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U.S. Carbon Cycle Science  Program
Updated 1 December, 2003

Research and Current Activities
Reducing Emissions from Energy Supply


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November 2003

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Photo by General Energy and Cinergy
The Wabash River Coal Gasification Repowering Project, General Energy and Cinergy The Wabash River Coal Gasification Repowering Project, an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) facility, is considered one of the cleanest coal-based power generation facilities in the world. It is owned by General Energy and Cinergy.

Current global energy supplies are dominated by fossil fuels, namely, coal, oil and natural gas. Transition to a low carbon future will require the pursuit of multiple technology options. Further improvements in efficiency of energy supply technologies, deployment of renewable technologies, a shift from high carbon to low carbon fuel (e.g. natural gas, synthesis gas, methanol and hydrogen), and increased use of nuclear energy can play important roles. Moreover, developments in advanced coal-based power generation that enable the production of both electricity and large quantities of hydrogen while capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2) would allow continued use of this plentiful domestic fuel.

Upper Photo: NREL, Energy Northwest.
Lower photo: NREL, Gretz, Warren
Turbine Installation at the Nine Canyon Wind Project; Largest Wind Farm to be Built in Washington State, NREL, Energy Northwest
Sacramento Municipal Utility District's (SMUD) Photovoltaic Array with Nuclear Cooling Towers in the Background, NREL, Gretz, WarrenNuclear, solar, geothermal and wind energies emit few, if any, GHGs.


"Today I am pleased to announce that the United States will sponsor a $ 1 billion, 10-year demonstration project to create the world's first coal-based, zero-emissions electricity and hydrogen power plant..."

President George W. Bush February 27, 2003

Photo by U.S. Department of Energy
FutureGen Power Plant, U.S. Department of Energy
FutureGen, when operational, will be the world's first zero emission fossil fuel power plant. The coal-based Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant will produce electricity and hydrogen and be configured to capture its CO2 emissions.

FutureGen is a public-private initiative to build the world's first integrated sequestration and hydrogen production power plant. When operational, the prototype will be the cleanest fossil fuel fired power plant in the world. The plant will be a "living prototype" with future technology innovations incorporated into the design as needed. An industrial consortium representing the U.S. coal and power industries will lead the project and other countries will be invited to participate through the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum.

Hydrogen Fuel Initiative

The Hydrogen Fuel Initiative [PDF] complements the FreedomCAR Initiative by focusing primarily on research to produce, store, and deliver hydrogen. Although hydrogen is the most abundant natural element, it must be produced or reformed from the fuels or materials with which it is bonded. Steam reforming of natural gas is currently the most widely used and economical hydrogen production method. Hydrogen can also be produced from diverse sources, including coal, oil and gas, or nuclear and renewable energy. The Initiative is exploring all of these options with the goal of producing hydrogen with zero emissions and ensuring that the required infrastructure technologies to deliver hydrogen safely are developed.

Hydrogen Production from Fossil Fuels

Photo by Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.
Hydrogen Fueling Dispenser at the Las Vegas Energy Station, Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.
The world's first hydrogen energy station featuring the co-production of hydrogen fuel and electric power will serve as a commercial demonstration of hydrogen as a safe and clean energy alternative. The project is a public-private partnership between DOE, the City of Las Vegas, Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., and Plug Power.

DOE is investigating promising new technologies to produce large quantities of moderate-cost hydrogen from natural gas and coal while capturing and sequestering CO2 in the process. One exciting technology for hydrogen production from natural gas is the advanced Ion Transport Membrane (ITM), which produces and uses oxygen in a single step to generate synthesis gas. DOE is also advancing technologies that can utilize coal, one of America's most abundant natural resources, for large-scale production of hydrogen.

Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative

Under the ,Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative [PDF], R&D will be conducted on enabling technologies to demonstrate nuclear-based hydrogen producing technologies and to develop deployment alternatives to meet future needs for increased hydrogen consumption. By 2016, the Initiative intends to demonstrate economic, commercial-scale hydrogen production using an advanced high temperature reactor system design capable of generating both electrical power and very high temperature heat, which is required to snap the chemical bonds holding the hydrogen in chemical compounds. An advanced high-temperature reactor will provide heat to an adjacent hydrogen plant where one of two chemical processes will produce 10 tons of hydrogen an hour for commercial sale, and turn turbines to make electricity, all without emitting any GHGs.

