October 9, 2009

Arleene Barrios
Public Information Officer
UTEP Office of University Communications
Phone: 915-747-7503 / 915-539-4677
E-mail: news@utep.edu

UTEP Selected for Department of Energy Research
Projects focus on energy efficiency and reduction of fossil fuel emissions

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded The University of Texas at El Paso grants totaling nearly $1.3 million for research that could benefit the environment by improving efficiency of engines and creating technologies for detecting, capturing and storing carbon emissions.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chintalapalle V. Ramana, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., will investigate improved materials for thermal barrier coatings, which help protect engine components and improve the efficiency of engines by allowing them to operate at higher temperatures. Ramana will develop nanostructured (submicroscopic) coatings for hydrogen turbines that have improved resistance to heat and heat-related corrosion.

The research is supported by a $491,081 award from the DOE’s University Turbine Systems Research (UTSR) Program.

The DOE also awarded $200,000 to support a project for which Ramana will develop nanostructured sensors designed to detect low levels of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas in advanced power systems. Ramana said the reliable, fast and highly sensitive sensors will be able to withstand the corrosive atmosphere and extremely high temperatures found in coal gasification power systems.

Two other DOE-supported studies will explore technologies that hold promise for protecting the environment by capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2), a fossil-fuel emission.

Choudhuri, director of UTEP’s Combustion and Propulsion Research Laboratory, will lead research on the combustion of gaseous fuels with nearly pure oxygen instead of air. Known as oxyfuel combustion, the technology may help significantly lower CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. Burning coal in oxygen rather than air produces mainly water vapor and CO2, making the CO2 easier to capture for transport and storage. This research will be supported by a $299,991 DOE grant.

The second project, directed by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Vinod Kumar, Ph.D., will use computational analysis to study the effectiveness of storing captured CO2 in coal seams, which are unmineable layers of coal below ground. UTEP researchers will collaborate with experts from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Shell Oil Company on this investigation, which will be funded by a DOE award of $288,861.

College of Engineering Dean Richard T. Schoephoerster, Ph.D., said the grants reflect the College of Engineering’s strengths in energy research.

“We expect more and more of these kinds of opportunities to come our way, as the United States and the rest of the world look for ways to reduce fossil fuel emissions while exploring alternative energy sources and technologies,” Schoephoerster said. “An additional benefit to these programs is that they provide outstanding training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students that will help add to a skilled workforce in these fields.”