Energy researcher studies best way to characterize supercritical carbon dioxide heat exchangers
When Jordan Bordonaro visited the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh during an elementary school field trip, little did she know that as a college student she would be involved in the cutting edge of energy science. Bordonaro spent her summer conducting research at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) as a participant of the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship program (MLEF), where she worked to identify the crucial "Critical to Quality" (CTQ) standards used to evaluate heat exchanger technology that utilizes super critical carbon dioxide (sCO2).
Super critical carbon dioxide, CO2 heated and pressurized to the point it has charateristics of both a liquid and a gas, has been a popular research subject due to its many possible applications in the energy industry. Particularly, sCO2 has the potential to make meeting the United States’ energy needs much more efficient.
Many electricity generating practices utilize thermodynamic cycles. This is especially true of heat engines, which is the thermodynamic process utilized by combustion engines and heat pumps to provide the majority of the world’s electricity. The common thread in these technologies is the need for fluids to transfer heat from one part of the machine to the next whether it be water, steam or sCO2. While it is established that sCO2 allows for smaller machinery, greater efficiency, and lower capital costs, it is important to properly validate sCO2 as a legitimate alternative to other fluids used in electricity generation.
“sCO2 for power generation is a concept that many claim can improve our use of fossil fuels, but the issue is complex because sCO2 has its drawbacks as well. As a part of my project, I tried to gather information on both sides of the argument, for and against sCO2 as a working fluid in fossil fuel power generation,” Bordonaro explained.
Through her fellowship, Bordonaro eventually determined that due to the novelty of the technology, it is currently very difficult to definitively evaluate the various forms of sCO2 machinery with a preconcieved merit system. She did, however, begin an evaluation process that has implications for the average American. As with all new tech, it takes a certain amount of time for the general populace to understand how it works. By compiling information on the uses of sCO2, Bordonaro has created a general information resource for those unfamilair with the fluid. The more exposure the average American has to sCO2 the more national attention it gains as a potential tool for U.S. energy production.
“My research attempted to bring into light some of the mystery associated with supercritical CO2 heat exchangers by figuring out what is out there currently. It was a way of introducing the state of the art in supercritical CO2 heat exchangers to the American public as a tool for potentially greener, cheaper, and more efficient fossil energy,” Bordonaro said. “We [America] cannot decide what direction to go in with regards to our energy consumption if we do not understand what technology is out there and how it could benefit us,” she continued.
Having completed her fellowship, Bordonaro plans to return to Saint Vincent College and complete her mathematics and engineering degree before attending the University of Pittsburgh to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. She hopes to particpate in the MLEF program again and expressed a sense of personal growth as a result of her time at the NETL.
When summaraizing her experience, Bodonaro said, “I was able to determine the direction of the project and was held accountable for my reasoning behind the direction I chose. I liked that a lot. The problems in the ‘real world’ are never black and white, but always a complicated grey area, so I gained valuable experience tackling issues that were not simplified for a text book like I am used to in school. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my abilities from this experience.”
The Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), which is managed for DOE by ORAU.