In the fight against climate change, engineers and scientists at West Virginia University (WVU) are pioneering a cutting-edge technology aimed at decarbonizing the food and beverage industry.
This innovative approach involves the development of an advanced hydrogen flexible boiler that could potentially eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and significantly reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
The project, led by Hailin Li, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, is funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. It is one of 40 such projects aligned with the Biden administration’s ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
The food and beverage industry has traditionally relied on electricity and heat from fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, leading to the release of harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. In response, Li’s research team has designed a flexible fuel furnace capable of burning pure hydrogen as a cleaner alternative for producing hot water and steam used in product processing.
Hydrogen, however, is not yet widely available, so the furnace is designed to also run on natural gas or a hydrogen-natural gas mixture at any ratio. This adaptability ensures a smooth transition for the industry from fossil fuels to hydrogen, as hydrogen becomes more accessible and economically viable.
The primary objective of the project is to achieve a flexible operation with energy utilization efficiency of up to 98% and nitrogen oxides emissions of less than three parts per million. By burning hydrogen sourced from green energy, the researchers aim to achieve zero carbon emissions during the hydrogen production process.
To further enhance the system’s efficiency, the WVU research team has integrated an “economizer,” a device that recovers waste heat from exhaust gas, making the entire system more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.
In collaboration with the local food industry, the team has partnered with Morgantown-based Mountaintop Beverage, a beverage manufacturing facility specializing in extending the shelf life of dairy products and alternatives using thermal processing technology. WVU will have access to the facility for sampling furnace operation data, quality analyses, and industry input during the development and testing phases of the hydrogen boiler technology.
The project also involves collaboration with Morgantown’s Neighborhood Kombuchery, where researchers will explore beverage production processes to identify ways to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Kristen Matak, a professor of animal and nutritional sciences at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design, will work alongside Li to ensure the safety and quality of the final product through microbial testing and sensory analysis.
This multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional collaboration includes faculty from WVU’s Statler and Davis colleges, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, GTI Energy, Convergent Science Inc., and industrial partners, marking WVU’s commitment to joint efforts in decarbonization.
As the world intensifies its efforts to combat climate change, the development of WVU’s advanced hydrogen flexible boiler represents a significant step forward in decarbonizing industries critical to global sustainability. With the potential to revolutionize the food and beverage sector, this technology holds the promise of a greener and more sustainable future.