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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2007-07-03 16:00:00
  • Article ID: 531293

Coal-to-Liquid Researchers Are Ahead of National Debate

Contact: Dan Adkins, (859) 257-1754 ext. 228

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 3, 2007) − From Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" to heated Congressional debates about federal tax incentives for new alternative fuels, the issue of coal's place in supplying America's energy and fuel needs has taken on added importance in recent months.

A research institute at the University of Kentucky, though, has been exploring ways to increase the efficiency of converting coal to liquid fuel well in advance of national discussions of the process.

At the UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), Burt Davis is refining the process to identify ways to reduce or capture carbon dioxide generated by the Fischer-Tropsch method of converting coal to diesel and other products, such as paraffin and chemicals for making plastics.

"We've been doing Fischer-Tropsch research for 15 years. In the last five years, interest in general has picked up," particularly by private companies," says Davis, the center's associate director and its chief researcher on clean fuels.

"We've done testing for 25 companies, both large petroleum companies and small startup companies," he says.

"North America is one of the world's largest coal-reserve regions. Its petroleum is declining, but coal is still the largest resource. If the United States is to become independent from foreign sources of petroleum, it has to make it from oil shale, coal or both. We have about equal amounts of reserves of oil shale and coal, at the current rate of usage, to be able to generate petroleum substitutes for the United States for the next 200 years," Davis says.

"The dominant reason petroleum is what we use today is, it's the most efficient (fuel)," Davis notes. "It's a matter of time, as I see it, until the two (petroleum efficiency and coal-to-liquid fuel efficiency) become equal."

That efficiency equality will result from the continuing decline of available petroleum and the increased efficiency of coal-to-liquid fuel that results from researchers' efforts, he says.

Rodney Andrews, the center's acting director, says CAER's focus places the university among the leaders of researchers seeking fuels to provide energy independence.

"We're looking at new catalyst systems and new process systems to make the process be more efficient (and) be more effective, and to better control what products are made," Andrews says.

Since it opened in 1977, CAER has performed research seeking cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly ways to use coal and carbon.

However, the low cost of oil and gasoline discouraged energy companies from seeking alternative fuels. As the cost of oil and gasoline has risen to record levels in the last few years, interest in alternative fuels has emerged, generating renewed interest in ongoing research in processes such as coal-to-liquid.

UK is one of several universities " most situated in states with large coal reserves " engaged in research to discover the best ways to convert coal to liquid.

"One of the concerns coming out right now is CO2 emissions. When you convert carbon-rich coal into a more hydrogen-rich diesel fuel, you produce carbon dioxide... You don't want to produce any more than you have to," Andrews says.

Andrews says UK researchers are considering ways to capture carbon dioxide for injection into oil wells to increase pressure and reduce the costs of pumping petroleum from existing American reserves. Such methods of carbon dioxide sequestration also trim the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment.

Andrews notes the process " which was based on formulas developed by two German chemists in the 1920s " is already proven to be successful, both scientifically and commercially.

"It's been used in South Africa for several decades," Andrews says.

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Columbia Engineers Develop Floating Solar Fuels Rig for Seawater Electrolysis

Chemical Engineering Prof Daniel Esposito has developed a novel photovoltaic-powered electrolysis device that can operate as a stand-alone platform that floats on open water. His floating PV-electrolyzer can be thought of as a "solar fuels rig" that bears some resemblance to deep-sea oil rigs--but it would produce hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water instead of extracting petroleum from beneath the sea floor. (International Journal of Hydrogen Energy)

National MagLab's Latest Magnet Snags World Record, Marks New Era of Scientific Discovery

The Florida State University-headquartered National High Magnetic Field Laboratory has shattered another world record with the testing of a 32-tesla magnet -- 33 percent stronger than what had previously been the world's strongest superconducting magnet used for research and more than 3,000 times stronger than a small refrigerator magnet.

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Vector polarizers are a light filtering technology hidden behind the operation of many optical systems. They can be found, for instance, in sunglasses, LCD screens, microscopes, microprocessors, laser machining and more. Optical physicists published details of their new vector polarizer design this week in APL Photonics. The newly proposed design is a major advance in polarization technology because it enables flexible filtering of a wide range of light sources and generation of new light states.

Accelerating the Self-Assembly of Nanoscale Patterns for Next-Generation Materials

Scientists have come up with a way to massively speed up the ordering process for self-assembling materials. The resulting ultra-small, well-ordered patterns could be used in the fabrication of microelectronics, antireflective surfaces, magnetic data storage systems, and fluid-flow devices.

