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The Penn State Institutes of the Environment has been restructured to formally partner the areas of energy and environmental science and engineering in order to expand the scope and mission of the current institute. The Energy Institute is in the process of becoming affiliated with the new institute, which has been renamed the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment...Read More .
Read the story on PSIEE’s Web site .
While diesel engines have seen very little application in the consumer car industry in the past, one Penn State researcher is among those who see great potential in them as the transportation industry’s next major clean burning and energy efficient technology.
“It is our view that diesels, because of their inherent efficiency, are the engines that should be in our cars and trucks,” says
“It is our view that diesels, because of their inherent efficiency, are the engines that should be in our cars and trucks,” says André Boehman, professor of fuel science. “But we must make them burn as clean as it is humanly possible.”
A leader of combustion research at the Energy Institute, Boehman says his mission is to do fundamental research that will enable the deployment of clean diesel technology. This consists of an assortment of different projects such as cleaner burning fuels, highly effective exhaust clean up devices, and exhaust after treatment.
Believe it or not, Boehman started working as an engineer on consulting projects when he was in sixth grade for his father, who was a professor at the University of Dayton.
Today it doesn’t seem as if his passion for his life’s work has wavered one bit. Boehman says that incorporating clean burning alternative and renewable fuels would allow us to displace petroleum and have more domestic fuels, which would be to everybody’s benefit. Boehman and his research team are currently investigating ways to enhance diesel soot that is a result of exhaust from diesel engines.
Diesel engines are commonly said to be about 20 percent more efficient than gasoline engines. This means higher gas mileage—an attractive quality in the eyes of consumers, especially in light of high oil prices. However, issues remain with diesel particulate matter: the mixture that contains the harmful-to-breathe diesel soot.
Starting in 2007, a new law will go into effect that will require diesel particulate filters on all diesel cars and trucks. The filters are effective in trapping the soot, but they are not a perfect solution to the exhaust problem.
“The challenge with these filters is that periodically you need to burn the diesel particulate matter off of the filter,” Boehman says. “And that’s going to require some intervention within the engine’s control system.”
The more easily this can be accomplished, the less of a burden it will be having the filter on the car in the first place. It is also important to clean because build up could slow down fuel economy and the filters are too expensive to throw away each time they reach their fill capacity.
Several breakthroughs have been found in the research project, which could be of great benefit to getting clean diesel technology off the ground and more widely adopted.
When he and doctoral student Juhun Song ran a diesel engine on biodeisel derived from soybean oil, Boehman observed a soot that was far easier to burn away once collected than the regular diesel soot.
The work was extended to look further into the issues of the soot’s structure, which often tends to look like an onion. However, when the biodeisel soot’s structure was observed at high temperatures, a totally different transformation took place.
“As it begins to oxidize, it starts to come apart,” he says. “It’s like walls made of brick and you took all of the mortar away. Now you’re just left with bricks and they are able to float around...It’s a completely unique observation. No one else has made any observations like this.”
The project doesn’t stop here. Boehman and Angela Lueking, another faculty member of the Energy Institute, were very pleased to receive a grant of $240,000 from the National Science Foundation in April to take the research even further and focus on altering the nanostructure and reactivity of the diesel soot by using fuel and combustion conditions.
Boehman attributes much of his lab’s ongoing success to all those who work on the research—research associates, post doctorates, graduate students and undergraduate students all play a big part in keeping the lab up and running. “I have fantastic students,” he says. “They’ve done amazing work with minimal resources.”
Although he is extremely busy much of the time, Boehman says he wouldn’t have it any other way and that his current situation at Penn State is ideal in that he is both a researcher and an educator.
“What’s really fun about research is the discovery—finding things out and then presenting that work to the community,” he says. “And I love to give presentations; I always carry a laser pointer and I’m always ready to talk!”
Fuel cells are often described as a more technologically advanced cousin of the battery. It’s true that both technologies work by converting the chemical energy of a fuel into electricity, but fuel cells have one important characteristic that batteries are lacking—the ability to continuously take in fuel and produce energy without ever having to recharge.
All in all, fuel cells are energy efficient, fuel flexible and, despite their obstacles, could someday replace the combustion engines in the cars we drive. Given their potential, fuel cell research and development continue to grow as priority in energy research at the national level and at Penn State.
The Electrochemical Laboratory at the Energy Institute is actively researching a promising type of fuel cell called a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, also sometimes called a Polymer Electrolyte Membrane fuel cell. This type of fuel cell uses hydrogen, oxygen and water to produce electricity and heat. PEM fuel cells have some stationary applications, but are primarily geared towards applications in transportation.
Under the leadership of Program Coordinator Serguei Lvov, the Electrochemical Lab became a member of the Department of Energy’s High Temperature Membrane Working Group in May of 2006. The group is charged with developing new membranes to enable PEM fuel cells to operate at higher temperatures—an undertaking that proves very challenging, but could result in important increases in efficiency.
