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Coal production, the environment subject of research symposium

Dec. 6, 2004

By Jennifer Rogers

Environmental researchers and government officials assembled at Ohio University last week to share ideas about coal production and the environment - two topics close to the hearts of many Southeast Ohio residents.

Gerardine Botte leads a tour of the research facilities. Photo by Bryan DuffieOhio University hosted the first ever Ohio Air Quality and Coal Research Symposium in Margaret M. Walter Hall on Dec. 2 and 3. The symposium was sponsored by the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) and its Ohio Coal Development Office, along with a number of Ohio University entities including: the Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs; the Russ College of Engineering and Technology; the Office of the Vice President for Research; the Ohio Coal Research Center; and the Air Quality Center.

Almost 200 researchers, policy-makers, industry professionals, association leaders and students attended the conference and participated in lectures, panel discussions, research paper presentations and tours of Ohio University research facilities including the innovative Lausche heating plant. Policy Staff from Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine, Reps. Ted Strickland, Bob Ney and Marcy Kaptur, and Gov. Bob Taft's offices also attended the symposium.

The purpose of the symposium was to increase communication and awareness about air quality issues in Ohio and to highlight advances in air quality research and policy in Ohio. In addition, the conference gave researchers the opportunity for peer review that can refine and improve research projects.

"The symposium gives researchers, who often work in relative isolation, a chance to meet and share ideas," said Mark R. Shanahan, executive director of OAQDA.

President Roderick McDavis with Jacqueline F. Bird and Mark R. Shanahan. Photo by Bryan DuffieOhio University President Dr. Roderick J. McDavis opened the event, welcoming the conference attendees and praising their work.

"It is worth noting that many of the projects to be presented are partnerships of academia, the private sector, and state and federal governments," McDavis said. "One has to agree that Ohio has a solid base of coal research infrastructure throughout the state."

Rita Bajura, director of the National Energy Technology Lab of the U.S. Department of Energy (NETL-DOE), delivered a keynote address on the importance of coal and its implications on the economy and the environment.

"Energy challenges are daunting," Bajura said. "Coal will continue to play a major role for decades. Energy challenges are solved easiest if we have innovative, affordable, low GHG (greenhouse gas) emitting technology, especially for electricity and transportation fuels."

Shanahan also presented a keynote speech in which he also focused on the challenges of coal use to the economy and the environment.

"The work being done (by these researchers) is so important in understanding the problems we face," Shanahan said. "If we don't understand the contributing factors, we'll never figure out what the solutions are."

A major endeavor toward this end is Ohio University's Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment (CE3), a collaborative of the Voinovich Center and the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at the Russ College of Engineering. Kevin Crist, director of the College of Engineering's Center for Air Quality, one of the architects of the consortium, presented a session at the symposium detailing the group's vision. CE3 is working to affect national energy and environmental policy, especially through supporting research that crosses the boundaries of energy production, economic value, and environmental health, and providing practical solutions to regional problems through university outreach, faculty research, and student education and engagement.

"We are in a good situation to develop CE3; Ohio University already possesses much of the capability to make this a reality," Crist said. "We aim to address regional issues in energy production and economic and environmental health, and we can be a voice for the region in problem solving and policy-making."

An opening panel discussion set the stage for discussions throughout the two days. Panelists at the opening session included Jacqueline F. Bird, director of the Ohio Coal Development Office; Jake Schmidt from the Center for Clean Air policy; Brian Mormino, a staff director for the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; Steve Winberg of CONSOL Energy Inc.; Ken Humphreys of Battelle Science and Industry International; and James Markowski, president of RDS & Associates.

These leaders in the coal industry and government environmental policy-making spoke about the challenges facing the United States in continuing to advance environmentally friendly energy-producing technologies.

"More can and must be done," Mormino said, citing an often-repeated mantra of environmental researchers. "We must harmonize our energy, environment and economic needs."

Presentation winner Jason Trembly presents his research. Photo by Bryan Duffie.In addition to professional presentations, student researchers gave poster presentations. The top three posters were awarded monetary prizes and certificates signed by OAQDA's Shanahan.

The first place winner of the competition was Ohio University student Jason Trembly for his work with the Ohio Coal Research Center entitled "H2S Tolerance of Fuel Cells Utilizing Coal Syn Gas." Trembly said he was excited to have won the competition and that it was good to see so many people with similar interests gathering together at the conference to discuss their work. He said he was glad that the work of the Coal Center was being recognized through his and other researchers' presentations.

Second place was awarded to Paul Matter of The Ohio State University (OSU) for his research "Nano-Structured Nitrogen-Containing Carbon Catalyst for Oxygen Reduction in PEM Fuel Cell Cathodes." And two students tied for third place; Egilda Bonnin of Ohio University for "Feasibility of Electrolyzing Ammonia Effluents for the Production of Hydrogen," and Erik Holmgreen of OSU for "Two-Stage Catalytic Reduction of NOx Under Lean Exhaust Conditions."

This was the first Ohio Air Quality and Coal Research Symposium, and the organizers and presenters say it won't be the last. Ohio plays a major role in the nation's coal production and depends on coal for 90 percent of the state's electricity; therefore, Ohio researchers believe it is critical that they continue to work together to develop and utilize clean coal technology, Shanahan said.

"Ohio coal is an environmental challenge," Shanahan said in his keynote address. "Yet it is a core part of this region's and this state's economy and it needs our help to survive, to continue and to expand."

Symposium information and abstracts are available online at www.ohioairquality.org/symposium/index.asp.  

Jennifer Rogers is a communications graduate assistant with the Voinovich Center. Photos by Bryan Duffie.

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