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Neuroscientists can now explore a beta version of the new Neurodata Without Borders: Neurophysiology (NWB:N 2.0) software and offer input to developers before it is fully released next year.

Scientists Discover Path to Improving Game-Changing Battery Electrode

Researchers from Stanford University, two Department of Energy national labs and the battery manufacturer Samsung created a comprehensive picture of how the same chemical processes that give cathodes their high capacity are also linked to changes in atomic structure that sap performance.

ESnet's Petascale DTN Project Speeds up Data Transfers between Leading HPC Centers

A new Petascale Data Transfer Node project aims to to achieve regular disk-to-disk, end-to-end transfer rates of one petabyte per week between major supercomputing facilities, which translates to achievable throughput rates of about 15 Gbps on real world science data sets.


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LLNL Releases Newly Declassified Nuclear Test Videos

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) released 62 newly declassified videos today of atmospheric nuclear tests films that have never before been seen by the public.

NAU Researchers Join DOE Project to Study the Soil Microbiome and Its Effect on Carbon Persistence

NAU Regents' Professor Bruce Hungate, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (Ecoss), recently joined a new initiative lead by LLNL to study how the soil microbiome controls the mechanisms that regulate the stabilization of the organic matter in soil.

Four Scientists Win the Los Alamos Medal

Los Alamos National Laboratory will award four former researchers with the Los Alamos Medal for their scientific contributions.

Stewart Prager Honored with FPA Distinguished Career Award

Announcement of Fusion Power Associates career award for Stewart Prager

WVU Physicists Among Collaborators Granted $7 Million to Form U.S. Department of Energy Center of Excellence

Scientists pause each afternoon at Kirtland Air Force Base in Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, awaiting the daily lightning flash and unmistakable floor jolt that accompanies a Z shot

US Dept. Of Energy Grant to Advance Combined Heat and Power Systems in the Midwest

The University of Illinois at Chicago has received a five-year, $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help industrial, commercial, institutional and utility entities evaluate and install highly efficient combined heat and power (CHP) technologies.CHP, also known as cogeneration, is a single system that produces both thermal energy and electricity.

Applications Open: ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship 2018-2019

ECS, in a continued partnership with the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA), a division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. (TEMA), is requesting proposals from young professors and scholars pursuing innovative electrochemical research in green energy technology.

Successful Startup Founder to Lead Entrepreneurship Program at Argonne

John Carlisle has been named the director of Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), a program aimed at accelerating job creation through innovation, based at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

Department of Energy Supports Argonne Nuclear Technologies

This fall, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced nearly $4.7 million in funding for the department's Argonne National Laboratory across 16 projects in three divisions. Four of those TCF awards, representing more than $1 million in funds, are slated for Argonne's Nuclear Engineering division.

Southern Research Develops Gasifier Technology to Unlock Coal's Potential

Southern Research has been selected to receive nearly $1.7 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding to develop a new, cost-efficient gasifier capable of converting low-grade coal into synthesis gas (syngas) that can be used in a number of applications.


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Molecular Mousetraps Capture More Nuclear Waste

Cage-like molecules with internal chemical hooks remove three times more hazardous radioactive iodine compounds than current methods.

New Quantum Liquid Crystal--In the Driver's Seat

Lasers reveal a new state of matter--the first 3-D quantum liquid crystal.

Chemical "Pressure" Tuning Magnetic Properties

Unexpectedly, a little chemical substitution stabilizes unusual magnetic phase of vortexes called skyrmions.

Stirring up a Quantum Spin Liquid with Disorder

New, unexpected paradigm discovered: Disorder may actually promote an exotic quantum state, with potential for ultrafast computing.

Light Perfects Interfaces

Shining light on a growing semiconductor modifies its interface with the surface and could improve the optical properties of each.

Underappreciated Microbes Now Get Credit for Holding Down Two Jobs in Soil

Soil microbes work as both decomposers and synthesizers of carbon compounds in soil, offering new answers with impacts to crops and eco-health.

Energy, Economy, and the Earth: The Benefits of Creating Feedback Loops

Scientists reduce uncertainties in future climate prediction by directly coupling an energy-economy model to an Earth system model.

How Grasslands Regulate Their Productivity in Response to Droughts

Scientists show that grasslands are more sensitive to changes in the amount of moisture in the air than to changes in precipitation.

Building Confidence in Hydrologic Models

Scientists evaluate seven hydrologic models to understand how each model agrees and differs.

El Nino and Liquid Water Clouds Contribute to Antarctic Melt in 2015-2016

Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) observations provide clues on atmospheric contributions to an Antarctic melt event.


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