NC Researchers Secure Major Clean-Coal Grant From U.S. Gov't
The Obama Administration has pledged to make America a leader in clean energy and much of the talk centers on capturing greenhouse gases as they escape from power plant smokestacks and burying them deep underground. But North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute is pioneering another technique that got a big boost yesterday from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $575 million in grants yesterday to 22 different companies and universities. But North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute walked away with the largest cut, by far, nearly a third of the total funding. "We've been working on this for the last 15 years or so," says Raghubir Gupta, director of the RTI's Center for Energy Technology. Gupta's research team has found a way to remove carbon dioxide from coal before it is burned to make electricity. Typically the focus has been on how to capture carbon dioxide after-the-fact - when it hits the smokestack - and then store it underground. But Gupta says his team can remove CO2 and other contaminants from the coal first by cooking it at really high temperatures. The bad stuff comes out and goes underground and what's left is basically hydrogen gas, which power plants can burn cleanly and even more efficiently. "For the same amount of coal you produce 10 percent extra electric power," says Gupta. With the Department of Energy's $168 million grant, Gupta's team can now test their technology on a larger scale. By 2015, he says they'll have built a 50 megawatt power plant in Florida. That's just shy of a full-sized commercial plant and should be enough to determine whether the government made a good bet in Gupta and the Research Triangle Institute.