Alternative fuel lab to accelerate move toward micro-refinery
ARLINGTON - New UT Arlington lab space will speed up refinement of an alternative fuel that researchers say will lead to development of a micro-refinery later this year.
Researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington's Center for Renewable Energy and Science Technology are perfecting a coal-to-crude process that has produced an energy source costing much less than traditional crude oil.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, whose Sixth Congressional District includes UT Arlington, will help open the new synthetic fuel chemistry labs at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, in Room 310 of Science Hall.
Barton has helped secure funding for CREST through the years. Several years ago, he challenged Rick Billo, UT Arlington's associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, to come up with a fuel derived from lignite coal.
The CREST research team has been awarded an additional $700,000 in federal and industry funding in the past three months for research into synthetic fuels. That sum brings total funding for the program to more than $2.4 million during the last two years. Barton recently introduced an additional $1 million in Congress for CREST.
Billo recalls reviewing UT Arlington's biofuel program with the congressman several years ago when Barton suggested using lignite coal, which is plentiful in Texas.
"Now we've done it," Billo said. "We will license the technology to an energy company sometime this year to build the first coal-to-liquids micro-refinery." The micro-refinery will be about the size of a small business office and about two stories tall, Billo added.
When the facility opens, Billo said, he expects to have "rock-solid" data on how much it will cost to produce the fuel, which he compares to West Texas Intermediate Crude. He expects the price to be about half the current price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate Crude.
In addition, CREST researchers are refining conversion of natural gas to liquid fuel. They also are working on capturing and converting carbon dioxide to fuel.
Barton said this kind of alternative energy is just what the country needs.
"Thanks to the work going on here at UT Arlington, the state of Texas continues to be a leader in energy innovation. Anything we can discover that cuts into our dependence on foreign oil is a plus," Barton said. "Rick and his team have made excellent use of the funding they've received. Now, this idea and technology are moving toward becoming a real-world market."
Engineering Dean Bill Carroll said the congressman's support has been vital.
"CREST is where much of the alternative energy research at UT Arlington is being conducted," Carroll said. "Congressman Barton's support has been critical for building the laboratory facilities and funding the personnel necessary to move the various projects forward."
Krishnan Rajeshwar, associate dean of the College of Science and co-founder of CREST, said it's clear that "the energy and environment problem is massive enough to require the mobilization of teams of researchers with complementary expertise. CREST provides the ideal platform to do that on this campus."
Pam Jansma, dean of the UT Arlington College of Science, said that under the CREST umbrella, engineers and scientists drawn from the two Colleges have tackled projects ranging from solar hydrogen to photovoltaic cells and fuel cells in an integrated and seamless manner.
CREST serves as a center of excellence in energy research and development in Texas. The technologies and intellectual properties that will accrue from this major initiative address important national energy needs and will promote local and regional economic development by spawning Texas companies and technology licensing.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.
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