Hydrogen From Renewable Energy

For the past few years, DOE has significantly expanded its work on hydrogen production from renewable sources. This work includes direct production of hydrogen using sunlight or biomass, as well as indirect production of hydrogen using electrolysis, with power supplied from biomass, wind, solar energy, geothermal energy, and hydropower sources.

Hydrogen Infrastructure

Widespread commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will require development of an accompanying hydrogen infrastructure. Currently, hydrogen delivery systems exist only for the merchant hydrogen market in the chemical and refining industries. In the transformation to a hydrogen economy, this system will be insufficient for expected hydrogen fuel needs of the future. This infrastructure will require changes that address all transport and safety concerns.


Steps required to achieve insurable commercial systems.

Several steps, ranging from R&D through creating design and performance standards, are necessary to achieve insurable commercial systems. R&D is the most important element of the safety pyramid because it provides the critical data needed to create performance standards.

Hydrogen Safety

For decades, industry has demonstrated that hydrogen can be used safely in a wide variety of applications and conditions. However, handling hydrogen will be new to most consumers. In order to instill a robust safety culture to support a national hydrogen infrastructure, developers must optimize new fuel storage and delivery systems for safe everyday use, and consumers must become familiar with hydrogen's properties and risks. DOE and DOT are working together to assemble technology partnerships with industry to collaborate on codes and standards required for safe and effective hydrogen delivery and utilization.

Hydrogen Storage & Delivery

Hydrogen storage poses unique technical challenges. On-board storage of hydrogen currently requires large and heavy storage tanks due to the low energy density of the hydrogen fuel (i.e., a large volume of fuel is required for a reasonable vehicle driving range). Low-cost, efficient hydrogen storage will also be required to support the development of hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

Fuel Cell Systems

Photo by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
The SECA 3-10 Kilowatt Building Block, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Key to SECA's ambitious fuel cell cost reduction goal is the development of a compact, lightweight, 3-10 kilowatt "building block" module that can be mass produced.

In addition to fuel cell work for vehicles undertaken by the FreedomCAR Initiative, other fuel cell research on power and utility systems is on-going under DOE's Fuel Cells Systems Program including the public-private Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA). Headed by DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, SECA is working to develop and demonstrate solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) power systems that could be configured for a broad array of applications with minimal differences in core module components. Through the use of this mass customization technique, DOE and its partners hope to help bring about dramatic cost reductions required for fuel cells to be more competitive with traditional power sources.

Photo by U.S. Department of Energy
Fuel Cell Stack, U.S. Department of Energy
Fuel cell systems could provide a revolutionary new option for generating electricity with efficiencies, reliability and environmental performance unmatched by conventional electricity generating approaches.

The Department of Defense (DOD) also has a strong commitment to developing fuel cells. One of DOD's key R&D efforts is the development of a logistics fuel reformer/processor for mobile electric power (MEP) fuel cells. The logistics fuel reformer / processor could provide the ability to reform fuels to hydrogen in place of conventional generators. This would result in power generation systems that would not only increase troop mobility but also lower noise levels, increase efficiency and lower emissions.

International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy

Photo by U.S. Department of Energy
U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, U.S. Department of Energy"...working together with international partners, we can leverage scarce resources and advance the schedule for research, development, and deployment of hydrogen production, storage, transport, and end-use technologies."

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
June 16, 2003

Under DOE leadership, the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (IPHE) now involves more than a dozen countries. IPHE is helping to make the hydrogen economy a reality by organizing and implementing focused research internationally. By leveraging resources and collecting the world's best minds, IPHE will advance cooperative R&D and commercial uses of hydrogen production, storage, transport and distribution. IPHE will also facilitate the establishment of common codes and standards and undertake activities to promote hydrogen and fuel cell programs.

Nuclear Power Generation IV

Photo by U.S. Department of Energy
GEN IV Nuclear Reactor Design, U.S. Department of Energy
"GEN IV" refers to the next generation of safe nuclear power plants that are being developed to produce low-cost electricity and hydrogen without any GHG emissions.

