Clean Energy Research and Education

EPA Grant Number: FP917159
Title: Clean Energy Research and Education
Investigators: Holtmeyer, Melissa Lauren
Institution: Washington University
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: August 1, 2010 through July 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Science & Technology for Sustainability: Energy


Geo-political stability and environmental sustainability are driving us towards a diverse energy portfolio that seeks to minimize CO2 emissions while utilizing local and renewable resources. We quickly must make educated decisions about power generation in order to mitigate emissions and minimize the effects of climate change. My project features both research and education components to provide a well-rounded understanding of pollutant prevention and power generation. My research project focuses on understanding the potential emission reductions that can be achieved from biomass co-firing under air-fired and oxy-combustion conditions. The teaching component of my project aims to develop a course that teaches a practical approach to power generation decision-making, serving to identify the challenges in implementation of technologies, and educating the student about scientific, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues.

Pollutant prevention and implications of power generation from renewable and non-renewable technologies are the focus of this project’s research and teaching. Biomass co-firing with coal, a transition technology between today’s coal-dominated and the future’s renewable power, will be studied under air-fired and oxy-combustion conditions. The teaching component aims to educate about the challenges of various technologies through a techno-socio-economic-environmental approach to decision-making.


Co-firing of biomass is an approach that can significantly limit and even reduce emissions, while minimizing disruption to the existing power infrastructure, which is primarily based around coal power plants. In addition, biomass co-firing is potentially a carbon negative process when coupled with carbon capture and sequestration. I propose to investigate co-firing of biomass with coal under both air-fired and oxy-combustion conditions for multi-pollutant prevention and control. The type of biomass co-fired, its preparation and the combustion process employed will be explored to determine the effects on flame stability, and formation of NOx and particulate matter.

With new technologies entering the energy market regularly, it is a daunting task to decide on one technology over another. To this end, a course will be developed that trains future entrepreneurs and scientists/engineers to understand how to identify truly promising technologies and to understand how they compare to alternative technologies.

Expected Results:

Biomass in the form of agricultural waste or bioenergy crops grown specifically for energy production will constitute the majority of biomass fuels implemented. The chemical make-up of these materials is very different from coal in that they have less nitrogen, mercury, sulfur, and fixed carbon. However, they generally have increased volatiles and oxygen. Reductions in pollutants, such as SOx, Hg, and CO2, should be seen with increasing biomass fraction. Other pollutants, such as NOx and particulate matter, are less clear. Results from this study will show trends between combustion conditions and pollutant formation based on experiments and numerical simulations.

Coupled with understanding the fundamentals of the combustion of biomass, a knowledge base of where this technology can be applied is important for directing research efforts. The development of the clean energy application course helps provide that information, while educating future decision-makers. Through this course, students will gain an appreciation of the challenges in the field of global clean energy; being able to distinguish when and where a technology offers opportunity while understanding the unique challenges that face the energy industry.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection
Emissions of greenhouse gases are at unprecedented levels, and although there are no direct adverse health effects, the public welfare is being affected through climate change and irreversible environmental damage. The crux of my Ph.D program is to contribute to research that can eliminate CO2 emissions concurrently with other pollutants, while developing a course that will educate the next generation of decision makers about the appropriate choices for energy technologies.

Supplemental Keywords:

biomass co-firing, oxy-coal combustion, NOx formation, energy economics, decision-making,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2011
  • 2012
  • Final