Washington University nets $3.4 million energy grant

Richard Axelbaum, PhD, performs research at the university’s Advanced Coal and Energy Research Facility (ACERF) at Washington University in St. Louis.

Carbon dioxide, which enters the atmosphere through the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, is a significant contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, President Barack Obama proposed a sweeping climate action plan to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

As part of this plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed carbon emission standards that would require that new coal plants use carbon capture technologies.

Washington University in St. Louis, a leader in advanced coal research and technology, will be contributing to the President’s plan with research funded by a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Richard Axelbaum, PhD, the Stifel & Quinette Jens Professor of Environmental Engineering Science in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, received the three-year grant to further develop his novel staged, pressurized oxy-combustion technology, or SPOC.

“By staging the combustion, the temperature and heat transfer can be controlled in a way that has, heretofore, not been attainable,” says Axelbaum, director of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization (CCCU) and the Laboratory for Advanced Combustion and Energy Research.

The CCCU is also providing funding for the project.

Oxy-combustion systems use oxygen, not air, to combust coal and produce a highly concentrated carbon dioxide (CO2) stream that can be easily captured, so that it can be used or stored underground. While first-generation oxy-combustion systems have shown viability, more research is necessary to develop transformational oxy-combustion systems to meet the U.S. Department of Energy’s target of no more than a 35 percent increase in the cost of electricity produced from these plants.

Axelbaum, principal investigator of the project, will collaborate with the Electric Power Research Institute, Praxair Inc. and Ameren Corp. to design and construct a laboratory-scale pressurized oxy-combustor, and conduct experiments to characterize the process and further optimize the boiler and system designs.

Pratim Biswas, PhD, chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the Lucy & Stanley Lopata Professor, and Ben Kumfer, PhD, research assistant professor in energy, environmental & chemical engineering, are co-investigators on the project.

In 2012, Axelbaum received a one-year, $836,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund a techno-economic analysis of this process, as well as a three-year, nearly $500,000 grant from the State of Wyoming’s Advanced Conversion Technologies research program, which supports staged oxy-combustion research, specifically atmospheric pressure experiments using Powder River Basin coal at the university’s Advanced Coal and Energy Research Facility (ACERF).

The Department of Energy grants are part of a multi-million dollar investment to develop innovative advanced combustion systems that support deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies by focusing on improving the efficiency and reducing the costs associated with carbon capture.

Established in December 2008, the CCCU is a center for research in advanced coal and carbon capture technologies. The consortium’s goal is to foster the utilization of coal as a safe and affordable source of energy, and as a chemical feedstock, with minimal impact on the environment. The consortium operates under the umbrella of Washington University’s International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy & Sustainability (I-CARES), and was established through financial commitments from the lead sponsors: Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Ameren Corp. Funding is used to support international research projects, develop advanced research facilities in the engineering school and promote educational and outreach activities relating to the clean utilization of coal.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 82 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 700 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.