Following an extremely rigorous submission process, two Lehigh researchers have received federal funding to pursue their unconventional approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fixed-point sources, such as coal-fired power plants.
The proposal submitted by David Moore and Kai Landskron, assistant chemistry professors, was one of the 37 “home run-hitting” proposals—as they were called by U.S. Secretary of Energy David Chu—that recently received the first round of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Awards.
After President Barack Obama announced last spring that ARPA-E had a $400 million budget to fund truly transformational solutions to the world’s energy problem, the U.S. Department of Energy was flooded with research proposals.
“We received a stunning level of interest—nearly 3,700 submissions,” Chu says.
Chu, himself a former Nobel Prize winner in physics, and his Department of Energy staff whittled down the list—eventually inviting nearly 300 of those to submit full proposals. From that list, ARPA-E chose to fund just 37 projects—just 1 percent of the original submissions.
“To reach these decisions, more than 500 expert reviewers put in nearly 8,700 hours of work—or 4.2 person-years of effort,” Chu says. “With ARPA-E, we are swinging from the heels and trying to hit home runs, not just base hits. The 37 projects we’re funding span the spectrum—from renewable energy, to energy storage, to industrial and building efficiency, to petroleum-free vehicles, and carbon capture.”
A completely new approach
“I am very proud of these two young scientists,” says Bruce Koel, interim vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies. “This award highlights the creativity and quality of our faculty, and their research has the potential to make an enormous impact on society. It is another example of the importance of responding to challenges and opportunities. I know that David and Kai worked extremely hard and long hours to refine their initial ideas and prepare a credible proposal. Now, they can pursue their research and I am really looking forward to watching their progress.”
Landskron calls it “a great honor for us to be a selectee in such a highly competitive process. The award gives us the opportunity to pursue a very unconventional approach to a very urgent practical problem, namely the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from fixed-point sources, such as coal-fired power plants.
“The current state-of-the-art methods for carbon capture consume too much energy to be practical. However, by coming at the problem from a different point of view, we proposed a completely new approach that has clear advantages in terms of simplicity of implementation and energy efficiency. We are extremely pleased that the ARPA-E reviewers recognized the potential of our idea for transformational impact on the field of carbon capture and sequestration.”
A truly collaborative endeavor
Their ARPA-E grant in the amount of $566,641 will help fund the pair’s research into carbon capture/electric field swing adsorption for carbon capture using high surface area conductive solid carbon sorbents. In this research, Moore and Landskron use electric fields to change the interaction of molecules on a surface, capture and then release the CO2—thus using far less energy than current approaches.
Landskron’s role in the project will be the synthesis of conducting high surface area materials that respond to electric fields. He will then shape these materials into suitable electrode designs, and investigate their gas adsorption properties in the presence of electric fields.
Moore’s role will focus on the development of gas adsorption cells that allow for gas sorption measurements in electric fields. Moreover, Moore will be responsible for fixed bed reactor designs to separate carbon dioxide from nitrogen in prototype devices that are scalable for industrial use. Moore will furthermore investigate the mechanistic aspects of the gas adsorption by cryo-vibrational spectroscopy.
“This project has represented a truly collaborative endeavor right from the start,” Moore says. “We did the initial brainstorming over an impromptu lunch meeting, and were already fleshing out the ideas together when ARPA-E issued the call for proposals. The development of this research project has benefited at every stage from the contrast in our backgrounds, mine as a physical chemist, and Kai’s as a materials chemist. We are excited to have received such strong support from ARPA-E for this opportunity to work together, and to broaden the research experience of students and post-docs in both groups.”
Moore and Landskron’s research will do more than impact the research experience at Lehigh; it will impact the world.
“Ultimately, we want to establish a new technology for gas separation that utilizes electric fields to separate carbon dioxide efficiently,” Moore says. “The ultimate success of the project will be the implementation of this new technology into carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) processes. The ultimate goal of the project is the reduction of climate changes due to reduced greenhouse gas emissions achieved by our technology.”
ARPA-E was established within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the 2007 America Competes Act. ARPA-E’s mission is to fund projects that will develop transformational technologies that reduce America’s dependence on foreign energy imports; reduce U.S. energy-related emissions (including greenhouse gasses); improve energy efficiency across all sectors of the U.S. economy; and ensure that the U.S. maintains its leadership in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies.