Professor Receives Funding for Clean Coal Research

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About 40 percent of energy in the US is produced by coal. Yet this power leaves behind the largest carbon footprint.

A professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has received funds from the U.S. Department of Energy to help change that.

Peter LiawPeter Liaw, professor and Ivan Racheff Chair of Excellence of Materials Science and Engineering, and colleagues have received a $300,000 Clean Coal Research Award for Improved Structural Materials. Their research seeks to increase the efficiency of coal-fired power plants through the development of High-Entropy Alloys—a mixture of multiple principal elements.

Announced by US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the award is part of a series to be distributed to nine universities across the country.

“Dr. Liaw’s research will be a benefit to the world with the promise of increasing the efficiency of coal-fired power plants,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. “Furthermore, this award offers our students an invaluable opportunity of conducting transformational research.”

“Dr. Liaw’s efforts are integral to the sustained success of our department,” said Kurt Sickafus, department head. “This is best exemplified by the large number of graduate students that he employs on his programs and graduates on a regular basis. I feel very fortunate to have him as a member of our faculty.”

Liaw will collaborate with Fan Zhang of CompuTherm LLC and graduate students Michael Hemphill and Louis Santodonato to optimize High-Entropy Alloys for use in steam and gas turbines at elevated temperatures and pressures. The technology promises to require less coal per megawatt-hour, leading to higher efficiency and lower fuel costs per megawatt.

“These alloys will endure operating conditions in the advanced turbine systems in excess of 760 degrees Celsius and at a pressure of 35 megapascals.” Liaw said. “This improves operating conditions and efficiency of advanced boilers, steam turbines, and gas turbines.”

The team will also conduct focused experiments to examine the relationship between heat and mechanical energy to identify High-Entropy Alloys that outperform alloys used today.

The DOE awards will leverage student-led teams across the country as they continue research and development of new technologies and materials that will advance clean coal energy production. UT is among academic institutions such as Brown University and Dartmouth College to receive this award.

The Energy Department’s total $2.7 million investment will be used with additional funds from the universities to support $3.1 million in total projects.

For more information, visit the Department of Energy website.

The grant proposal was written with assistance from the College of Engineering and Office of Research.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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