The University of Wyoming joined seven other institutions to investigate the future of fossil energy with $20 million in initial funding.
The U.S. Department of Energy presented the money to the University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research. The $20 million will be split amongst the institutions — which include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Texas A&M University — based on the various roles and projects each will perform.
“The three originating areas (the DoE wants) to focus on all relate to carbon management, carbon storage and coal conversion,” said Richard Horner, deputy director of emerging projects and technology at the School of Energy Resources. “We’re very hopeful we’ll be able to get awarded significant amounts of that money.”
Being included in the coalition with such prestigious universities shows UW is a top contender in the fossil fuel research, said Michael Pishko, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
“It’s clear recognition that the University of Wyoming is one of the national leaders in fossil fuel research,” he said. “It’s an important national effort, and UW is a critical part of that coalition.”
A coalition board selects which projects are deemed most important to fulfilling the key goals of the group, Pishko said.
“Right now, the coalition is in the process of defining specific research teams and research projects,” he said.
Currently, several research groups on campus are preparing proposals to submit to the coalition board. The projects will be in competition with the other universities’ ideas, but Horner is confident UW will earn several projects and carry its weight.
“There are many potential areas we could embark on if we recognize our talents and our strengths and we don’t overextend ourselves,” he said.
One advantage UW has over other institutions is the Shell 3-D Visualization Center — a state-of-the-art device that allows researchers to investigate and use computer models in a unique way, Horner said.
“It allows us to walk into a 3-D model and comprehend what’s going on if made in the real world,” he said. “It gives us a competitive advantage compared to these other universities. We’ll be trying to play these strengths where we see our uniqueness and our distinctive advantages here at UW so that we have a much better chance ofgetting proposals.”
One current project is using the visualization center to see what’s happening in a down-hole oil reservoir to better understand how CO2 can be stored and captured, Horner said.
Legislative funding presented to the College of Engineering is a major reason UW is involved in the coalition, Horner explained.
“By seeding areas of research to develop the talent we have on board now and, most importantly, to show research success is paying off in big ways,” he said. “One of the objectives of money which the state has given us is to wisely invest it in new capability. For us, it’s a very exciting time to show the legislature that their investment is paying off.”
While the DoE’s starting fund is $20 million through six years, the number can change depending on results and achievements Horner said.
“When we read about amazing achievements through research, they haven’t happened in the last week,” he said. “We should be seeing results in a commercial and material way in the 5-10 years time frame, and that’s what we’re targeting.”
While UW’s contribution is an important part of the coalition, Horner also explained how benefitial other coalition member can be to UW faculty.
“When you join a coalition of this sort, our faculty have ready and continuous access to some of the best faculty and researchers in the world,” he said. “It’s a two-way collaboration, and these universities would not have allowed UW to participate unless we had something great to contribute to them.”