Combustion research facility fires up

New research facility allows engineers to test drive different ways of reducing carbon emissions from coal combustion

The Advanced Coal and Energy Research Facility, an experimental combustion facility on the Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis, was dedicated during the university’s recent McDonnell Academy Global Energy Symposium in October 2010. At the time, the combuster was cold and the bioreactors empty.

Now that the facility is up and running, Richard L. Axelbaum, PhD, professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and director of the facility, was asked to give a tour.


Axelbaum explains that the goal of the facility is to study the burning of coal with oxygen (oxy-combustion) rather than air, which contains large amounts of nitrogen.

Oxy-coal combustion makes carbon capture and sequestration much easier by raising the carbon dioxide concentration in the exhaust gases from 15 percent to 95 percent carbon dioxide.

The facility also will run experiments in which the coal is commingled with biomass, or, in which the combustion gases are fed into photobioreactors, where they will fuel the growth of algae that might in turn serve as a source of biofuel.

Today, coal combustion accounts for 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emission to the atmosphere. Together, these innovations have the potential to make power generation from coal either carbon neutral or carbon negative.

In the following videos, Axelbaum explains the research problems the facility is designed to address as well as the facility’s operation.