Making Energy Production Cleaner and More Efficient
Recently, President Obama announced the finalization of America’s Clean Power Plan and called it the country’s biggest step toward combatting climate changes yet. The plan sets the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants across the nation. At the University of South Carolina, extensive research is taking place in the fields of engineering, chemistry, earth sciences and beyond that directly will impact power production and ultimately, combat climate change.
USC research is focused on, but not limited to, the following areas:
- safely capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) released by power plants, storing it, and reverting it back to useable fuels;
- creating advanced materials that can withstand the hotter and therefore, more efficient combustion environments;
- effectively using batteries, hydrogen and/or fuel cells to enable the storage of large quantities of energy produced by intermittent renewable sources such as solar and wind;
- developing “smart grid” technology that can instantaneously switch between base loads supplied by power plants, intermittent power provided by renewable energy sources, and stored energy from batteries and fuel cells;
- examining the geological impact of drilling on natural gas methane hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico; and
- assessing how the development of offshore wind energy sites could impact human, marine, and coastal environments.
- studying advanced nuclear fuels for sustainability by improving resource utilization and reducing the amount of used fuel that would need to be disposed of or recycled.
USC houses eight Centers of Economic Excellence, financially supported by the State of South Carolina's SmartState Program and private funds, which are directly connected to energy research.
One of those SmartState centers, SAGE (Strategic Approaches to the Generation of Electricity), is working with power companies across the region as well as the state and federal agencies to help implement the new rules and regulations set forth under the Clean Power Plan.
“The State of South Carolina must comply with the new rules by 2022,” said Dr. Jochen Lauterbach, SAGE director and chemical engineering professor. “We are working with all the stakeholders to ensure that new technologies are being developed that will help reducing CO2 emissions within this time frame.”
SAGE’s research focuses on:
- efficiently combusting coal and natural gas at hotter temperatures to produce less CO2,
- developing advanced materials that can withstand these hotter temperatures to use at power plants, and
- converting the CO2 into chemicals or transportation fuels.
“Our goal is to reduce pollutant emissions from power plants by 10-20 percent by developing novel materials while trying to understand the combustion chemistry at a fundamental level,” said Lauterbach.
South Carolina also relies heavily on nuclear power with more than half of all electricity generated within the state derived from nuclear power.
USC is at the forefront of research focused on advanced nuclear fuels and reactors. Recently, the UofSC nuclear engineering program led by professor Travis Knight received a $4-million federal grant to research ways to more effectively store used nuclear fuel before it is disposed of in an eventual geologic repository or recycled as fuel for future reactors.
“We are fabricating and testing new fuels to power our current reactors as well as designing advanced reactors to more effectively recycle the used fuel and thereby reducing waste,” said Knight. “Nuclear power is a safe, low carbon source of energy and the work we are doing at USC is aimed to make it more sustainable. Nuclear power is also a source of good jobs and economic development for the State. Our research on advanced fuels and reactors will ensure that US maintains a competitive edge in this important technology".
USC also created the Energy Leadership Institute which coordinates the work of researchers across campus in energy and related fields, incorporating input from engineering and computing, arts and sciences, public health, law and business.