Hydrogen fuel technologies could play a major role in reaching the nation’s goals of goals of a carbon-pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

UCF Leads Hydrogen Gas Turbine Research Aimed at Decarbonizing Power Sector

By: Robert H. Wells on

The University of Central Florida is helping to lead the country’s charge of obtaining 100% clean electricity by 2035 with a new $800,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy to advance hydrogen fuel research.

The award is through the DOE Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management’s University Turbine Systems Research program and is part of nearly $6.2 million awarded to seven universities for research and development projects to make hydrogen a high performing, efficient gas for turbine-based electricity generation.

The research is important because using clean-burning, carbon-free fuels, such as hydrogen, will offer an alternative to carbon-based fuels that produce greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and can be produced from various resources. Its only combustion byproduct is water.

U.S. President Joe Biden set goals of creating a carbon-pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050. Hydrogen fuel technologies could play a major role in reaching those goals.

“Part of our path to a net-zero carbon future means investing in innovation to make clean energy sources like hydrogen more affordable and widely adopted so we can reach our goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a release announcing the awards. “These projects will put us one step closer to unlocking the scientific advancements needed to create a strong domestic supply chain and good-paying jobs in the emerging clean hydrogen industry.”

Along with the U.S., the European Union, China, and Japan are also investing billions of dollars in the race for developing hydrogen combustion turbine technologies.

UCF’s project will focus on better understanding how to implement hydrogen in modern, electricity-generating turbines, including exploring the best fuel blends and their combustion characteristics.

UCF researchers are shown in their lab.
UCF Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Subith Vasu speaks with students in his lab’s new state-of-the-art HiPER-STAR facility that will be used in the research to study hydrogen ignition.

“The high reactiveness of hydrogen poses challenges to use hydrogen blended fuels on existing infrastructure and also increases the probability of nitrogen oxide formation in the exhaust,” says the project’s principal investigator, Subith Vasu, a professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Thus, our team is investigating vital, fundamental characteristics of hydrogen fuel combustion using our unique experimental facilities and will develop high-fidelity computer models that support the design and development of next-generation hydrogen combustors to make a carbon-free society a reality.”

The project co-investigator is Artem Masunov, an associate professor in UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center and Department of Chemistry. Raghu Kancherla, a postdoctoral researcher in Vasu’s lab, will also play an integral role in this project.

The other universities selected for the DOE awards were Purdue University, Ohio State University, Georgia Tech, the University of Alabama, San Diego State University, and the University of California, Irvine.

“We feel very good that we were chosen by DOE to lead this research, as we have a track record of working very closely with the industry to develop advanced gas turbine technologies,” Vasu says.

UCF’s growing work in hydrogen research was also evident earlier in the year when Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research Director and Pegasus Professor Jayanta Kapat was selected by the DOE to study hydrogen storage as part of a $500,000 award. The award will fund research to prove the feasibility of a novel hydrogen storage concept, called a Cryogenic Flux Capacitor.

“Hydrogen is key in global decarbonization efforts, and despite intense competition from other universities, these two awards from DOE show that CATER researchers at UCF are well-placed in leading hydrogen to decarbonization to all sectors, including power generation, aviation, industry, and space,” Kapat says.

Vasu received his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and joined UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, part of UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, in 2012. He is a member of UCF’s Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research, is an associate fellow of the American Institute of  Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a member of the International Energy Agency’s Task Team on Energy. Vasu is a recipient of DARPA’s Director’s Fellowship, DARPA Young Faculty Award, the Young Investigator grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, American Chemical Society’s Doctoral New Investigator, American Society of Mechanical Engineers Dilip Ballal Early Career award, and the Society of Automotive Engineers SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award. He has received many of the highest honors at UCF including the UCF Luminary and Reach for the Stars awards.

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