The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected six new projects under the University Coal Research Program (UCR) that seek long-term solutions for the clean and efficient use of our nation’s abundant coal resources. The selected projects support the Office of Fossil Energy’s (FE) Crosscutting Research Program’s initiatives in high-performance materials and sensors and controls technology. The projects will be managed by FE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The UCR Program supports long-term, high-risk fundamental research projects that advance the science of coal technologies at U.S. colleges and universities. Since its inception in 1979, the UCR Program has helped support the education and training of our next generation of scientists and engineers. This research continues DOE efforts to improve the understanding of the chemical and physical processes governing coal conversion and utilization and to support the technological development of advanced coal-powered energy systems.

The six projects selected support two of the UCR Program critical research areas as described below.

Materials Development to Support Direct Power Extraction

Novel materials are needed to withstand the extreme operating conditions of advanced energy systems using magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) generators as a means for directly extracting power from energy systems. Three projects were selected under this topic area.

  • University of Idaho (Moscow, ID) — This project will develop a boride-based ultra-high temperature ceramic material with all the required properties of sustainable electrodes for use in direct power extraction (DPE) using MHD generators. Researchers are seeking better understanding of the behavior of these materials in the presence of silicon and rare-earth compounds. This research will help develop ultra-high temperature electrode materials for MHD direct power extraction applications. (Award amount: $399,938; Duration: 36 months)
  • University of Washington (Seattle, WA) — Researchers will develop a novel class of silicon-carbon-based ceramic composite materials tailored for use in electrodes in MHD generators. The team will investigate the effect of precursor chemistry and processing conditions (e.g., temperature) on structure, nature of the carbon phase (e.g., graphene sheets, carbon nanoparticles), and resulting stoichiometry and thermo-mechanical properties at elevated temperatures. (Award amount: $399,989; Duration: 36 months)
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Lincoln, NE) — Carbon nanotube-ceramic composite structures will be developed and embedded in ceramic matrices for hot electrode applications in DPE configurations. The research team will grow vertically aligned carbon nanotube carpets on copper with a thickness up to 1 cm. (Award amount: $400,000; Duration: 36 months)
Low-Cost Distributed Sensing of Fossil Energy Power Systems

Distributed sensing techniques could offer distinct advantages over single point sensors, including accurate condition profiles, expanded sensing coverage in systems where precise problem locations may not be known, and an overall reduction in installation costs. Three awards were made under this topic area.

  • University of Texas at Arlington (Arlington, TX) — The focus of this research will be to develop low-cost distributed condition monitoring of coal-fired boilers through materials development, sensor design, and wireless flexible antennae sensor arrays. The sensors will be designed to detect soot accumulation and to monitor temperature and strain of steam pipes. (Award amount: $399,311; Duration: 36 months)
  • University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH) — This project will focus on developing a new type of low-cost, robust metal-ceramic sensor for high-temperature applications. The sensors will be tested for real-time distributed monitoring of temperatures up to 1000 °C in gases relevant to coal-based power plants. (Award amount: $399,666; Duration: 36 months)
  • University of Massachusetts Lowell (Lowell, MA) — Researchers aim to develop a novel distributed optical fiber sensing system for real-time monitoring and optimization of spatial and temporal distributions of high-temperature profiles in boiler furnaces in fossil fueled power plants. This research may result in the development of the first active non-contact, all-optical-fiber distributed sensing system using optically generated acoustic signals to operate in the harsh environment associated with coal-fired power plants. (Award amount: $400,000; Duration: 36 months)