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Institute for Clean Energy Technology focuses on national solutions

In early 2006, Mississippi State University (MSU) changed the name of a major research center — the Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory (DIAL) — to the Institute for Clean Energy Technology, or ICET (“ice tea”). The name was changed to reflect its expanding role as a developer of clean energy systems and catalyst for state economic advancement

Established in 1980 as a research unit of the engineering college, DIAL has supported the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management’s environmental remediation projects since 1993. Support has been provided to the Hanford facility in Washington state, the Idaho National Laboratory, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Savannah River National Laboratory, West Valley facility near Buffalo, N.Y., and the Fernald facility outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Located in the Thad Cochran Research and Technology Park, DIAL generated 24 patents and three computer software copyrights. The variety of research and development projects undertaken by this organization ranged from energy production to environmental control and infrastructural assurance.

With the price of oil nearing $100 per barrel, there is increasing concern about the impact of high energy prices on the economy. That makes the work at the ICET more important than ever.

“In response to national, state and local priorities, MSU is beginning to focus more of its research effort in the area of energy systems,” said Dr. Roger King, interim director of ICET. “This focus will help in not only meeting national needs for energy, but also in enhancing economic development in the state of Mississippi.”

King said ICET was created through the merger of DIAL and two other engineering college units — the Center for Advanced Portable Power Technology and Manufacturing and fuel cell research thrusts previously housed in the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.

“This synergy will serve as a catalyst for the university’s research for the ‘hydrogen economy’ and for the clean use of other forms of energy,” said King. “We believe this renaming accurately describes the functions of the combined units and the focus of their efforts.”

The mission of ICET is to serve as a bridge between basic science and large scale engineering applications for advanced energy systems. The institute focuses its research on process efficiency, resource recovery and life-cycle impact. Research results and partnerships with industry will be designed to enhance economic development.

King, who is also a William L. Giles Distinguished Professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering, said the vision of ICET is to be recognized as an international leader in integrating science and engineering for energy systems and related environmental impacts.

In 2006, ICET received grants of approximately $7 million and had a payroll of nearly $5 million. Primary customers include some private industries along with governmental agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, EPA, TVA and the National Science Foundation.

Energy grants include work in the area of combustion, carbon sequestration and renewable energy sources. The lab has also been involved in nuclear waste processing and stabilization, employing plants to monitor and remediate contaminated sites, debris management and effective long-term monitoring of contaminated sites.

Positive impact

One example of ICET’s positive impact on difficult problems is the work it did with DOE’s Fernald facility. This facility was originally constructed to process uranium ore and generated hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of radioactive wastes stored on-site in silos. ICET’s work to solve problems associated with processing of the nuclear waste from the Fernald silos lead to project savings estimated at $50 million.

An article in the October 2007 issue of the DOE’s publication “Environmental Management, Engineering and Technology” gives credit to ICET and other partners to helping promote cleanup at the 1,050 acre DOE Fernald Site 12 years ahead of schedule and $7.8 billion less than the projected budget.

“Cleanup at the former uranium processing facility located near Cincinnati, Ohio, was formally declared complete on January 22, 2007,” the article said. “This was the result of timely insertion of critical technologies, including retrieval, treatment and packaging of waste in the silos, radioactive characterization of contaminated soils to support excavation and effective groundwater treatment. These successes accomplished by the DOE site contractor, Fluor Fernald, resulted from successful collaboration with a number of entities including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Institute for Clean Energy Technology (ICET) at Mississippi State University, Idaho National Laboratory, North Dakota State University, and various industrial entities.

“This project required significant integration of technologies, engineering and technical expertise, which involved expert panel reviews and recommendations, followed by four years of testing from laboratory to full-scale. Testing was conducted primarily at ORNL and ICET prior to on-site full-scale testing. Without such testing, closure of the site according to the newly proposed schedule would not have been possible.”

Alternative power

With the cost of fuel sharply rising, researchers continue to explore alternative means of powering cars and other vehicles. Fuel cell technology has become a key component of a new global energy strategy. A fuel cell converts chemical energy directly into electricity by combining oxygen from the air with hydrogen gas, which can be acquired from a variety of sources, including water. The technology produces lower emissions, increased efficiency, lower maintenance costs, a quieter ride and continuous operation without recharging.

King said materials from plants or animals — biomass — also provide a replacement for dwindling supplies of petroleum in the future production of fuels and other important chemicals. Future industries may depend on multiple feed stocks based on lipid, sugar, protein, hydrogen, synthesis gas and methane platforms, researchers contend.

In other energy-related areas of research, ICET is part of a regional initiative exploring methods of measurement, mitigation and verification of protocols for sequestering carbon dioxide in deep geologic reservoirs, deep saline aquifers, depleted oil and gas wells, unmineable coal seams (enhanced coal-bed methane) and terrestrial applications.

Still one more research effort of note at ICET utilizes radiological, optical and geophysical measurement systems to locate and recover fired depleted uranium penetrators on domestic military ranges within the U.S. Using funding from the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, ICET researchers are developing a new generation of detection and mapping system to enhance the sustainability of U.S. military ranges for training and evaluation of armor penetrating munitio

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.ns.

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