North Dakota, Utah Engineers Collaborate with Chinese Universities on Clean Energy

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by Kim Meihua Roy
Chemical engineers use distillation plants like these to perform combustion and generate power from fossil fuels. Researchers in North Dakota, Utah, and China aim to determine whether oxy-combustion and pressurized combustion systems can produce electricity efficiently while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Image via Wikimedia Commons user Luigi Chiesa.

Chemical engineers at the University of North Dakota and University of Utah will work with two Chinese institutions, the Huazhong University of Science and Technology and Southeastern University, to create clean coal-fired power plants. These universities are the recipients of a four-year, $1 million research grant sponsored by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC). The NSF and NSFC fund joint research by US-China teams on combustion processes that generate energy while limiting greenhouse gases. Researchers from North Dakota, Utah, and China aim to discover combustion technology that not only increases efficiency at electrical power plants, but also decreases carbon pollution.

This research marks a new area of exchange between North Dakota, Utah, and China. In the past, these states engaged with China primarily through agricultural exports. North Dakota experienced a 500% increase in goods exports to China between 2006 and 2015, with food crops comprising over 98% of these exports. Last month, a delegation of Chinese food buyers attracted to North Dakota’s identity-preserved soybeans met with local soy product growers and processors. Additionally, China is the largest foreign purchaser of American alfalfa; rising Chinese demand for the crop has benefited Utah, an alfalfa-farming state. In 2012, Utah exported $614 million worth of goods to China.

North Dakota and Utah are only the latest states to cooperate with Asian countries on climate issues. Their joint research evinces the success of similar partnerships established by Nevada and California with China, and by Wyoming with Japan. Since 2003, Nevada’s Desert Research Institute has worked with Chinese organizations to combat air and water pollution. Meanwhile, California has signed four Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with Beijing on environmental issues, including an MOU in 2013 on carbon trading. Likewise, Wyoming recently signed an MOU with Japan Coal Energy Center, a conglomerate of energy and manufacturing companies, committing all parties to research and develop clean-coal technologies.

China and the United States are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The collaborative effort of chemical engineers in North Dakota, Utah, and China can potentially unlock sustainable energy solutions for both countries and mitigate global climate change.

Kim Meihua Roy is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Brigham Young University.