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Energy Department Invests $2.8M to Support Fossil Energy Research at Universities
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The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected seven projects to receive approximately $2.8 million in federal funding for research and development projects that support fossil energy research at colleges and universities nationwide, including minority institutions. Projects under this initiative educate the next generation of scientists and engineers and help advance innovative and fundamental research focused on coal-based, fossil energy resources. The Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority Institutions (HBCU/OMI) program aims to increase the participation of underrepresented students in such research.

Selected through funding opportunity announcement (FOA) DE-FOA-0001842, Support of Fossil Energy Research at U.S. Colleges and Universities Including University Coal Research (UCR) and Research by Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority Institutions, the projects will minimize costs and requirements for energy treatment by optimizing power plant environmental controls; the projects will also boost efficiency by integrating robotics technologies.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage the selected projects, described below: 

Area of Interest 1: Coal Contaminant Partitioning in Power Plant Wastewater

1. Trace Element Sampling and Partitioning Modeling to Estimate Wastewater Composition and Treatment Efficacy at Coal Generators – Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) intends to build a predictive model that will enable utility decision makers, academic researchers, and policy makers to simulate trace element emissions from coal-fired power plants (CFPPs). The model will estimate trace element partitioning in air pollution control devices to the gas, liquid, and solid phases exiting CFPPs. The team will also develop cost estimates of established and emerging wastewater treatment trains to identify the most cost-effective approaches to comply with federal rules.

Program: UCR; DOE Funding: $400,000

2. Coal-Fired Power Plant Configuration and Operation Impact on Plant Effluent Contaminant and Conditions – Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) plans to work with Western Kentucky University to characterize coal contaminants in power plant wastewater as function of coal type, plant type, plant operational profile, environmental controls, water treatment technology, and effluent species.  Results will provide data needed to determine the impact of fuel type on effluents and plant operators with the information needed to comply with current effluent limitation guidelines.

Program: UCR; DOE Funding: $400,000

Area of Interest 2: Automated Plant Component Inspection, Analysis, and Repair Enabled by Robotics

3. AI-Enabled Robots for Automated Nondestructive Evaluation and Repair of Power Plant Boilers – Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO) plans to develop an integrated autonomous robotic platform for use in coal-fired boilers. The robot will be powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to automate data gathering and live predictive analysis, and incorporate end user feedback to continuously improve performance and achieve smart autonomy. Successful robotic inspection will reduce the risk to human operators and increase time and cost savings and boiler reliability, usability, and efficiency.

Program: UCR; DOE Funding: $400,000; Non-DOE Funding: $73,972; Total Value: $473,972

4. Development of a Pipe Crawler Inspection Tool for Fossil Energy Power Plants – Florida International University (Miami, FL) aims to develop a robotic inspection tool to evaluate the structural integrity of key components in fossil fuel power plants. The proposed robotic system will improve state-of-the-art inspection tools for pipes that are subject to extreme conditions and for which structural integrity assessments are difficult to obtain.

Program: HBCU/OMI; DOE Funding: $398,333

5. A Lizard-Inspired Tube Inspector (LTI) Robot – New Mexico State University(Las Cruces, NM) aims to develop a versatile LTI robot with embedded inspection sensing components that will eliminate the need for point-by-point scanning of tube surfaces for detecting and evaluating cracks and erosion. Advanced imaging will enable the robot to image the entire area between and around the robot’s multi-functional mobility system using innovative new imaging technologies developed by the principal investigator.

Program: HBCU/OMI; DOE Funding: $400,000

6. A Robotics-Enabled Eddy Current Testing System for Autonomous Inspection of Heat Exchanger Tubes – The University of Missouri (Columbia, MO) intends to develop a robotics-enabled eddy current testing (ECT) system for autonomous inspection of heat exchanger tubes. The proposed system will be capable of precisely controlling the location and speed of the ECT probe into or out of tubes of various sizes and geometries. If measured data from suspicious regions of the tubes matches these signatures, the controller will make a real-time decision on insertion and extraction speeds and probe location for more detailed scanning, thus increasing measurement accuracy while enhancing testing efficiency.

Program: UCR; DOE Funding: $400,000

7. Autonomous Aerial Power Plant Inspection in GPS-Denied Environments – The University of Texas at El Paso (El Paso, TX) intends to test and validate the performance of the school’s GPS-denied Inspection System, outfitted with electro-optical and infrared inspection sensors, in a representative coal-fired power component. The aerial system will leverage current robotic-based inspection technology in power plants; access dangerous and difficult to reach structures; inspect areas where GPS is not available; and enable inspection of cluttered and space-reduced areas, internal and external components such as cooling towers and flue gas stacks, and areas with high ash content without disturbing particulate matter.

Program: HBCU/OMI; DOE Funding: $400,000

The Office of Fossil Energy funds research and development projects to reduce the risk and cost of advanced fossil energy technologies and further the sustainable use of the Nation’s fossil resources. To learn more about the programs within the Office of Fossil Energy, visit the Office of Fossil Energy website or sign up for FE news announcements. More information about the National Energy Technology Laboratory is available on the NETL website.