12:00 AM

$300K grant to develop steel for next-generation power plants

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will help an Ohio State University professor develop low-cost steel for the next generation of clean coal-fired power plants.

The grant is part of a program in which DOE will dispense $2.7 million among nine universities to "spur the next generation of trained scientists and engineers… to focus on the development of high-temperature, high-pressure corrosion-resistant alloys, protective coatings, and structural materials for advanced coal-fired power plants and gas turbines."

Ji-Cheng Zhao, professor of materials science and engineering at Ohio State, designs alloys for power generation. He and his team will use the grant to explore integrated experimental and computer-based methods for creating – and testing – many different kinds of material compositions very quickly, with the goal of formulating super-strong, heat-resistant steel.

"As a coal rich state, Ohio certainly should play an important role in the development of materials and systems to enable much-higher efficiency usage of coal energy while minimizing the CO2 emission," Zhao said.

Though the scale of power generation has grown much in the last century, the basic steam turbine technology remains the same: power plants use coalor nuclear fuel to heat water and make steam that turns steam turbines, which in turn drive electrical generators.

Steam turbine power plants currently run at around 1,100 to 12,00 degrees Fahrenheit. At higher temperatures, the steam turbines can no longer be made from steel, Zhao explained. And future plants will run even hotter since the hotter the steam temperature the higher the efficiency in electricity generation.

"None of the current steels can be used at the proposed 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit temperature for an extended period of time in future advanced ultra-super-critical (AUSC) steam turbines, so industry would have to use expensive nickel-based superalloys," he said. "We aim to change the scenario with an innovative approach and our alloy design experience."

Ultimately, such power plants are supposed to run more efficiently, use less coal and release less carbon pollution.