new cooling strategies for gas turbines to reduce coolant use and improve performance.
Uri Vandsburger, professor of mechanical engineering, is working with Peter Strakey of NETL and Domenic Santavicca, professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, to develop techniques for the design of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems in gas turbines. They will build an EGR combuster.
Robert Bodnar, University Distinguished Professor and the C.C. Garvin Professor of Geochemistry, is conducting experiments to identify processes for storage of carbon dioxide in saline aquifers -- usually underground formations with permeable rock and salty fluids. He is also working with Donald Rimstidt, professor of geochemistry, on fundamental studies of carbon sequestration, or storage, in geologic reservoirs, underground formations that will retain carbon dioxide.
Erik Westman, associate professor of mining and minerals engineering, is developing a seismic imaging (tomography) and numeric modeling system for risk assessment of sites being considered for carbon sequestration. He is also working to scale up the X-ray CT scanning system NETL uses in the lab to characterize rock samples from sequestration sites so lab results can be compared with ultrasonic tests from the field.
Anbo Wang, the Clayton Ayre Professor of Electrical Engineering, is developing electro-optic carbon dioxide sensors and a wireless sensor network for carbon sequestration sites.
Roe-Hoan Yoon, a University Distinguished Professor and the Nicholas T. Camicia Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering; Diego Troya, associate professor of computational chemistry; and Yongkoo Seol of NETL are working to develop a new model of the formation of carbon dioxide and methane hydrates (gas molecules encapsulated in solid cages of water) as part of studying the exchange between the two gas molecules. If successful, the research may lead to a process in which carbon dioxide gas is injected into a bed of methane hydrate in the ocean floor to produce methane, a clean-burning energy resource, while capturing the global warming gas as carbon dioxide hydrate in the ocean floor.
Mitsu Murayama, associate professor of materials science and engineering and a researcher in the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, and William T. Reynolds Jr., professor of materials science and engineering, are doing microstructure analysis of high-temperature materials with Gordon Holcomb and Jeffrey Hawk of NETL.
Ted Oyama, professor of chemical engineering, is developing hydrogen separation membranes for separating hydrogen from other gases. For example, hydrogen captured during coal gasification would be a cleaner product for fuel cells and other power production.
The National Energy Technology Laboratory's Regional University Alliance combines the power of the national laboratory, the region’s universities, and private industry to leverage current energy sources and to discover and develop the energy systems of the future.
"Virginia Tech is strong in many areas of energy research, including carbon capture and sequestration, coal utilization, energy resource development, smart grids, biofuels, solar energy, and energy policies," says Roe-Hoan Yoon, a University Distinguished Professor and the Nicholas T. Camicia Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering.
Look through previous Spotlight stories