DOE selects 5 new research projects to improve combustors, reduce pollutants, and capture carbon gases

Pittsburgh, PA, August 22, 2001 — With President Bush’s National Energy Policy calling for a new commitment to clean coal innovations, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory has selected five new research projects that, if successful, could make tomorrow’s coal plants cleaner and more efficient.

Four of the projects focus on high-tech ways to improve the environmental performance and fuel efficiencies of coal-burning power plants. The fifth project will undertake a novel, little-tried approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is one of the heat-trapping gases that can cause the greenhouse effect.

The five projects total about $5 million with the Energy Department providing approximately $3.5 million. They were selected in a nationwide competition for fresh ideas on ways to use the nation’s abundant coal reserves while meeting environmental requirements. Coal currently supplies more than half of the electricity consumed in the United States.

In the Power Systems Advanced Research area of interest, the department will negotiate contracts with:

* Sensor Research & Development Corp., Orono, ME, which will develop an ultra-sensitive continuous emissions monitor that is 10,000 times more sensitive in detecting mercury than today’s monitors. Such a system could detect and help control trace amounts of mercury from coal plants regardless of whether the mercury is emitted as a gas or a vapor. Project cost: $1.279 million; proposed DOE award: $990,765; participant share: $288,309; project duration: 36 months.

* Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, IA, which will develop a microwave-based monitor that can analyze the chemical makeup of fly ash emitted from coal-fired power plants while the plant is operating. The carbon-in-ash monitor will make use of the “microwave-excited photoacoustic” effect developed by the University for analyzing powders. The project is a collaboration between Iowa State and Energy Systems Associates, a company interested in integrating the carbon monitor into power plant instrumentation systems. If the development effort is successful, plant operators would be able to determine the amount of unburned carbon that is contained in the ash, a key indicator of the plant’s combustion efficiency. Project cost: $509,473; proposed DOE award: $405,000; participant share: $104,473; project duration: 36 months.

In the area of Combustion Systems, the department has selected:

* ALSTOM Power Inc., Windsor, CT, which will build and evaluate a new type of coal furnace known as a “circulating moving bed combustor.” This advanced combustor could be as much as 30 percent cheaper and 60 percent more efficient than the conventional pulverized coal and fluidized-bed boilers now on the market. A key element of the new combustion furnace will be a heat exchanger that preheats the steam or air before it enters the combustor. The preheating is expected to enhance the efficiency with which the heat of the burning fuel is transferred to the steam or air. In an actual operating plant, the steam or air would be used to spin a turbine to generate electric power. The preheating stage also is expected to improve flexibility in operating the combustor. A 3-megawatt pilot-scale circulating moving bed combustor will be constructed and evaluated and readied for field-testing. The University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are assisting ALSTOM Power. Project cost: $2.485 million; proposed DOE award: $1.5 million; participant share: $985,468; project duration: 24 months.

* ALSTOM Power Inc., Windsor, CT, for a second project which will evaluate the feasibility and economics of a dozen advanced power plant concepts based on three different types of coal combustors: pulverized coal, circulating fluidized-bed, and circulating moving bed. The goal is to make future coal plants that use these combustors up to 50 percent efficient – that is, 50 percent of the energy value of the fuel entering the plant is converted to electricity. The average coal plant today is about 35 percent efficient. The project will assess steam cycles, plant performance, boiler design and the economics of total plants. American Electric Power, an Ohio-based utility, will participate. Project cost: $764,362; proposed DOE award: $577,824; participant share: $186,538; project duration: 24 months.

In the area of Carbon Sequestration, the capture and long-term storage of carbon gases that can contribute to global climate change concerns, the department picked:

* SRI International, Menlo Park, CA, which proposes to investigate two concepts for converting carbon dioxide released from coal-burning plants back into fuel. In one approach, researchers will investigate a novel process that uses solar energy in a photochemical reaction along with common iron minerals and water to convert carbon dioxide into methanol and other products. In a second approach, SRI scientists will study ways to use heat to convert carbon dioxide into fuel-grade chemicals also using iron-containing minerals. Project cost: $63,000; proposed DOE award: $50,000; participant share: $13,000; project duration: 12 months.

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