Energy Research at RTI: Meeting Our Nation's Energy Goals
News Update: RTI begins hydrogen storage project, funded by the national Hydrogen Research Initiative (see Technical Summary)
The core mission of RTI culture -- to improve the human condition -- is nowhere more evident than in the scientists and engineers who conduct energy research at RTI. Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, RTI researchers have a decades-long track record of patented innovations (see RTI Energy Patents) and industry partnerships to help our nation meet its energy goals.
This unique combination of technical skill and business collaboration has resulted in multiple projects currently underway to solve problems associated with the commercial production and use of clean energy for electric power generation and clean fuels for industry and transportation.
RTI Energy Programs
Closely linked to an array of government initiatives and goals that address critical issues facing the chemical, petroleum refining, transportation, and power production industries, RTI conducts research in
- Synthesis gas (syngas) contaminant control (or "gas cleaning") to support the Clean Coal Initiative
- Clean Coal Initiative -- improve our energy security and lessen our dependence on foreign oil by developing advanced technologies (e.g., coal gasification) that can help meet our nation's growing demand for electricity while simultaneously protecting the environment
Carbon dioxide capture to support the Global Climate Change Initiative
- Global Climate Change Initiative -- develop new technologies that can lower the amount of carbon "greenhouse" gases released into the atmosphere and cut greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next 10 years
- Biomass gas cleanup to support the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000
- Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 -- promote biomass processing and develop the next generation of advanced technologies for the production of low-cost and sustainable bio-energy and bio-based products
- Hydrogen production and distribution to support the Hydrogen Research Initiative
- Hydrogen Research Initiative -- expand the production, delivery, storage, and conversion technology of hydrogen energy in an affordable, safe, and convenient manner.
For more than 15 years, RTI has had an active research and development program with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in syngas contaminant control (desulfurization as well as control of other contaminants) in partnership with potential industrial users of gasification technology. Our syngas desulfurization technology now in development treats the syngas at elevated temperatures, thus improving the overall efficiency of the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) to meet Clean Coal Initiative goals. Furthermore, to lower the capital cost of IGCC plants (see IGCC Power Plants), RTI desulfurization uses less process equipment than conventional technology.
|IGCC Power Plants
Coal gasification -- in which coal is converted to syngas before combustion -- is one of the cleanest and most versatile ways to convert the energy content of coal into electricity, hydrogen, and other forms of energy. Electric power plants that use a coal gasification process called the "integrated gasification combined cycle" have significant efficiency and environmental advantages over current combustion-based, coal-fired power plants. However, the high initial cost of building IGCC plants using conventional designs has hampered industry investment and commitment. RTI is developing an improved syngas desulfurization technology that will reduce the overall cost and enable IGCC technology to be more widely adopted.
RTI has a strong capability in laboratory- and bench-scale reaction engineering, and extensive experience in sorbent production. Our technical staff are drawing on their core competencies of gas-solid reaction engineering and the production of rugged solid catalyst and sorbent materials to develop an affordable, dry sorbent-based, carbon dioxide capture process. This approach is in contrast to existing conventional processes that use liquid absorbents to capture carbon dioxide from power plant flue gases and that consume substantial quantities of steam from the power cycle for regeneration. By using a dry sorbent, RTI’s process promises lower energy consumption, leading to an affordable greenhouse gas control technology.
Drawing on more than 15 years of DOE-sponsored research in contaminant control of coal-derived syngas as well as previous projects for the DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in gasification technology, RTI has gained extensive experience in biomass gasification technology development. We are currently developing an approach that will leverage our well-developed, coal-based syngas cleanup technology to the specific issues of removal/destruction of tar, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide from biomass-based syngas.
Hydrogen is a major component of syngas. During more than 15 years of research and development in coal gasification and syngas production, RTI has acquired considerable knowledge in hydrogen production technology. Our scientists and engineers are currently developing two new hydrogen production concepts:
- A technique to produce dense, defect-free, thin-film palladium-alloy composite membranes, which could significantly reduce the cost of small-scale hydrogen purification units (e.g., distributed reforming units at hydrogen refueling stations)
- A novel material that effectively produces high-pressure, high-purity hydrogen from steam by splitting the water molecule
- A stable, recyclable solid-state material that can store hydrogen and release it on demand for applications such as fuel cell vehicles (see Technical Summary)
Client Solutions Through Collaboration
Our engineers apply these innovations and their expertise to find customer-specific solutions for individual clients. For broad-based and long-term projects, we typically build research teams that include key academic, governmental, and industrial partners. The National Energy Technology Laboratory of the DOE and the Department of Defense are currently funding multiple clean fuel and energy projects at RTI for which we develop and expand additional technical and business relationships as needed. Our academic affiliations for ongoing projects include Clemson University, The University of Texas, and North Carolina State University.
Paramount to RTI's approach to energy research is the participation of industry partners in our research and development activities. We have a proven record of DOE-cosponsored research in energy-related environmental control processes leading to numerous patents and collaborative development and demonstration projects with industry. We set our laboratory-based innovations on a clear evolutionary path to well-designed field experiments and, finally, toward commercial market development.
- Gas processing companies -- Air Liquide, Air Products and Chemicals, BOC, Praxair
- Chemical producers -- Church and Dwight, Eastman Chemical
- Refineries -- BP, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil
- Process/system designers -- Bechtel, Kellogg Brown & Root
- Energy and clean fuels developers -- General Electric, Rentech, Syntroleum
- Catalyst vendors -- Süd-Chemie, Engelhard
Energy R&D Services
In addition to partnering with industry, academia, and government, our scientists and engineers have extensive expertise in high-temperature, high-pressure process design and operation, particularly with gas-solid reactions in either strongly oxidizing or reducing conditions. Our chemical process development experience includes
- High-quality materials synthesis and characterization (e.g., catalyst synthesis and testing)
- Micro-reactor to pilot-scale reactor experiments
- Membrane characterization and membrane process simulation and modeling
- Design, custom-fabrication, and operation of complex chemical process systems.
Additional Project Information
The following technical flyers, as well as energy technology web pages, provide additional detail about some of the ongoing work by RTI engineers in energy research.
- Carbon Dioxide Capture Technologies Adobe Acrobat PDF (486 kB)
- Gas Cleaning Technologies Adobe Acrobat PDF Adobe Acrobat PDF (690 kB)
- Hydrogen Technologies Adobe Acrobat PDF Adobe Acrobat PDF (760 kB)
- Novel Membrane Separations Adobe Acrobat PDF (633 kB)