On July 23, 2001, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced the signing of a formal charter by the U.S. and governments of leading nuclear nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom, which established the Generation IV International Forum. The Forum is dedicated to the development of the next generation of safe, economic, emission-free and proliferation resistant nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies by 2030. While today there are about 440 nuclear power plants operating worldwide, further advances in technology will broaden opportunities for expanded nuclear energy use in the future

Generation IV logoGeneration IV systems represent a new generation of nuclear energy and fuel cycle technologies that can be made available in the 2015-2030 timeframe, and offer significant advances in the areas of sustainability, proliferation resistance and physical protection, safety, and economics. High operating temperatures and improved efficiencies make some Generation IV systems ideal for providing clean burning hydrogen needed to power fuel cell driven vehicles in the future, as well as providing hot water for nearby communities or energy to effect seawater desalinization.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)

"I am pleased to announce that the United States will join ITER, an ambitious international research project to harness the promise of fusion energy. The results of ITER will advance the effort to produce clean, safe, renewable, and commercially-available fusion energy by the middle of this century."

President George W. Bush January 30, 2003

Photo by ITER/Princeton
ITER - Fusion Process Machines, ITER/Princeton
The machines to be built by ITER aim to improve a number of aspects of the fusion process. Fusion is the nuclear process by which two hydrogen nuclei unite, usually under conditions of extreme heat and pressure, to create a single helium nucleus, releasing enormous amounts of energy.

The ITER Project is a unique international collaboration intended to develop fusion as a practical source of energy to meet the world's growing demand for power. Fusion energy is the same energy that powers the sun. On Earth fusion energy can be fueled, in part, by a heavy isotope of hydrogen, which can be extracted from sea water. ITER follows decades of research and development by more than 30 countries worldwide. Participating countries in ITER including the U.S., are committed to begin construction on an international fusion R&D facility by the end of 2004.

In addition to these initiatives, other promising technologies are being pursued in the areas of renewable energy, advanced biotechnology, and nuclear energy.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy encompasses a range of different technologies that can play important roles in reducing GHG emissions. DOE currently makes significant renewable energy investments in wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass.


Wind energy is the Nation's fastest growing renewable energy resource. Over the last two decades, wind power has made great leaps in technology and price competitiveness, but there is room for more technology improvements. One challenge for wind power is to develop cost-effective wind turbines that can generate electricity in low-wind areas. DOE's R&D investments in this area can help open a vast wind resource for the Nation.

Photo by NREL, Eugene Water and Electric Board
Wyoming Wind Farm, Road, NREL, Eugene Water and Electric Board A wind turbine's drive-train components -- generators, gearboxes, shafts and bearings -- convert the slow-rotating mechanical energy from the rotor to electrical energy. DOE and its industry partners are studying these components to make them more effective and less expensive to manufacture, operate and maintain.

Solar Photovoltaics (PV)

Photo by NREL, AstroPower
PV Integrated into a Solar Awning over a Back Porch in California, NREL, AstroPower
Thin film PV is one component of DOE's renewable energy R&D portfolio. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are networking to reduce the cost of this technology, making for a wide range of new products.

DOE is investing a significant share of its renewable energy R&D in solar photovoltaics (PV). The two primary types of PV technologies available commercially today are crystalline silicon and thin films. Thin-film PV technologies are being developed as a means of substantially reducing the cost of PV systems and much progress has been made. With further progress, thin films could result in truly low-cost PV electricity that can become competitive in energy markets.

Agricultural Programs For Biomass and Other Renewable Energy Systems

"The conversion of biomass into biobased products, fuels and energy offers significant benefits to the nation through healthier rural economies, improved environmental quality and improved energy independence."

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman
September 5, 2003

"This Administration is committed to the development of a next-generation of biorefineries that serve the nation by producing cost-competitive biobased industrial products and transportation fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel."

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
September 5, 2003

Photo by Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hampton, Brett
Switchgrass Crop, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hampton, Brett
USDA geneticists are breeding switchgrass to improve its biomass yield and its ability to recycle carbon as a renewable energy crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and DOE are currently funding research, development and demonstration projects under the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 [PDF]. There are a number of projects focusing on technologies to generate energy from animal waste, convert biomass to hydrogen, and development innovative biorefinery processes. At Dartmouth University, for example, work is underway to integrate leading biomass pretreatment technologies with enzymatic digestion and hydrolyzate fermentation. In another example, Cargill Incorporated is working on platform chemicals from an oilseed refinery.

