PITTSBURGH, PA - The U.S. Department of Energy's longest running student-teacher research grant program - the Office of Fossil Energy's University Coal Research program - begins its 25th year this week with the release of a solicitation calling on the nation's colleges and universities to propose new projects to enhance the long-term use of coal.
This year, the department will make available nearly $3 million for projects that explore ways to use coal while protecting the environment. The request for proposals was issued on October 28, 2003, from the Energy Department's National Energy Technology Laboratory. Proposals are due by December 4, 2003, and the department expects to name the winning projects in July 2004. Academic institutions can submit proposals in one of three categories:
- A "Core Program" that will provide up to $1.85 million for projects that complement ongoing applied research in the department's Fossil Energy program. A major focus of this year's core program is to carry out exploratory research that could benefit the President's FutureGen initiative - the world's first integrated sequestration and hydrogen production research power plant.
- An "Innovative Concepts Phase I Program" that will offer $0.60 million to projects that encourage "out-of-the-box" ideas that might lead to future breakthroughs; and
- An "Innovative Concepts Phase II Program" that will provide approximately $0.40 million to promising projects that were supported previously with Phase I funding.
Projects proposed in the core program will be eligible for grants ranging from $80,000 for a 1-year project to $200,000 for a 5-year project sponsored by a single university. Universities that team with at least two other academic institutions or with at least one other university and an industrial partner will be eligible for larger grants, up to as much as $400,000. This year DOE anticipates funding at least one proposal in each of the following focus areas within the core program:
- Material for Advanced Fossil Energy Systems. New materials, ideas, and concepts are being sought to significantly improve performance and reduce the costs of existing advanced power systems, or to enable the development of new systems and capabilities for coal combustion and coal gasification, gas separation, hydrogen storage, high-temperature fuel cells, and advanced turbine systems.
- Sensors and Controls. Experimental research projects are sought for the development of materials suitable for the production of low cost disposable sensors which can be used in a "plug and play" fashion for the detection of various fossil fuel gases under high temperature (>500 oC) and high pressure (200 pounds per square inch) conditions. Fundamentally-based research programs focused on new materials (including nano-derived microstructure) such that the bulk properties of the material can be utilized in miniaturized devices with sensing characteristics at high temperature are encouraged.
- Measurement and Technology for Gasification. Grant applications are sought to develop advanced refractory liners or new materials with an expected useful life of three years or more (compared to 6-18 months using today's technology); real-time and on-stream devices that measure, and respond to fluctuations in quantity and quality of feedstocks into a gasifier; and, completely novel carbon dioxide and/or hydrogen separation technologies.
- Mercury Detection and Control. Projects are needed to further understand the chemistry of mercury and other trace metal and organic substances in coal-fired systems.
- Solid Oxide Fuel Cells Sealing Systems. Projects are sought to research and develop seal materials to address planar solid oxide fuel cell sealing needs. In the planar fuel cell configuration, sealing at the edges of the fuel cell plates is needed to prevent direct contact between the fuel and air. The seals must sustain high temperature and avoid compression that could damage the thin ceramic plates of a fuel cell.
- Turbine Combustion. The primary goal for this focus area is to provide fundamental information, data, and/or computational tools that will enable design of turbine combustors with improved stability and emissions, particularly when using syngas and alternate fuels in gas turbine combustors.
Researchers submitting winning ideas in the "Innovative Concepts Phase I" category could receive up to $50,000 for one-year feasibility studies of concepts that offer dramatic improvements in the way coal is used, rather than incremental improvements over today's systems.
Among the innovative topics the Fossil Energy program is particularly interested in seeing submitted by university research teams, in addition to the core focus areas, are:
- Water impacts from coal-burning plants;
- Mercury and associated trace metal studies within NOx control systems;
- Novel uses of calcium sulfate- and calcium sulfite-based flue gas desulfurization (FGD) material; and
- Advanced selective catalytic reduction catalyst development.
In addition, researchers who have received "Phase I" innovative concept grants in fiscal year 2002 can apply for follow-on "Phase II" funding if their research projects have shown sufficient promise.
As in prior years, for projects in the core program, the department requires that a teaching professor team with at least one student who is working toward a degree in science or engineering. More than 1,600 students have received hands-on research experience in the University Coal Research Program to date.