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HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS

Center for Energy Systems Research, directed by Michael R. von Spakovsky, professor of mechanical engineering, is working on fuel cell systems for transportation and stationary power applications. Research areas are thermodynamics; building, industrial, and transportation energy systems; internal combustion engines; basic fuel cell processes and systems; systems integration; heat and mass transfer; thermoeconomics; second law analysis; thermal optimization; and vehicle systems.

Contact:

Richard Turner

The Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute, directed by Richard Turner, is developing materials and processes for proton exchange membrane fuel cells, carbon fiber reinforced polymer matrix composites for the next-generation wind turbine blades, and high-temperature composite components for the power distribution network.

The Virginia Tech Future Energy Electronics Center, directed by Jin S. (Jason) Lai, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is developing high-efficiency power conditioning systems for low-voltage high-power solid oxide fuel cells for stationary (residential) power plant applications. For example, researchers in the center are aiming at near perfection — a five-kilowatt (KW) fuel cell power plant that produces AC electricity from a DC source at a rate of 99 percent efficiency. A 5 KW fuel cell plant could provide all the electricity needed by a family living in a 2,000- to 5,000-square-foot home. Lai is developing a fuel cell power converter that will step up the electrical output from a low-power 400 volts DC to the high-power 120 volts or 240 volts AC that are standard for household and industry uses. The second goal is to develop a strategy for integrating 5 KW fuel cell power plants into utility energy grids. A third goal is to improve efficiency by using power electronics to synchronize utility grid voltage and current.

FOSSIL FUELS

Contact:

Roe-Hoan Yoon

The Center for Advanced Separation Technologies (CAST), directed by Roe-Hoan Yoon, the Nicholas T. Camicia Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering, develops coal-cleaning technology and works with a variety of coal produces and equipment manufacturers related to froth flotation and fine coal dewatering. CAST was formed in 2001 under the auspices of the U. S. Department of Energy, which continues to fund both fundamental and applied research in technologies that can be used to produce coal and mineral concentrates in an efficient and environmentally acceptable manner. Results include technologies to process and clean coal with less waste and to recover fine particles from waste streams. CAST is currently funding 60 projects at seven universities.

Contact:

Michael Karmis

The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER), directed by Michael Karmis, Stonie Barker Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering, is developing and implementing sustainable development indicators for the mining and minerals industries and teaching about sustainable development of mineral and energy resources. VCCER is researching characterization and extraction of energy resources, developing GPS data for terrestrial and geological sinks for carbon sequestration, and pilot testing sequestration in coal beds. The center posts carbon sequestration materials at its web site, maintains a Virginia Energy Patterns and Trends web site, hosts the Virginia Coal Reserves web site, and develops data for the National Carbon Sequestration database. VCCER is supported by the Southern States Energy Board and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, and numerous industrial sponsors and academic partners.
      With funding from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 5DT Inc., and mining companies, the VCCER is also doing mining health and safety research and policy development and developing mining health and safety training software.
      VCCER encourages the involvement of stakeholders in proposals with the potential for significant economic development in the traditional coal-producing counties of Virginia.

ENERGY POLICY

Contact:

Saifur Rahman

The Center for Energy and the Global Environment (CEAGE), based at Virginia Tech's Advanced Research Institute in Northern Virginia, is a research and educational center that examines issues related to energy and its role in the global environment. Its mission is to promote cooperation among researchers, educators, and policy makers interested in sustainable energy development and to act as a catalyst for developing solutions to environmental problems in many regions of the world. CEAGE is charged with determining reliable and secure methods of electricity generation and utilization that are compatible with the environment. CEAGE programs are guided by discussions with U.S. industry, academia, and regulatory bodies, and interactions with scientists and policy makers internationally. CEAGE sponsors exchange visits by policymakers and academics to assist in formulating environment friendly policies. CEAGE also produces white papers about topics related to energy and environment worldwide and makes them available to the news media and other research institutions.

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Contact:

Carl Zipper

The Powell River Project conducts research and education programs to enhance the restoration of mined lands and to benefit communities and businesses. Activities include development of coal mine restoration technologies to improve post-mining land use potentials and reduce environmental impacts and Virginia Cooperative Extension programs to communicate research results to the coal industry and regulatory agencies. Education includes tours and programs concerning mine restoration directed toward K-12 students in Southwest Virginia’s coalfield region. The project’s 1,100-acre center is a hub of research programs focused on developing practical, cost-effective solutions to natural resource problems in the central Appalachia coal mining areas. Led by Carl Zipper in crop and soil environmental sciences, the Powell River Project has worked collaboratively with other educational entities in Southwest Virginia since its inception in 1980. Sponsors include the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, and local and regional coal producers and land managers.

NUCLEAR ENERGY

Contact:

Raju Raghavan

The Institute for Particle, Nuclear, and Astronomical Sciences, directed by Raju Raghavan, professor of physics, studies nuclear and particle reactions. The research is supported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, and others.

The Laboratory for Neurotoxicity Studies, directed by Bernie Jortner and Marion Ehrich, professor of biomedical science in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, is doing research to assess the neurotoxicity potential of depleted uranium resources. The research is funded by the U..S Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity.

