The USC College of Engineering and Computing is driving energy sustainability efforts and recharting the energy landscape.
56% of South Carolina's electric power generation comes from nuclear power. USC researchers are working to advance nuclear power as a resource capable of meeting the country's energy needs. They are:
- developing technologies and researching solutions to improve the reliability, safety and lifespan of reactors.
- researching sustainable fuel cycles and energy systems analysis and design.
- collaborating with leaders in the nuclear industry to ensure workforce education and research are meeting their needs.
USC also houses the SmartState Center for Economic Excellence in Nuclear Science and Energy, lead by endowed chair Dr. Dan Cacuci. In conjunction with the USC Nuclear Engineering program, this Center has access to industrial partners, including Duke Energy, Progress Energy, SCANA, Westinghouse, and the URS Nuclear Center.
Smarter Electric Power
To meet growing energy demands, the United States is using more alternative energy sources including solar, tidal and wind. But, these sources do not fit well into the traditional architecture of the electric power grid. As a result, our ability to control the grid will rapidly erode without substantial changes and standardization of the control mechanisms embedded in the system's power electronics.
In 2009, USC and the University of Arkansas partnered to form a collaborative research center called GRAPES, or GRid-Connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems. Funded by industry members and the National Science Foundation, GRAPES brings together industry representatives and university researchers to help predict and control the way power is generated, distributed and used. Lead by Dr. Roger Dougal, researchers are:
- examining ways to incorporate "green" power sources into the power grid.
- working to speed the standardization, adoption and insertion of power electronics into the electric grid to improve the system's stability.
- developing new technologies, software and tools to advance power electronic systems
- educating engineers about power electronic technologies.
Solid oxide fuel cells are an essential component of advanced clean energy solutions. They are highly efficient, work with a variety of fuels and emit no toxic by-products.
SOFCs can provide us with:
- power for cities, rural areas and industries
- heat and electricity for homes
- vehicles that operate on several fuels without emissions
- long-lasting mobile power for computers, cell phones and other electronics
The Solid Oxide Fuel Cell SmartState Center at USC is a world leader in solid oxide fuel cell and energy systems research. Our objective is to use engineering to drive the science that is needed to enable fuel cells and energy systems.
In collaboration with the CEC, the SOFC Center is building a bridge between our rapidly developing knowledge of fuel cells and future applications of related technologies. Devices based on our innovative research and patented technologies will make sustainable, affordable energy choices available to everyone.
Our team of more than 50 faculty and students, lead by Dr. Ken Reifsnider, is advancing research in the areas of:
- Functional materials design
- Synthesis and manufacturing
- Applications and systems
- Modeling and simulation
Clean and Affordable Electricity
Coal will remain, an important part of the energy mix for affordable electricity production in the United States. At the USC SmartState Center for Strategic Approaches to the Generation of Electricity (SAGE), research focuses on overcoming the main environmental obstacles with coal power plant emissions through the rational design of advanced nano-materials for energy applications. Under the direction of Dr. Jochen Lauterbach, researchers are:
- using alternate feedstocks (CO2 and biomass) to generate high-value chemicals and drop-in transportation fuels
- studying possibilities to improve combustion processes
- examining hydrogen generation, from ammonia and jet fuel, for mobile fuel cell applications
- developing new advanced materials for applications in turbines and corrosive environments
- developing new materials and processes to capture carbon emissions
- The center is one of the leading facilities in the world in the application of the combinatorial methodology to materials discovery.
The world is focused on producing renewable transportation fuels that lessen carbon dioxide emissions. The United States is looking for ways to curb its enormous trade deficit from importing oil and to create green technology jobs. To address these concerns, the USC center of Catalysis for Renewable Fuels (CReF), lead by Dr. John R. Regalbuto, is developing catalysts to convert non-food biomass such as corn stover, wheat straw, switch grass and forest waste into green gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Unlike bioethanol, these biohydrocarbons are infrastructure compatible and have high energy density. They are drop-in replacements for the existing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels which come from petroleum crude.
USC researchers are developing catalysts that will allow biohydrocarbons production from the three main biomass conversion pathways:
- gasification, via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis
- pyrolysis, via hydrodeoxygenation of catalytic fast pyrolysis oil
- liquid phase processing, of levulinic acid to gamma-valerolactone
New catalysts are central to the reinvention of our energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels and toward sustainably-produced alternate fuels. There is enough non-food biomass grown sustainably in the United States to replace about half of the country's imported oil.