Purdue Plans Extensive Energy R&D Center

Purdue’s new Energy Center will focus on research to develop future power sources, including methods that use solar and nuclear energy, bioenergy, wind turbines, and clean-coal technology. The Energy Center will be located at Discovery Park, Purdue’s interdisciplinary research hub.

More than 75 Purdue experts will concentrate on development of bio-fuels and clean coal research, and enhance the university’s expertise in storage technologies involving hydrogen, batteries, power electronics and renewable energy such as solar cells. “Through bio-engineering, Purdue’s Laboratory for Renewable Resource Engineering within the Energy Center will help turn agricultural waste into transportation fuels,” said Michael Ladisch, professor of agricultural and biological engineering. These bio-fuels include ethanol derived from corn, cellulose and corn waste, as well as diesel fuel made from soybeans. In addition, research includes the transformation of biomass, ethanol and soy-diesel into sources of hydrogen. The Energy Center’s Coal Transformation Laboratory will make better use of another of Indiana’s natural resources, since Indiana annually mines about 3.5 percent of U.S. coal production and holds 25 percent of the total coal reserves in the country. The Energy Center will further develop high-efficiency wind turbines, with a goal of improving their performance while decreasing noise. “Current technologies for wind power are based on conventional propeller technology,” said Sanford Fleeter, professor of mechanical engineering. “We are working with the new physics of ‘unsteady aerodynamic phenomena.'” Currently, nuclear power provides about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and may provide more as the country shifts from its dependence on oil. Research will involve a computer tool that can help engineers design nuclear plants that have “passive cooling systems,” which can keep running during electrical-power interruptions. Purdue’s research on solar-cell technology shows it provides about 18 percent cell efficiency in laboratory environments. “A challenge in this research is to find out why this happens and to increase the efficiency of solar cells in different environments,” said Rakesh Agrawal, professor of chemical engineering. “Another challenge is to reduce the size and cost of solar cells.” The Energy Center also will explore advanced electrochemical methods and hydrogen energy systems that change the way we generate, store and use energy. To help inform the public and change attitudes about energy, the center will provide learning and educational outreach activities for pre-college students. Several other Purdue energy-related research projects are ongoing, due in part to the Lilly Endowment and federal funding.

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