U.S. Department of Energy slates university in nation’s top nine in coal research
A background in coal research, adjacent coal power plant and a few patent-owning professors may have tipped the federal grant scales toward selecting SIUC to lead in a new frontier of coal research.
The U.S. Department of Energy granted the university nearly $300,000 of a $2.7 million clean coal research and development grant divvied between nine universities. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale will add $142,000 from funds already raised by the coal research center.
The university’s department of Mechanical Engineering and Energy Processes will work with the Gas Technology Institute, a not-for-profit research and development organization in Des Plaines, to produce and research powder coatings to prevent erosion on turbine and boiler parts used in coal plants.
The research is anticipated to further clean coal technology by increasing efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 20 percent, said Kanchan Mondal, associate professor of mechanical engineering and energy processes.
“This technology is going to push us toward trying to maximize the energy from coal and reduce the carbon dioxide emissions,” he said.
Mondal will lead the research project alongside Rasit Koc, a professor of mechanical engineering and energy processes, who holds the patent for titanium diboride and titanium carbide, the two powders made in Koc’s lab being used in the research.
He said they know the powders have potential, but they want to find out if they are effective in protecting boilers against erosion caused by ashes, which eventually causes rust.
Mondal said the materials would be produced in Koc’s lab, sent to the Gas Technology Institute who will coat the powders onto pieces similar to those used in turbines and boilers, and then the coated pieces will be sent back to him to perform tests and record outcomes.
“The Department of Energy is looking for technologies that are going to provide a jump in improvement, not just a slight improvement,” he said. “This project is going to give them that jump and reduce the cost.”
The university and its students will also reap some benefits from the research.
The grant is part of more than $5 billion budgeted by President Barack Obama’s administration to clean coal research and development.
“We are known for our work in coal,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “We have scientists and researchers on the faculty who have come to us from other institutions because of our reputation.”
Mondal said receiving the grant validates the work that has been going on at SIUC for many years.
Phil Gatton, director of Plant and Service Operations, said the university’s reputation in overall research and patents may have swayed the federal agency to select SIU out of 20 applicants and 23 submitted research grants.
Gatton said the coal power plant and the university have a good relationship, which allows for testing on a larger-scale than many research institutions may be able to provide.
“It’s a very natural fit for us to work closely with researchers to try and help them on projects like this,” Gatton said. “And to have a federal agency sending money our way, obviously they have a lot of confidence in our abilities,” Gatton said.
Mondal said the university was listed near two ivy league schools and Ohio State University.
He said the goal is to find success with at least one of the materials so they can create the road map the industry would follow to use the technology.
“We are very excited to move forward,” Mondal said. “We are hoping this will turn into a five to 10 year project as we continue to succeed.”