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UMD Teams Awarded More Than Five Million Dollars to Improve Power Plant Cooling

June 2, 2015
Contacts: 

Jennifer Rooks 301-405-1458
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The U.S. Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded two University of Maryland research teams more than five million dollars in funding to improve power plant cooling technologies.

Image of a classic coal fired power plantThe majority of electricity used in the U.S. is produced by steam-driven turbine generators that rely on water cooling systems that collectively use billions of gallons of water each day. Dry-cooling systems - which use air to cool and transfer waste heat – are a potentially transformational alternative, with multiple environmental and energy advantages. However, to date, significant technical and market challenges have hindered the widespread use of dry-cooling technologies.

The UMD projects are 2 of 14 funded as part of a $30 million investment by ARPA-E's Advanced Research in a Dry Cooling (ARID) program to spur transformative new power plant cooling technologies such as innovative, ultra-high-performance air-cooled heat exchangers and supplemental cooling systems and/or cool-storage systems that can cost-effectively and efficiently reject waste heat.

The first project, "Novel Microemulsion Absorption Systems for Supplemental Power Plant Cooling," aims at developing an absorption cooling systems for power plants which utilizes a novel microemulsion liquid absorbent.

Led by Department of Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Bao Yang, the project's principal investigators include Professor Michael Ohadi and Minta Martin Professor Reinhard Radermacher, who is also the director of UMD’s Center for Environmental Energy Engineering. The team will also work with partners at Stony Brook University, the Electric Power Research Institute, WorleyParsons Group and Rocky Research.

"It is a team effort," Yang said. "Each partner has unique technical expertise to bring to this project."

Yang's team and its partners will use a novel microemulsion liquid absorbent, recently invented by the UMD researchers for use in absorption cooling systems for power plants. These materials absorbents can absorb water vapor (refrigerant), and release the water as liquid during desorption, thus achieving a high coefficient of performance. Waste heat from the power plant flue gas will drive the microemulsion cooling system to provide supplemental cooling below the ambient temperature.

The second project, led by Professor Michael Ohadi, "Novel Polymer Composite Heat Exchanger for Dry Cooling of Power Plants," also targets improving power plant cooling technologies through the development and application of new composite heat exchangers that use a low-cost, high conductivity medium encapsulated in a polymeric material that is highly durable, low cost and has a high resistance to corrosion.

Ohadi's UMD team includes Professor Hugh Bruck, Associate Research Scientist Serguei Dessiatoun and Assistant Research Scientist Amir Shooshtari, who will serve as co-PIs, along with Professor Joshua Pearce at Michigan Technological University and Dr. Arun Muley at Boeing Research and Technology, Huntington Beach. Dr. Justin Zachary at ExperTech Engineering Corp. will serve as consultant on the power plant feasibility studies and serve as the link between the project and the power plant community.

The team's novel polymer composite heat exchangers for indirect air cooling of power plants are superior to current state-of-the-art metallic heat exchangers in terms of cost, performance, lifespan and corrosion resistance. In addition, the team can keep production and assembly costs low by using onsite additive manufacturing (3-D printing) technologies.

“These new projects emphasize ARPA-E’s commitment to developing a wide range of technology   options to ensure a more affordable and sustainable energy future,” said ARPA-E Director Dr. Ellen D. Williams. “Investing in innovative dry cooling technologies for power plants as well as intermediate density fusion illustrates ARPA-E’s role in accelerating energy research and development.”

Both Yang and Radermacher are also part of two additional ARPA-E funded projects awarded in December 2014 as part of a new federally-funded research initiative to design and create personal technologies for keeping individuals comfortably cool or warm, while shrinking the energy needs of the buildings they occupy.

Yang, Ohadi and Dessiatoun are faculty in the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering. In addition, Yang, Ohadi and Radermacher are also members of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center.