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BYU Engineering receives $5.8M to fund coal-fired energy research

BYU Chemical Engineering is awarded $4.6M from the United States Department of Energy, with an additional $1.2M in external funding to research CO2 power cycles.

BYU is receiving funding as part of the United States Department of Energy’s (DOE) “Critical Components for Coal FIRST Power Plants of the Future initiative. Andrew Fry, BYU Chemical Engineering associate professor, is the principal investigator for the project.

The project aim is to conduct testing and produce model-based optimization of coal-fired primary heaters that use supercritical CO2 power cycles. Traditionally, coal-fired heaters use rankine cycles, which use steam to produce mechanical energy. Dr. Fry’s goal is to shift this process to a brayton cycle, which, in this case, uses CO2 to produce energy, rather than steam.

While steam is an effective way to generate power, Dr. Fry proposes that it is not the most efficient way. “The available amounts of energy in a CO2 cycle are greater [than steam], and there’s a bigger difference between the top of the cycle and the bottom of the cycle which allows us to get more energy out of it,” said Fry.

A large part of the inefficiency within steam cycles comes from the loss of energy during the cooling and repressurising stages. Dr. Fry explains that energy lost in these stages of the cycle is unrecoverable. However, with CO2 cycles, that step can be completed at much higher temperatures, and the heat loss can be recovered and reintegrated into the power cycle.

BYU is collaborating with Echogen, Babcock Power, Reaction Engineering International and the San Rafael Energy Research Center. Reaction Engineering International arranged for the current project team to get together to discuss the proposal. Its expertise in computational fluid dynamic modeling of combustion systems is necessary to design the heat transfer surfaces that will be inserted into the coal combustor. Echogen owns the technology and is responsible for developing a compressor and CO2 management system.

The unknown component of the project is the heat exchanger, which Babcock Power is tasked with developing. Once developed, the heat exchanger will be housed in the L1500 and integrate with the compressor and CO2 management system. Through process modeling tools, the team will evaluate the final system performance at pilot scale and full scale.

The team is leveraging equipment that already exists, in addition to developing new equipment to conduct the research. The L1500 furnace, previously housed at the University of Utah, has been moved to the San Rafael Energy Research Center where testing will take place. The furnace will be adapted to function more like a supercritical CO2 power plant.

Dr. Fry has worked with the L1500 furnace for more than 20 years. As part of his role in overseeing the project, he will be responsible for ensuring seamless integration of all components with the L1500.

Students interested in getting involved with this project can contact Dr. Fry.