USDA is assisting farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses develop renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements to their operations. Eligible projects include those that derive energy or hydrogen from wind, solar, biomass, or geothermal sources.

Advanced Biotechnology

Image by Los Alamos National Laboratory
DNA Analysis of Soil Microbes, Los Alamos National Laboratory
By testing, analyzing and mapping microbial DNA, researchers at IBEA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory are advancing biotechnology to store carbon and produce hydrogen.

Genetic science is progressing at a breathtaking pace, yet much remains to be discovered. Work at DOE that could be called "Advanced Biotechnology" seeks to revolutionize the applications of biotechnology to produce new fuels and reduce GHG emissions.

One of DOE's advanced biotechnology partnerships is with the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA). IBEA is applying the same strategy applied to the Human Genome Project by genetically mapping an entire ecosystem. A key area of IBEA's work is dissecting the genetic code of microorganisms that consume CO2 and release hydrogen. By studying the genetic instructions of the microorganisms, IBEA hopes to create similiar, more efficient, man-made organisms. This advancement would allow scientists to use micro-organisms to generate hydrogen, for example, or to break down CO2 from power-plant emissions. Another exciting Advanced Biotechnology project involves genetically modifying a plant's metabolism to take up more CO2 and thus sequester additional carbon in soils.

Photo by Los Alamos National Laboratory
Advanced Plant Growth, Los Alamos National LaboratoryScientists supported by DOE at the National Laboratories and universities are using genomic information being collected from different plant species to design plants capable of sequestering atmospheric CO2 in plant tissues and soil organic matter. Strategies being developed are to increase CO2 uptake (photosynthesis) from the atmosphere and to enhance the partitioning of carbon assimilated in photosynthesis to long-lived biochemicals that will remain in plants and soils for extended periods.

Nuclear Energy

Corn Field Next to a Nuclear Power Plant, (c)CORBIS
The energy generated by one pound of nuclear fuel can provide the hydrogen equivalent of 250,000 gallons of gasoline without any GHG emissions.

Nuclear technology options in the U.S. climate change technology portfolio are important because nuclear energy offers the possibility of producing substantial amounts of reliable, affordable electricity without GHG emissions. It can also be harnessed to produce vast quantities of hydrogen to help fuel a new, pollution-free economy. The expanded use of nuclear energy must also satisfactorily address a number of other unique and important issues, such as nuclear waste management. These issues are being addressed through DOE's advanced nuclear energy technology programs.

Nuclear Power 2010

The Nuclear Power 2010 Program, unveiled by DOE Secretary Abraham in February 2002, is a joint government-industry cost-shared effort aimed at identifying new sites for nuclear power plants, developing advanced plant technologies, and demonstrating new regulatory processes. Under the Early Site Permit (ESP) program, each of three power generation companies will develop, submit and seek Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval of an ESP application at one of their existing commercial nuclear power plant sites. Another key goal of Nuclear Power 2010 through which DOE is also providing limited-but critical-support to private companies, is to test a one-step licensing procedure for nuclear reactors, the combined Construction and Operating License (COL) process. This procedure offers resolution of all public health and safety issues associated with construction and operation of a new nuclear power plant before a power generation company begins incurring substantial construction costs. Successful demonstration of the COL process will enable the private sector to decide, as early as 2005, to order new nuclear power plants for deployment in the U.S. in the next decade.

Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative

Of the challenges that must be addressed to enable a future expansion in the use of nuclear energy in the United States and worldwide, none is more important or more difficult than dealing effectively with spent nuclear fuel. DOE's Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI) [PDF] is developing advanced fuel cycle technologies, which include spent fuel treatment, advanced fuels, and transmutation technologies, for application to current operating commercial reactors and next-generation reactors. Transmutation technologies can transform long-lived radioactive materials in spent fuel into short-lived or non-radioactive materials and significantly reduce the absolute volume of high-level nuclear waste requiring geologic disposal, lowering the cost of its disposal. Through these technologies, there is the potential to extract energy from nuclear waste and make it available to the national power grid, a potentially huge source of energy.


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