WVU Energy Institute Merging With National Research Center

MORGANTOWN — Two research organizations at West Virginia University plan to merge and focus on renewable energy projects.

James Wood, the interim director of the WVU Energy Institute, said Monday during WVU Academic Media Day in Morgantown that his organization is merging with the National Research Center for Coal and Energy.

“Recently, we spent some time looking over the structure of the institute, particularly in regard to integrating the team at the National Research Center for Coal and Energy into the Energy Institute,” Wood said. “That’s in recognition of the transitions that we see that are taking place in the energy business today, the role gas is beginning to play superseding that part of the economy here.”

Wood said he expected the integration of the two organizations to be completed sometime in May and be operational by July. Once the two are merged, Wood said the institute will shift its focus to clean energy technology.

Wood went on the detail some of the work the institute has been involved with clean coal technology and the struggles to get new innovations off the ground.

According to Wood, new technologies are rated on a scale called “Technology Readiness Level,” or TRL. On a scale of one to nine, one means basic research design and nine means technology released for full-commercial applications.

“There is an interesting term used in both the private and public sectors to describe the movement of technology along the path from TRL 1 to TRL 9. That term is called the Valley of Death,” Wood said. “It reflects the idea that the transition from TRL 1 to TRL 9 is anything but an easy transition.”

Between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. Congress funded eight climate change projects that made it to TRL 5, meaning a large-scale prototype of pilot project tested in the field. Six of those pilot projects were related to coal and carbon storage, but only two were successful. One of the unsuccessful projects was the chilled ammonia carbon capture project at AEP Mountaineer Power Plant in New Haven.

The projects were funded at an 80/20 split, with the private sector chipping in 20 percent. Wood said these projects fail for multiple reasons.

“Sometimes the gap is created by financial pressures,” Wood said. “Sometimes a great innovation is found to be non-scalable. Sometimes it’s a matter of market acceptance or lack of ability to manufacture the technology at a reasonable cost.”

Japan and Germany funded the two successful carbon capture projects, but the private sector investors are unable to help fund these projects completely.

One area of research the institute is working on is injecting carbon dioxide into old oil formations to make them viable again. Wood said estimates show there is still 50 percent of the original oil remaining in formations that have lost pressure.

“Re-pressuring formations is done in ways that result in most of the carbon dioxide remaining captured by the formation,” Wood said. “Most people who have done the calculations will agree that the thought that producing oil with this (method) produces fewer carbon emissions than producing oil by drilling a brand new well.”

The institute also continues to work on fracking research, including techniques that can reduce natural gas leakage from a well pad to near zero.

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