The University of Kentucky snagged a $14.5 million federal grant Monday to develop technology that can capture most of the carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants without increasing the cost of electricity by more than a third.
The U.S. Department of Energy awarded the four-year grant to the University of Kentucky Research Foundation. The money will be used by a division of UK's Center for Applied Energy Research that focuses on developing technology that produces cleaner energy from Kentucky coal.
The $14.5 million grant is the largest federal grant in the Lexington center's 30-plus-year history.
Gov. Steve Beshear said the grant "is good news for all Kentuckians."
Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from power plants will help the state's mining and manufacturing industries, ensuring that "our citizens can prosper in the face of increasingly more stringent federal regulations," Beshear said.
The federal government said the overall goal of UK's research proposal is to develop and implement technology that can capture at least 90 percent of carbon dioxide emitted from a power plant while increasing the cost of electricity by no more than 35 percent.
Capturing the carbon emissions created by burning coal has been a major hurdle for coal-fired power plants, because it tends to be expensive and it uses a great deal of energy.
"Finding ways to use coal more cleanly in a cost-competitive manner is a crucial element of our state's future," said Len Peters, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
UK's energy center plans to test its technologies at Kentucky Utilities' E.W. Brown Station near Danville, where an average of 1.5 million tons of coal is burned annually.
"What the project is trying to do is make these technologies more competitive to use on our existing power plants," said Rodney Andrews, director of the energy research center. "Power plants are large and expensive, so if you've got one that's running now, you don't want to scrap it."
Andrews said the center's research will focus on answering the question, "How do the technologies actually work when we put them on a real power plant?"
UK's grant was among four announced Monday by the federal energy department to make carbon-capture processes at power plants more efficient. It was the only grant affiliated with a university.
The other grants were $15 million to Linde LLC of Murray Hill, N.J.; $7.1 million to Neumann Systems Group of Colorado Springs, Colo.; and $15 million to Southern Co. of Atlanta.
The energy department described UK's proposal as unique because it uses waste heat from a carbon-capture system while improving steam turbine efficiency. It also uses a method to increase the capacity and capture rate of a carbon dioxide scrubber.