Dec. 20, 2007
By Katie Quaranta
Faculty from the Russ College of Engineering and Technology met this week with Chinese engineers to share research that could affect the future of coal-burning power plants.
The 30 engineers, representing three design institutes near Beijing, have been studying power plant design technology for the past two weeks at the Reading, Pa., office of WorleyParsons, which provides professional services to energy and related industries. Although many in the group are seasoned designers, they welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the innovative technology that will be necessary to meet China's increasing and unprecedented demand for more power.
In addition to providing practical insights into current design strategies, Ohio University faculty offered a glimpse at potential solutions to current problems. Other stops on the designers' U.S. trip included American Electric Power's Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, W.Va., and Ironwood Plant in Lebanon, Pa.
"(They) came here to see what the future might look like for coal utilization," said James Van Laar, director of the Power Select division at WorleyParsons. "How do they not pollute the environment and yet not pay so much that they limit growth for their country?"
David Bayless, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Ohio Coal Research Center, outlined several projects that could help answer that question within the next several years.
"No matter how you use coal ... the problem you are going to face is carbon emissions," he said. "We are looking to technology that would help reuse or recycle CO2 into the process."
Such technology includes bioreactors that use algae to convert harmful carbon dioxide into oxygen and hydrocarbons. If implemented successfully, this would reduce greenhouse gases while providing a host of other potential benefits, including a biodiesel that is created as a byproduct of the process and could serve as an alternative to diesel fuel.
Following Bayless' presentation, the engineers had the opportunity to examine a bioreactor while touring several Ohio University engineering labs. They also viewed a lab that houses experiments related to gasification, a technology that turns coal into a natural-gas-like substance called syngas. Using solid oxide fuel cells also contained in the lab, syngas could then be converted into electricity or fuel, which would make energy production at power plants significantly more efficient.
While the Chinese scientists cannot use the technology immediately, Bayless believes sharing this research is critical to reducing pollution throughout the world and neutralizing the threat of global warming.
"(I hope) they'll see that there are future technologies to deal with our mutual concerns like greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "If they see something they can use to cut down on CO2 emissions, then it will be a big win for everybody because the decisions they make now will last for the next 50 years."