The High Temperature Membrane working group consists of universities, government, national labs and industry members. All units conduct research individually; meetings are then held twice a year to compare results. The forum-like structure aims to increase interaction and encourage the effort to fulfill the working group’s goal.
“This is a very interesting program working with quite interesting new things,” Lvov says. He estimates the total project costs at about $25
So far, Lvov and his research team have developed a completely new composite material that has improved mechanical and transport properties in mainly organic membranes. They were able to operate a PEM fuel cell at 120 degrees C and at 13 percent relative humidity—up 40-45 degrees C from the average operation temperature. The composite material is based on the combination of inorganic hydrogen ion conductors and an end-chain functionalized Teflon-type polymer.
Fuel cell research has received a significant increase in funding in the past year due in part to a recent initiative launched by President Bush called the Freedom Cooperative Automotive Research (CAR) initiative. The $1.5 billion endeavor is specifically geared towards furthering the development of fuel cell technologies for transportation applications.
However exciting the prospect of a fuel cell vehicle may be, Lvov says there is still a long way to go with the technology. There are relatively good pilot specimens out, but problems remain to be solved, he says, including the cost and durability of the technology and the availability of hydrogen fueling stations.
The Energy Institute and the Materials Research Institute, in association with the Air Force Research Laboratory, teamed up to sponsor the first ever “Carbon Structure, Synthesis and Properties Workshop” on October 16-17.
Held at the Toftrees Resort in State College, the purpose of the workshop was to “focus on the need for additional basic research in carbon and the growing need for innovative carbon research.” The workshop attracted about 60 attendees and generated talk of making it an annual event.
Industry and academia members were invited to speak on carbon-related topics, which were grouped into four main sessions: 1) carbon structures and forms, 2) carbon nanostructures, 3) carbon fibers and composites, and 4) carbon materials for energy storage and conversion.
Three keynote speakers highlighted the event, including Peter Thrower, Editor in Chief of Carbon Journal and Penn State Professor Emeritus, who gave a talk titled “Unsolved Phenomena in Carbon Materials and Science.”
In addition, Agnes Oberlin and Sylvie Bonnamy of CNRS Orleans in France gave keynote presentations. Oberlin’s presentation addressed “A Realistic Approach to Disordered Carbons.” Bonnamy’s talk was titled “From Disordered Carbons to Graphite: Examples of Development of Crystalline Order in Carbons.”
"It was an honor and a treat to have all three special guests as speakers," said attendee Joni Arnold of the Air Force Research Laboratory. "They are world-class researchers and leaders in this field."
View the Attendees List .
Over 200 people gathered last month at the Nittany Lion Inn for the 3rd Hydrogen Day at Penn State. Held on November 14, this year’s event was focused on “hydrogen and renewable energy discoveries that will change our lives.”
The purpose of the day was to bring together Penn State researchers and industry guest speakers to discuss research findings and future directions of hydrogen. According to the Hydrogen Energy Research Center’s Web site, there are more than a hundred researchers on campus involved in developing hydrogen energy and technologies. The Energy Institute counts for a significant part of this research.
Melanie Fox, a graduate student in energy and geo-environmental engineering, was one of several researchers from the Energy Institute who participated in the morning poster session, which gave presenters the opportunity to display research findings and network with individuals from academia and industry. Research fell into the three main categories: fuel cell analysis and technologies, hydrogen storage, and hydrogen generation/utilization.
“I’m hoping that events such as Hydrogen Day provide information that will trickle down into the mainstream and allow people to look at energy and advanced energy technologies as opportunities to help our energy situation,” Fox said. “That people will learn to think about energy critically and ask more questions.”
Fox said she was amazed at how much work is going on at Penn State that is relevant to this contemporary topic. As a student working on the GM and DOE funded hybrid electric vehicle project (Challenge X), she said she was particularly interested in learning about the state of advanced hydrogen technologies and their potential role in transportation.
“I was aware of many limitations associated with hydrogen energy technologies and I was quite interested to learn some advancements being made in materials that are making hydrogen fuel cells more practical than those that were being used a few years ago,” she said.
The next part of the day consisted of guest speakers from academia, government and industry. Chunshan Song, head of the Clean Fuels and Catalysis research unit at the Energy Institute, spoke at the afternoon panel discussion on clean hydrogen from fuels and transition approaches. Following the panel discussion, guests had the opportunity to tour Song’s laboratory and other select Penn State laboratories to get an up close look at where hydrogen research is being conducted.
Another tour explored the facilities of the Hydrogen Fueling Station & Fleet located on campus, which is the only hydrogen fueling station in the entire state of Pennsylvania, and had a Nissan Fuel Cell Vehicle available to test drive.
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA — Two newly funded research studies led by the Penn State Energy Institute will focus on improving the viability of biomass materials as an energy source.
