University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research Commits Funding for Round 02 Projects

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA.  –  The University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research (UCFER) was established in 2016 through a Cooperative Agreement between The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to address the fundamental research challenges that impede the advancement of fossil energy-based technologies.  The coalition was comprised of nine-founding universities that include:  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, Texas A&M University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Southern California, the University of Tulsa, the University of Wyoming, and Virginia Polytechnic and State University. 

On July 22, 2016, UCFER released its second request-for-proposals (RFP) to its coalition membership.  The RFP closed on September 16, 2016.  A total of 25 proposals were received and reviewed by the UCFER Technical Advisory Committee and its Executive Council.  UCFER recommendations were provided to NETL for funding consideration.  A total of $1,962,046 was approved to support the following six projects:

Fundamental Studies on the Reaction Mechanisms of Oxygen Carriers for CLC/CLOU of Solid Fuels

(The Pennsylvania State University, 24-month project, $400,000)

Chemical looping combustion (CLC) is a technology currently under consideration for coal combustion with CO2 capture. In CLC, an oxygen carrier such as a metal oxide typically replaces the oxygen in the air to oxidize the fuel to CO2. Since there is no molecular nitrogen in the fuel reactor, and the only other dominant product is water vapor, CO2 can be readily captured.  One of the critical needs of this technology is the development of superior oxygen carriers. A limiting step towards developing these carriers is a detailed understanding of the reaction mechanisms, both kinetic and diffusional, of metal oxides with solid and gaseous fuels. The objectives of this research are to obtain better understanding of the metal oxide reaction mechanism including its decomposition, heterogeneous reaction with gaseous fuels, and direct solid state reaction with condensed fuels.  The approach consists of (1) molecular dynamics calculations to provide understanding of these processes at the atomistic scale, (2) new experimental studies of the reaction dynamics of mixtures of metal oxides with gaseous and solid fuels that yield kinetic data and mechanistic information, (3) collaborative studies with NETL making use of their existing experimental facilities, and previous and newly collected data, and (4) chemical kinetic studies that incorporate the atomistic and experimental results to provide kinetic models for engineering design that will be targeted towards predictive understanding for designing next generation CO2 selective membranes.  The research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Richard Yettter.

Evaluation of Agglomeration Potential of Oxygen Carriers for Chemicals Looping Combustion (CLC) and Chemical Looping with Oxygen Uncoupling (CLOU)

(The Pennsylvania State University, 24-month project, $221,375)

The choice of an oxygen carrier for advanced combustion methods such as chemical looping combustion (CLC) and chemical looping with oxygen uncoupling (CLOU) is critical for efficient operation.  This research will evaluate selected oxygen carriers for agglomeration potential, under a given set of operating conditions.  This will be accomplished using recently-developed agglomeration modeling methodology at Penn State (PSU) to predict the agglomeration potential, followed by laboratory-scale experimentation at PSU to validate the results. The current modeling methodology will be further refined to evaluate and predict the agglomeration potential for a given mixture of oxygen carriers and support material for CLC and CLOU. A simulation in the presence of ash from three US coals (bituminous, subbituminous and a lignite) selected in consultation with NETL experts from PSU/DOE Coal Data Bank would also be performed to study the interaction of the selected oxygen carrier with fuel ash on agglomeration potential. Penn State will partner with Monash University to add an additional Australian brown coal. The proposed work plan will be conducted in the following five tasks: 1) selection of oxygen carriers to be evaluated during this study, 2) experimental study of the effect of repeated redox cycles on particle physics and chemistry, 3) estimation of agglomeration potential of selected oxygen carriers using current PSU ash agglomeration modeling methodology, 4) experimental testing in the laboratory-scale fluidized bed reactor to validate modeling predictions, and 5) refinement of the modeling tool.  The research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Sarma Pisupati.

Layer-by-Layer Functional Thin Film Coatings for Enhanced Light Gas Separations

(Texas A&M Engineering Experiment, 18-month project, $236,839)

Low cost, low-energy separation of light gases, specifically H2, CO2, N2, CH4 mixtures, remains a critical challenge to realizing a sustainable energy and liquid fuels infrastructure operable from coal, natural gas or biomass/biogas.  Current industrial hollow-fiber (HF) polymeric membranes generally employ high-flux, low-cost and low-selectivity polymeric membranes for these light gas (H2, CO2, CH4, N2) separations, while the majority of research to-date has focused upon identifying costly and exotic polymeric materials or composites of expensive polymers and ceramic powders, to achieve high selectivities at competitive separation rates. In contrast to this conventional approach, this research will employ thin sub-micron) conformal coatings, achieved via layer-by-layer deposition, of functional polymers in order to improve the performance of existing, low-cost and conventional HF membrane systems.  The research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Wilhite.

