Cleaner coal through biomass is focus of WVU research team

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August 15, 2010 by Trina Wafle, National Research Center for Coal and Energy

Davis College professor Kaushlendra Singh demonstrates a process by which cleaner coal is produced through biomass.

Davis College professor Kaushlendra Singh demonstrates a process by which cleaner coal is produced through biomass.

Morgantown, W.Va — While biomass is touted as a renewable fuel of the future, the reality is there are significant logistical challenges with supplying enough biomass to bio-refining facilities to meet 100 percent of the demand for fuel, said Kaushlendra Singh at a meeting of the Consortium for Fossil Fuel Science held recently in Pittsburgh. Singh is an assistant professor of wood science and technology at West Virginia University and one of the new faces of the University’s Advanced Energy Initiative.

Odd as it may seem, Singh was quick to point out that coal and biomass can complement one another.

That’s because coal does not have the same supply problems, but faces a different set of problems related to the release of carbon dioxide on climate. Biomass, a carbon-neutral fuel source, combined with coal, a readily available fuel source, could address each one’s problems.

To prove his point, he will be leading a new research project to blend biomass with coal to make an overall greener fuel under a US Department of Energy award through the Consortium. The CFFS program at WVU is coordinated by the National Research Center for Coal and Energy.

“I predict that five years from now, there will be some sort of carbon legislation that will limit emissions of carbon dioxide,” Singh told CFFS scientists. While not totally carbon neutral, a coal-biomass fuel would be a step in the direction toward meeting the demand for affordable, abundant, clean energy.

Davis College Assistant Professor Jingxin Wang (back) has tapped coal-to-liquids expert and chemical engineering professor John Zondlo (foreground) for a project to convert coal and biomass into liquid transportation fuels.

Davis College Assistant Professor Jingxin Wang (back) has tapped coal-to-liquids expert and chemical engineering professor John Zondlo (foreground) for a project to convert coal and biomass into liquid transportation fuels.

Singh is teaming with Jingxin Wang, associate professor of forestry and wood science, and John Zondlo, professor of chemical engineering, bringing together expertise from the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

They will be studying the co-gasification of coal with wood waste, a process that lowers the carbon footprint on the environment but also improves the product gas which then can be converted into a liquid transportation fuel.

“The calcium, sodium, and potassium in wood ash actually help to catalyze coal conversion, improving the overall process,” said Zondlo.

“The $108,900 project is one of about ten biomass energy projects in the wood science and technology program in the Davis College’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources,” said Wang, who leads the program. Funders for the other projects include the U.S. Department of Agriculture NIFA Wood Utilization Research Grants, the West Virginia Division of Energy, and WVU’s Advanced Energy Initiative.

Singh is so enamored of the coal-biomass co-processing idea, the young scientist is organizing sessions on co-processing of coal-biomass and carbon trading and sequestration for like-minded researchers at the 2011 international conference of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). It will be the first time the 103-year-old, 9,000-member, international professional society formally will be discussing coal.

“If scientists, engineers, business leaders, and Congress all act wisely to promote co-processing of coal and biomass, we would be promoting a more environmentally friendly energy future. We also would be paving the way for a secure energy future, free from imported oil,” said Singh.

-NRCCE

CONTACT: Trina Karolchik Wafle, (304) 293-6038

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