DOE Backs Projects to Produce Hydrogen from Coal, Biomass

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the agency has awarded $2 million to four research and development (R&D) projects aimed at advancing clean-hydrogen production technologies.

The DOE’s awards on March 15 are part of a push by the Biden administration in its fight against climate change. Jennifer Granholm, the new Secretary of Energy and former Michigan governor, has said reducing carbon emissions from the energy sector, and promoting more forms of clean energy, is a goal of her department.

“One of the important ways to achieve net-zero carbon emissions is to find innovative approaches to create clean sources of energy like hydrogen,” Granholm said Monday. “With these awards, we’re leaning on some of America’s most brilliant minds to turn these ideas into real solutions—at the same time creating clean-energy jobs and reducing pollution in the air we breathe.”

Different Ways to Produce Hydrogen

The new R&D awards are aimed at finding different ways to produce hydrogen. U.S. industrial facilities currently use natural gas as the main source of hydrogen. The DOE wants researchers to explore hydrogen production through co-gasification.

The DOE in a news release Monday said co-gasification “blends waste from biomass, plastic, and coal feedstocks with oxygen and steam under high pressures and temperatures, which has the potential to produce cleaner hydrogen. When combined with carbon capture and storage, this process may even lead to net-negative emissions.”  

The four projects receiving funds from the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy include endeavors at Auburn University in Alabama, the University of Kentucky, the University of Utah, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The DOE said the groups “will work on co-gasification technologies, with a focus on prioritizing sustainable feedstocks such as waste from forestry or agriculture.”

The project details:

The team at Auburn University was awarded $499,485 “to study the gasification performance of select feedstock mixtures in a laboratory-scale fluidized-bed gasifier,” according to DOE.

The DOE said EPRI researchers in Palo Alto, California, have been awarded $500,002 to “perform testing of a moving-bed gasifier using coal, biomass, and waste plastic blends to generate clean hydrogen.”

The Research Foundation at the University of Kentucky has been awarded $500,000 to “develop and study a coal, biomass, and plastic blend fuel by producing hydrophobic layer encapsulated biomass suitable for slurry, conducting lab-scale kinetic and gasification studies on the feedstock blend, and demonstrating practical operations in a commercially relevant 1 ton/day entrained flow gasifier,” said the DOE.

Researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City also were awarded $500,000. The DOE said the Utah team “plans to leverage a high-pressure, slurry-fed, oxygen-blown entrained-flow system to enable co-gasification of biomass and waste plastic by creating slurries of coal, biomass pyrolysis liquids, and liquefied plastic oil.”

Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the Senate minority leader, said the program will help the state’s coal industry, even as it’s designed to ultimately support clean energy.

“The University of Kentucky continues exploring the future of energy production to encourage cutting-edge job growth in our Commonwealth,” McConnell said in a statement. “I’m proud to support UK’s innovative pilot program and our coal communities. Kentucky remains at the center of coal research and technology, tapping into our high-skilled workforce and natural resources. I’ll keep working to deliver federal funding for ongoing fossil energy research programs in Kentucky.” 

The DOE Office of Fossil Energy funds R&D projects to advance fossil energy technologies and promote the use of the nation’s fossil fuel resources. The department’s funding opportunities are administered by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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