Today, many equate natural gas with modern-day home heating and cooking. But as early as the 1840s, natural gas was used as an industrial heating fuel to distill salt from brines being produced in West Virginia's Kanawha valley near the state's capitol, Charleston, laying the foundation for the modern chemical industry whose basic raw material is natural gas.
Natural gas remains the preferred feedstock for the chemical industry and dominates commercial and residential heating and cooking. Other uses of natural gas also include fueling electricity production and light- and heavy-duty vehicle transportation.
The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium
headquartered at WVU pioneered the development and delivery of automotive technician training for natural gas vehicles, offering its first train-the-trainer courses in the 1990s. Its award-winning Clean Cities Learning Program online toolbox provides video, fact sheets, PowerPoint slides and booklets about using natural gas as an alternative fuel.
The Center for Alternate Fuel Engines and Emissions
is a worldwide leader in the research and development of cleaner, more efficient transportation and power system technologies. One of CAFEEs newest projects is to research the use of natural gas in dual-fuel diesel engines for both mobile and stationary applications at shale-gas drilling sites.
CAFEE member and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Andrew Nix is the principal investigator (PI) on the $2 million project and will coordinate a team of key researchers from CAFEE. The co-PIs on the project include CAFEE Director Dan Carder, Dr. Derek Johnson, Dr. Arvind Thiruvengadam, Research Assistant Professors, Dr. Hailin Li, Dr. Scott Wayne, Dr. Greg Thompson and Dr. Nigel Clark. The project will focus on characterizing engine-duty cycles of candidate dual-fuel engines employed on well sites, on measuring diesel-engine emissions in conventional and dual-fuel operation and measuring and mitigating fugitive methane emissions at the well site.
Several other WVU faculty members are also developing cleaner, more efficient electricity generation technologies such as fuel cells powered directly by natural gas. For example, Chemical Engineering Professor John Zondlo and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Ed Sabolsky—who have successfully run their direct carbon-fuel cell on a 50-50 mixture of bio-gas and carbon dioxide—are planning experiments to investigate feeding shale gas straight into a direct carbon-fuel cell at the well site as a form of distributed electricity generation.
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor Xingbo Liu has proposed a solid-oxide fuel cell concept that co-locates the device at the well site. And in 2010 WVU Institute of Technology Professor Asad Davari received $2.4 million from the Department of Defense for his research project, "Direct Carbon Fuel Cells for DOD Applications
," under which he has conducted preliminary experiments using natural gas as the primary fuel source.