Chunshan Song, director of NETL UCFER and director of Penn State's Energy Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, addresses attendees at the University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research kick-off meeting. Image: Patrick Mansell / Penn State

NETL and member universities kick off new Coalition on Clean Energy

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Representatives of nine universities and the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy met at Penn State to kick off the University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research (UCFER), a six-year program funded by NETL for $20 million that will explore a broad range of research in coal, natural gas and oil including carbon dioxide capture, storage and use.

"This is a great time for Penn State," said Neil Sharkey, vice president for research, Penn State. "We have a real focus on energy at this point and we really want to make this project a working collaborative. Penn State takes its mission seriously and we want to work closely with NETL and our partner universities."

The meeting with NETL, attended by representatives of eight of the nine member universities involved, including Technical Advisory Council Members, was to discuss the vision, mission and direction and to set the ground rules for UCFER operation. Penn State leads UCFER for advancing basic and applied research on clean carbon-based energy.

 "NETL is focused on driving fossil energy technologies that enhance the nation's energy foundation while protecting the environment for future generations," said Grace Bochenek, director, NETL, U.S. Department of Energy. "We believe strong collaborations are a major way of achieving that goal. Walking away from the potential of clean fossil fuel is not the answer. This collaborative effort is a new opportunity to bring a strong group together to achieve the energy challenges that face our country. For more than 100 years, our Laboratory has developed tools and processes to provide clean, reliable and affordable energy to the American people. This initiative is a logical extension of that success."

UCFER will solicit proposals and fund the best ones from the member universities in collaboration with NETL to address specific areas of research need for more efficient and cleaner uses of coal, oil and natural gas, including new approaches to the capture, storage and use of carbon dioxide emitted from fossil energy.

Even before the meeting, member representatives and NETL worked together to set up the basic framework for the UCFER program. Penn State representatives explained a newly created website and online submission system for proposals. The first UCFER call for proposals on carbon use and reuse, carbon storage, recovery of rare earth elements from coal and crosscutting research and analysis was issued in late April. Researchers in those universities that are part of UCFER may apply for these grants, which include collaboration with NETL. Proposals involving industry collaboration are also encouraged.

"The vision of the program is a secure, reliable and affordable energy future with the more environmentally-friendly and more efficient production and use of fossil fuels including carbon dioxide capture, storage and use/reuse," said Chunshan Song, director of NETL UCFER and director of Penn State's Energy Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. "The challenges of the 21st century are to supply clean fuels, electricity and water to meet growing energy demand; increase efficiency, eliminate environmental pollutants, minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and develop sustainable energy and sustainable organic materials."

Song noted that there is no silver bullet for the future of energy in the foreseeable future. Both fossil fuels like coal, oil, gas and shale and renewable sources like solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal will be necessary.

"Many of the fossil energy technologies we will work on can be translated to or are directly applicable to developing renewable energy technologies," said Song, who is also distinguished professor of fuel science and chemical engineering. "These include translations such as from coal to biomass and from natural gas to biogas.

"While we work to develop more renewable energy, we also need to continue the R&D on more environmentally friendly and more efficient utilization of carbon-based resources, which provide over 80 percent of our energy supply and build our bridge to the sustainable energy future."

Besides Penn State, the other universities that make up UCFER include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Texas A&M University, University of Kentucky, University of Southern California, University of Tulsa, University of Wyoming and Virginia Tech. The Technical Advisory Council member of these nine universities have been working closely together for the UCFER.