Validation of CFD Models for Turbulent, Supercritical CO2 Combustion

(Texas A&M Engineering Experiment, 24-month project, $398,832)

This project combines state-of-the-art facilities at Texas A&M University (TAMU) with the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) expertise at NETL to validate the turbulent, reacting flow CFD model(s) at NETL. The overall approach is for the numerical simulations to directly model the experimental setup (exact geometry, initial conditions, etc.) and results therefrom, hence validating the code at conditions that are relevant to supercritical-CO2 (SCO2) power cycles. Such a model could then be used with greater confidence when applied to modeling the complex SCO2 burners at extreme conditions such as at 300 bar, 700°C, and high levels of CO2. Few high-pressure data such as flame speeds, highly resolved images, and flame zones at supercritical conditions currently exist in the literature. A new experimental setup at TAMU for studying turbulent flames in a controlled, high-pressure setting will be employed. This facility has the capability of producing well-characterized turbulence at frequencies and length scales of interest to power generation applications. It is also one of the very few vessels in the world that can be operated at elevated pressures up to 20 bar while also having windows for optical access for the application and development of advanced diagnostics. The research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Eric Petersen.                                                                                                                                                                        

Designing Polymer/2D MOF Composite Membranes with Enhanced CO2 Transport for CO2/N2 Separation

(The Pennsylvania State University, 18-month project, $305,000)

This research will employ novel polymeric composite materials and computational modeling to develop new membranes that efficiently separate CO2/N2 mixtures. Research will be focused on innovative new polymeric materials to accomplish CO2/N2 separation with high permeability (300 Barrer for CO2) and a CO2/N2 selectivity greater than 40 to exceed the Robeson Upper Bound while still maintaining high permeability and overall high throughput of the process.  The project will design new mixed matrix membranes with strong interactions between the polymer and inorganic component to prevent physical aging that emphasize solubility selectivity for CO2 while still maintaining high free volume. The interactions between the mixed matrix composite components and their CO2 sorption will be unraveled using computational studies that will be targeted towards predictive understanding for designing next generation CO2 selective membranes.   Samples of the polymeric materials will be tested in NETL’s Membrane Preparation Laboratory. The champion composite samples from Penn State will be compared against the literature and NETL’s state-of-the-art materials. Additionally, basic polymer samples will be available for NETL to fabricate composites with NETL-specific fillers and to perform fabrication of hollow fiber membranes to further elucidate the materials’ performance. The research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Michael Hickner.

Methane Emissions Quantification (MEQ) of Compressor Stations

(Virginia Polytechnic and State University, 24 month project, $400,000)

This project will address compressor station characterization by implementing a comprehensive continuous environmental monitoring program to detect leak frequency and rates in an effort to identify and reduce discrepancies between measured emissions and those estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GHGI) program. Characterization of compressor stations will further allow operators to better allocate monitoring and maintenance resources to assets that are more prone to leak frequency and rate, while disaggregating these measurements can provide insight into leak characteristics of compressor and seal types. Characterization efforts could provide opportunities for best practice guidelines for commercialization of continuous real-time monitoring.

Support from NETL’s Geological & Environmental Systems (GES) core competencies, will measure methane emissions by using tracer gases, which are inert and nontoxic gaseous species that are not normally present in natural gas streams or in the atmosphere.  Theory supporting the downwind tracer flux method is well-grounded and is a well-established measurement technique used in numerous industries, including underground mining, building design, and environmental services. VCCER will utilize the downwind dual-tracer flux method. Unlike publications cited by EPA in its latest GHGI program revision, VCCER will implement continuous, real-time monitoring to more accurately quantify emission rates, frequency, and duration. Continuous real-time monitoring can prove advantageous over intermittent monitoring by increasing temporal resolution and can allow leak events to be correlated with other environmental parameters. VCCER will monitor each compressor station for a period of three months, 24 hours per day. Additionally, VCCER with NETL support will visit each compressor station once per month to collect samples for both high accuracy laboratory analysis as well as real time monitoring through NETL’s mobile air monitoring laboratory to ensure data collection is within acceptable standards as well as for comparison purposes to previously published research. In order to support DOE’s goal of determining engine-specific emissions rates from compressor station-level measurements, VCCER will employ NETL’s optical gas detection cameras to qualitatively delineate emissions sources. All data, including instrumentation diagnostics, will be continuously transmitted to a distributed or “cloud-based” data management system that can be monitored and downloaded remotely at will. The research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Nino Ripepi.