Working collaboratively with SWAN Biomass Company and Axion Analytical Laboratories, the Energy Institute will seek to develop a process to convert hardwood lignin into value-added fuels and chemicals. The Institute received a grant for the research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy under the Biomass Research and Development Initiative Funding Opportunity.
Lignin, a main component of plant cell walls, is a byproduct that results when hardwood is converted into fuel ethanol. The cellulosic portion of the plant is utilized to produce ethanol. Utilizing lignin to make value-added materials rather than burning it could help the economics for biorefining to produce ethanol.
Under the direction of Caroline Burgess Clifford, research associate, the investigation will focus on two processes to achieve the study’s objective. The first process is to examine known lignin hydrolysis chemistry to develop an economic process. The second process is to develop oxidation/decarboxylation chemistry to produce value-added chemicals. The Energy Institute will conduct all experimental testing. Axion will provide expert analytical support and advice, and SWAN will focus on the economics.
In addition to the federal grant, the Energy Institute has received funding from the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund (WPPSEF) to lead a yearlong bioenergy program to assess if native grasses, such as switchgrass, can be utilized as a practical green heat application in residences.
One objective of the study, led by Research Associate Joel L. Morrison and Senior Research Associate/Associate Director Bruce G. Miller, will be to develop solutions to barriers that can occur with pellet combustion. According to Morrison, switchgrass sometimes produces a sticky residue when burned, but the result can vary depending on many factors.
In light of rising gas prices in recent years, many homeowners in Pennsylvania have invested in pellet stoves to reduce their monthly heating costs. Wood pellets have been a popular fuel choice for pellet stoves, but have quickly come into high demand. Pellets made of switchgrass could offer an alternative.
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April 10-11: Materials Day 2007  will be held at the Penn Stater Conference Center & Hotel.
April 16-17: The PA Biomass Working Group Meeting  will be held at The Red Fern in St. Mary's, PA. Times are April 16: noon to 5 p.m. and April 17: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Attendees must register. 
April 19: POEMS will be hosted by the Energy Institute at 3:00 p.m. in C213 Coal Utilization Laboratory.
April 25: The EMS VIdeo Library Series  will be screening PA Energy at 12:15 in the EMS Library.
May 16-17 : The 2007 Gas Storage Technology Consortium (GSTC) Spring Proposal Meeting  will be held in Buffalo, New York. Visit the web site for more details.
May 22-23 : The 2007 Stripper Well Consortium (SWC) Spring Proposal Meeting  will be held in Canandaigua, New York. Visit the web site  for more details.
June 10-15: The Clearwater Coal Conference  will be held at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater, Florida. Abstracts are due January 19, 2007. Visit the Web site  for submission details.
The Energy Institute received more than $5.2 million in contracts and grants in the first two quarters of the fiscal year.
Aksoy, Parvana; Bugess-Clifford, Caroline; Activation of Poultry Litter, Delaware State University
Aksoy, Parvana; Schobert, Harold; Sulfur Loss (Desulfurization) of Carbon Materials at High Temperature, CII Carbon LLC
Boehman, Andre; Santoro, Robert; Litzinger, Thomas, Perez, Joseph M.; Examination of Diesel Soot Characteristics that Lead to Undesirable Interactions with Lubricants and Lubricant Additives, Infineum USA L.P.
Burgess-Clifford, Caroline; Mitchell, Gary; Gul, Omer; Delayed ‘Coking of Commercial Solvents, Alcoa
Falcone-Miller, Sharon; DTE-Chemical Fractionation of Coals, DTE Energy
Flemings, Peter; Geofluids Consortium 2004-2009, Limited, Chevron Energy Technology Co., Exxon Mobil Exploration Co., Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, BHP Billiton Petroleum, Devon Energy Corporation, Andarko Petroleum Corporation, Shell International Exploration and Production
Eser, Semih; GC/MS and GCPFPD Fuel Sample Analyses; Caterpillar, Inc.
Elsworth, Derek; Marone, Chris; Quantifying the Physical and Chemical Controls on Permeability Evolution in Sheared Fractures, National Science Foundation
Lvov, Serguei; Alternate Thermochemical Cycles for Producing Hydrogen, Argonne National Laboratory
Lvov, Serguei; Kubicki, J.D.; Sofo, Jorge; Nanoscale Complexity at the Oxide/Water Interface, Oak Ridge Laboratory
Morrison, Joel; West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, Inc.
Ryan, Timothy; High-Resolution CT Scanning of Several Fossil Crab and Lobster Specimens, Kent State University
Ryan, Timothy; CT Scanning to Make a Digital Record of a Bone Awl and a Rodent Mandible, Buffalo Museum of Science
Schobert, Harold; Advanced Thermally Stable Coal-Based Jet Fuels, Air Force Office of Scientific Research