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WVU News: Natural gas is key to WVU engineer’s vision for clean hydrogen energy

by staff

More than 50 years after scientists first coined the term “hydrogen economy,” the movement to make hydrogen a predominant global fuel source could be gaining traction thanks to research led by one West Virginia University engineer.  

Xingbo Liu, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will help develop new, cutting-edge coatings for the blades of turbines used in large-scale power generation. These protective layers will be able to withstand the extreme heat and corrosion of hydrogen combustion but work with the principles and technologies of existing natural gas turbines, primarily in power plants.  

The research is promising enough to have early investment from business, and if successful, could play a critical role in linking the energy industry West Virginia has to the energy industry it wants, enabling an energy revolution that’s more like an evolution, where clean power builds on existing resources – in this case, the state’s power generating plants and natural gas reserves.  

Most of the funding for Liu’s project comes from a $2 million Department of Energy grant geared toward decarbonizing the U.S. power and industrial sectors, advancing clean energy manufacturing and improving America’s economic competitiveness. 

“There are several ways to turn a turbine and generate power,” said Liu, also associate dean for research and endowed chair of engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “All the most popular ways today use heat. Today, in about two-thirds of turbines, we burn coal or we burn natural gas to turn a turbine, with coal contributing about 20% and natural gas about 40% of the total power we generate in the U.S. Less often, we use a nuclear reaction to heat water and generate steam.”  

After nuclear energy, he added, hydropower is the next most common source of electricity, with other clean energies such as wind and solar power bringing up the rear. 

Read the full article here.