Contact:

Diane Folz

The Microwave Processing Research Facility in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Virginia Tech has been funded by U.S. Department of Energy to look at new ways to expand the use of nuclear energy while minimizing the risks to the public. In this study, conducted by David Clark, department head, and Diane Folz, senior research associate, new types of nuclear fuel pellets will be prepared from the stockpiles of depleted nuclear pellet wastes using a high-temperature microwave method. Because microwave energy can be used to form these materials rapidly (minutes) and to high density (over 95 percent dense), the crucial components that generate energy will not be lost as they are in the conventional processing method that requires many hours at high temperatures. In addition to the efficiency of the processing method, there is the added bonus of using up the stockpiles of what is now considered radioactive waste for an energy-producing application.

ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE

Contact:

Daniel Inman

The Center for Intelligent Materials Science and Structures, directed by Daniel Inman, the George R. Goodson Professor in Mechanical Engineering, is developing energy harvesting methods for powering small electronics. For example, they are creating several devices to convert and store ambient energy sources, such as vibrations, changing temperatures, and solar energy, into usable electrical energy. An important application is wireless sensors. The research is part of a multidisciplinary university research initiative with the University of Washington, University of California at Los Angeles, and University of Colorado at Boulder funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The research is also funded by the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Recently the National Science foundation awarded a Industry/University Cooperative Research Center grant to establish the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems (CEHMS), which brings together industries in a consortium to support research at Virginia Tech, Clemson University and the University of Texas at Dallas in energy harvesting and related areas. CEHMS will be housed in ICTAS.

Contact:

Anbo Wang

The Center for Photonics Technology, directed by Anbo Wang, the Clayton Ayre Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, does research on optical fiber sensors, special fiber waveguides, components and devices for optical communications and slip rings, and 3-D surface mapping. For example, optical fiber sensor-based techniques developed by the center are being used for on-line detection and location of partial discharges in transformers. This research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPRI, a consortium of electric companies worldwide. With funding from the Department of Energy and others, the center has developed sensors to enhance coal gasification technology.

Contact:

Fred C. Lee

The Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES), directed by Fred C. Lee, University Distinguished Professor of electrical and computer engineering, is a multi-institutional National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center (NSF ERC) with five partner universities – Virginia Tech (lead institution), University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina A&T State University, and University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. CPES develops advanced electronic power conversion technologies and provides education in the field of power electronics. The vision is to enable dramatic improvements in the performance, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of electric energy processing systems by developing an integrated system approach via integrated power electronics modules (IPEMs). These building blocks offer integrated functionality, standardized interfaces, suitability for automated manufacturing and mass production, versatility, and application-specific systems solutions. Many of the IPEM concepts and approaches have been successfully transferred to industry and have been commercialized. The center offers two NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs.

The Consortium on Energy Restructuring is doing research on the implementation of distributed generation technologies and is developing educational modules. Creating a new electric power system archetype will require a robust network of distributed generation (DG) sources, such as fuel cells, micro-turbines, and renewable wind and solar energies, along with traditional centralized power plants using fossil fuels. Funded by the National Science Foundation, members of the Consortium for Energy Restructuring (CER) at Virginia Tech are trying to encourage the use of small-scale generation technologies as part of an approach to create a more secure and efficient electric utility system. Group members include academics and graduate students from disciplines that span engineering, business, consumer affairs, and science and technology studies. CER integrates power electronics technologies with novel business prototypes, as well as social science and consumer research, such as a computerized business simulator and consumer information.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND CONSERVATION

Contact:

Wing Fai Ng

The Center for Turbo Machinery and Propulsion Research, directed by Wing Fai Ng, the Chris Kraft Endowed Professor in Mechanical Engineering, does research to improve the performance and energy efficiency of fluid machinery. His research is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and industry.

Contact:

William Mason

Fuel-efficient airplanes can significantly reduce the negative impact that fuel prices have on the financial health of airlines. For more than a decade, researchers at Virginia Tech’s Multidisciplinary Analysis and Design Center (MAD Center) for Advanced Vehicles have been developing a comprehensive approach to design highly-efficient aircraft.

WIND, SOLAR, HYDROELECTRIC, AND BIOMASS ENERGY

The Center for Energy and the Global Environment (CEAGE), based at Virginia Tech's Advanced Research Institute in Northern Virginia, is a research and educational center that examines issues related to energy and its role in the global environment (see full center listing in Energy Policy section). An example related to renewable energy systems is research by George Hagemann and CEAGE colleagues who are conducting physical and numerical modeling of a submerged wave energy buoy for sustainable powering of ocean observing systems.

Contact:

Jeff Waldon

The Conservation Management Institute (CMI) is a center within the College of Natural Resources focused on natural resource management, inventory, monitoring, and innovation. Biomass, cellulosic materials widely available either as agricultural and forestry waste or dedicated energy crops, has been identified by the US Department of Energy as an important contributor to the future energy supply of the nation, and the Southeastern US has been identified as a high likelihood region for the production of biomass. The largest biomass, electric plant in the US is located in Virginia. Dedicated herbaceous biomass crops hold the potential for dramatically improving water quality, wildlife habitat, and farm profitability in the Southeast. CMI has been active in supporting pilot projects in multiple counties in Virginia to demonstrate the production, collection, and concentration of biomass for future biorefineries.