News Release

Release Date: January 06, 2014

Uncovering Coal's Secrets Through the University Coal Research Program

The challenges confronting the environmentally sound use of our country’s fossil energy resources are best addressed through collaborative research and development. That’s why this approach, which stretches federal dollars, is at the heart of the Office of Fossil Energy’s University Coal Research (UCR) Program.

Managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), the UCR program funds university research to improve understanding of the chemical and physical properties of coal, one of our nation’s most abundant resources. The program has forged partnerships between academia and the private sector that have led to advances not only in how we use coal, but also in areas that extend beyond fossil energy.

Since the program’s inception in 1980, more than $100 million has been granted to U.S. universities. The UCR program has also enhanced the education of more than 1,700 students, providing them with hands-on experience in energy research and helping to spur the innovations of tomorrow’s scientists and researchers.

Research in areas such as computational fluid dynamics has positively impacted the way we use our fossil energy resources. In addition, processes and concepts developed under the UCR program have been successfully applied in other industries, including pharmaceuticals and laser printing and copying.

For example, a UCR-funded effort at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to measure and study mineral particles from coal led to a collaboration with a pharmaceutical company to help design purer pharmaceutical drugs — an interesting outcome for a project that began with a focus on coal. And that wasn’t the end of the spinoffs from this project. An "electrostatic spray dynamics analyzer" — the first instrument capable of measuring the electrostatic charge of mineral particles and coal — developed under the UCR program caught the eye of an international paint company. Recognizing the instrument’s potential, the company partnered with the University of Arkansas to modify the analyzer and use it to study and improve the spray properties of their powders. This has resulted in the development of new, more efficient laser printing and copying powders.

Building on the many successes of the UCR program, nine new projects have been added to the UCR portfolio this year, the 34th round of funding for the program. The University of Illinois and Oregon State University will conduct research on unique computational energy sciences; Auburn University, the University of Illinois, North Carolina State University, Purdue University, and the University of Tennessee Space Institute will undertake research in materials science; and the University of Connecticut and West Virginia University will pursue research on sensors and controls.

Combining the talent and intellect of academic researchers and their students with guidance from NETL, the UCR program helps to ensure that America’s energy resources are used to their highest potential — a goal at the heart of all Office of Fossil Energy research and development efforts.