Research at West VirginiaUniversity, the University of Kentucky and three other universities is hastening the day when transportation vehicles operate cleanly and more efficiently, and oil instability and rising gasoline prices are no longer recurring themes of everyday American life.


The University of Kentucky �€headquarters for the Consortium for Fossil Fuel Science which includes WVU �€announced Monday (Nov. 18) a new $5.7 million research contract awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, through the National Energy Technology Laboratory.


WVU is slated to receive $770,000 from the three-year contract to conduct research on C1 chemistry �€the conversion of natural gas and synthesis gas produced from coal into clean, high-quality gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and hydrogen to be used in vehicles of the future that will be powered by fuel cells.


UK Professor Gerald Huffman, director of the consortium, said that recent research indicates that C1 chemistry will soon be able to produce ultra-clean gasoline and diesel fuel from coal and natural gas at a price per gallon that is competitive with the cost of transportation fuel produced from oil. Commercialization of this technology in the United States should begin within the next five to 10 years, he said. This could not only produce a tremendous economic boom in coal-producing states, but also improve the nations security by relieving Americas dependence on oil imports from the Middle East, Huffman added.


The consortium also is developing C1 chemistry processes to produce liquid fuels and pure hydrogen from natural gas or synthesis gas produced from coal. Pure hydrogen is the fuel that will be required by cars of the future that are powered by fuel cells. In addition to pure hydrogen, carbon nanotubes are produced as a valuable by-product, said Huffman.


Research at WVU by chemical engineers Edwin Kugler and Dady Dadyburjor will focus on producing diesel fuel from coal using specialized catalysts that have been shown to make a premium-grade fuel. Catalysts are essential for making products we have come to rely on from plastics to gasoline.


Scientists do not entirely understand the details behind what makes certain catalysts work best for making specific products. WVU physicist Mohindar Seehra will lead a research team in analyzing the properties of catalysts being studied by CFFS researchers. His team will use an array of techniques designed to”see”how the catalysts interact with natural gas and coal-derived synthesis gas under various temperature conditions. His teams work, combined with research from other consortium members, will provide insight into the best catalyst designs.


Richard Bajura, director of the NationalResearchCenter for Coal and Energy at WVU and coordinator for the WVU portion of the program, emphasized the importance of such research in leading the United States to energy security. He recognized the vision of West Virginias congressional delegation, who have been longtime supporters of the fundamental research conducted by the CFFS . He cited in particular U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who he said plays a key role in ensuring that funding for fossil energy research remains a national priority.