COLLEGE STATION--A new research project at Texas A&M could lead to cleaner coal. However, it's only the beginning of a three year project.
"Basically we are looking at a multi-dimensional problem," Texas A&M mechanical engineering professor Ibrahim Karaman said.
Along with two P-H-D students Ruixian Zhu and Sheng-Yen and fellow professor Raymundo Arroyav, Karaman started this project to find a way to make coal plants be more energy efficient.
"We are trying to make nano-structured stainless steel and make it stable at high temperatures," Karaman said.
The idea is to transform stainless steel into something else that can with stand temperatures up to 100 degrees Celsius more than normal. If the steel can do that, then coal plants can raise their temperature, which means more efficiency.
"That's the first principle of thermodynamics," Karaman said. "Basically if you have inlet and outlet of a cycle, if it goes up then your efficiency goes up."
However finding a way to make steel sustain higher temperatures won't be easy.
"You can't just do ad hoc trial and error experiments," Karaman said. "Add like one gram from this, two grams from that, there are millions and billions of possibilities."
That's why they're combining computations and experimentation to find the right recipe of elements to transform ordinary stainless steel.
"We can keep the good properties we want while eliminating the bad," Zhu said.
If the team does accomplish their goal, energy efficiency from coal plants could be increased from 20 to 40 percent.
"If these materials work," Arroyav said. "And all the other technology that is necessary to make sure that the power plant works efficiently then we could see a principle of higher efficiencies. So that means less CO2 emission per unit of energy produced."
The project will be funded by a $300,000 grant. A normal amount for a project like this, but the professors joked they could always use more. While it's not a certainty the project will be a success, the team say they are confident, and they are all excited for the future.
"It will be exciting if in like 10-20 years later," Zhu said. "What I'm doing so far is being used. I'd feel pretty proud."