Consortium will conduct fossil fuel research

A triple-university consortium comprised of Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and West Virginia University has been approved funding worth $26 million through a subcontract with RDS Inc., an on-site contractor at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), to produce clean and efficient energy preservation technologies for the use of fossil fuels.

CWP Inc., as the consortium has been named, will receive this funding over a period of two years, while the three universities work in close collaboration with NETL scientists and researchers to explore the many aspects of fossil fuel research. Partnership in the consortium will boost growth and expansion of the universities’ research aspects in all areas of energy preservation. NETL is the national laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy.

According to the NETL website, the research lab is a pioneer in the scientific and technological disciplines of gasification — the conversion of carbon-based substances (such as coal) into synthesis gas. This synthesis gas is then used along with domestic fuel reserves to generate clean electrical energy, petrol, and other chemicals.

The laboratory owns facilities across five states, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Andrew J. Gellman, Lord Professor of chemical engineering and research director for the consortium, said that the consortium is an effort to bring together the unique abilities of the three science-oriented institutions and NETL in a mutually beneficial partnership.

“The consortium will be staffed by 24 primary faculty members, about 60 or 70 graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows from Carnegie Mellon,” said Gellman. Gellman and his team specialize in developing surface science methods — innovative techniques to study mechanical and chemical processes occurring on surfaces.

“We have certain facilities that NETL does not have, while they have on-site facilities we don’t have,” Gellman said.

The research will be focused on continuously developing different methods for capturing fossil fuel combustion in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner. However, while fossil fuel study is an integral mission of the consortium, the research portfolio remains very broad. The researchers will concentrate on a total of eight program areas.

Carbon dioxide entrapment and conversion of oil to various forms for transportation and air fuels are some of the projects undertaken by the institutions. Currently, researchers are also investigating solar and wind energy. As stated in a Carnegie Mellon press release, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are home to millions of tons of coal, a valuable natural energy resource.
“I am looking forward to working with President Cohon on this initiative — an initiative that will have not only a regional impact but one that will benefit the entire nation,” stated Mike Garrison, president of West Virginia University, in an e-mail.

The three universities each bring to the project their respective areas of expertise.

While University of West Virginia excels in the mining aspect of the project, University of Pittsburgh will contribute through state-of-the-art engineering methods. Carnegie Mellon will be sharing its high-tech computing and modeling techniques. The faculty and students of West Virginia University intend to develop a “world-class simulator for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle” power plant systems, stated Dick Bajura, director of West Virginia University’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy, in an e-mail.

According to Gellman, the end results of this combined effort will make it cheaper and easier to use resources within the U.S., thus reducing U.S. dependence on foreign nations for oil.

“The synergistic relationship between the three institutions [will help us] tackle issues in a broader way than only one,” Gellman said.