A research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, led by Paul Dauenhauer, assistant professor of chemical engineering, has received a two-year $600,000 grant from Re Community Inc., a resource recovery company headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. The grant will support the development and evaluation of an innovative new fuel for coal-fired boilers.

ReCommunity’s trademarked “ReEngineered Feedstock” (ReEF) is a unique fuel source that combines municipal solid waste with “sorbent” materials, those that absorb liquids or gases, to work side by side with coal and capture harmful emissions from the combustion process before they are released into the atmosphere.

Coal is a major energy source for electricity and heat generation throughout the world, and its proven reserves are capable of powering North America for at least two centuries, but only if the coal-combustion process can be cleaned up to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. The goal of the UMass Amherst research is to evaluate the energy and emission performance of the new fuel.

“The market for energy production from coal is enormous provided we can develop environmentally attractive emission technology,” Dauenhauer says. “Our goal is to understand the fundamental design aspects which make ReEF optimal for emission reduction from coal combustion using advanced experimental techniques developed here at UMass Amherst.”

The UMass Amherst research aims to demonstrate the potential for ReCommunity’s technology to serve as an innovative, efficient and cost-effective solution for coal-fired boiler combustion, and to understand the reactor conditions under which the best ReEF performance can be achieved. The research also seeks to understand the potential for improving that feedstock through various fuel formulations.

ReEF is produced from post-recycling municipal solid waste materials, which have traditionally gone into landfills. Co-firing the ReEF in the existing coal-fired power plants offers tremendous economic and environmental opportunities, the company says. It lets communities turn a significant liability into an economically sustainable resource by moving towards zero-waste, improved material recovery, a cleaner environment and job creation. It provides utilities with a cost-effective solution to bring them into compliance with ever-tightening environmental regulations, such as the recently finalized EPA Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, while helping utilities reduce their carbon footprint and extending the service time of their outdated plants.

Byproducts of coal combustion from utility boilers present a significant challenge to controlling emissions regulated by the federal Clean Air Act. The major air emissions from coal combustion are sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen chloride and solid byproducts in the form of ash. Most current coal-combustion boilers, which are more than 40 years old, are not equipped with traditional air emission control devices. The ReEF technology presents an opportunity for these boilers to meet environmental regulations and avoid EPA-forced retirement, according to ReCommnuity.

The coordinator for the UMass Amherst project is Jim Demary, managing director of The Institute for Massachusetts Biofuels Research (TIMBR), a collaboration of 30 researchers from 10 disciplines on the Amherst campus who are addressing key issues in the development of cellulosic (non-edible) plants as feedstocks, conversion of these and other renewable feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels and chemicals, and analysis of the economic and environmental impacts.

If coal-fired boilers could meet or improve on EPA standards, it is estimated that North America could continue to burn coal for more than 200 hundred years at the current consumption rate. As a domestic fuel with the largest demonstrated reserves, coal has been providing Americans with between 40 percent and 50 percent of its electrical power consumption for decades. That dominance is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. Developing clean coal combustion technology will contribute significantly to America’s energy security and long-term economic stability, ReCommunity says.

A significant portion of the ReCommunity grant will purchase the equipment necessary to do this sophisticated research, including all the material required to build two different kinds of reactors.

“ReCommunity is a resource recovery company committed to partnering with and repowering communities across America,” says ReCommunity CEO James Bohlig. “The core of our strategy is to continue and expand our record of long-term community partnership and work together towards a more fiscally and environmentally sustainable future. We believe that our deep community relationships, combined with unique intellectual property, a proven and passionate management team, and the necessary capital for growth, are a winning combination in the marketplace.”

ReCommunity plans to use the research being done at UMass Amherst to improve and refine the ReEF. (September 2011)