Energy, Environment, WVU News

WVU professor gets DOE grant to lead project supporting hydrogen power generation

MORGANTOWN – Eyes across the world are on hydrogen as the next clean energy fuel, and a WVU professor is leading a team aiming to make on part of that process a reality.

Xingbo Liu is associate dean for research and Statler Endowed Chair of Engineering at WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

He received a $1,999,876 U.S Department of Energy grant as principal investigator on a project to develop a high-entropy, alloy-based coating to protect turbine blades in hydrogen turbine power systems.

Expressing his joy in his work, he said, “This is fun research, and something hopefully useful. Research is always fun, but now we’re doing something fun and useful.”

He brings out a small blade from a Dominion Energy natural gas turbine to explain what his job is.

Turbine blades are turned by combustion to generate electricity, he said. Coal and nuclear produce steam to turn the blades. Heat from gas combustion turns the blades without producing steam.

For hydrogen, the eventual goal is to burn 100% hydrogen, he said, but right now people are talking about blending hydrogen into natural gas combustion. “It’s it’s more realistic in the near future.”

The turbine blades are a nickel-based alloy, he said, and the combustion temperature is higher than the melting point of the alloy.

The blade in his hand has a two-layer coating to protect it from the gas combustion heat. The top coating is thin – 200 microns, less than 1 millimeter. It can reduce temperatures by 200 degrees Celsius – 392 degrees Fahrenheit.

The coating on his souvenir gas turbine blade – a friend gave it to him after it cracked – wouldn’t withstand the even higher temperatures of hydrogen combustion, he said.

Between the top coat and the blade is a thinner bonding coat, about 50 microns. Without it, the top coat wouldn’t stick to the metal.

Most of the focus of their research, he said, will be on bonding coat, with some on the top coat. “The top coat is not a major issue, the bonding coat is the major issue.”

This blade is about 18 inches high, and a turbine has multiple stages with different temperatures and pressures and different blade sizes in each stage, he said.

The environmental advantage of hydrogen combustion, he said, is that it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Their research will modify the coating used for natural gas combustion to work for hydrogen combustion.

Xingbo’s research partner works at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Albany, Ore. He is doing modeling work – model-driven design of materials. They have an industrial partner, Praxair, a global industrial gas and coating company, which lends the research immediate commercial impact.

“A lot of research we do is great, but it stays on somebody’s shelf – publish a paper and that’s it. This time we have the whole supply chain, we have the partner.” Praxair will do the coatings for the OEMs – original equipment manufacturers – such as GE and Siemens.

The grant is for three years. They also have a $500,000 cost share from the companies in the form of in-kind support. By the end of the three years, he said, they hope to be at a technical readiness level of 4 (out of 9), which means all the lab work confirms it works and they can move on to bigger prototype scale work. At that point, they could ask for more funding or the company could take it over to sell it.

Xingbo also is research hydrogen fuel cells. “It’s in my blood, it’s my research since I was a college kid,” he said. “This research is really fun, and hopefully it can lead to a more clean energy future.”

Manchin and Capito

Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito announced the NETL grant in a joint release.

Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said, “WVU continues to represent the Mountain State at the highest levels, and I am pleased it has been selected yet again to research and develop new, innovative technologies critical to advancing hydrogen – a fuel that’s increasingly important to our economy and has the potential to decarbonize our energy systems, industrial processes and transportation sector.”

The grant, he said, “showcases how West Virginia can continue to lead the country – and the world – in advancing clean energy technologies.”

Capito is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. She said, “West Virginia University continues to be a leader in a variety of research fields, and I’m proud to see our students receive this award from the Department of Energy.

“This funding,” she said, “will support our students as they create innovative technology that contributes to our energy sector, and works to reduce emissions. I will continue to advocate for the support our higher education institutions need to further our research and development capacities in West Virginia.”

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