End User: Capstone Engineers and Computer Scientists on Today’s Technology

110608_JH_Jason_BaraDr. Jason Bara, an assistant professor in chemical and biological engineering, researches the development of processes for clean-energy generation that uses new solvents with little or no volatility for scrubbing CO2 emissions. Bara works in collaboration with ION Engineering to develop and deploy these technologies.

Q: You’re trying to be more efficient. Make capture cheaper, essentially?

Bara: Right. You can do that through chemical mechanisms, which is primarily what we’re doing. But, there are mechanical ways, too, and those all stem from efficiency — better heat exchanger, a better packed column. There are things you can engineer mechanically, and then there is the chemistry side of it. They both play roles.

Q: You’re focused mainly on improving current ideas so you can scale up?

Bara: Right. We’re not looking at things that are so novel that they’ve haven’t ever been scaled. That’s what is so nice about what we do. We’re kind of at that stage where we can talk to someone like the Southern Co., get them a couple gallons of our solvents and test it on a real plant. If you’re trying to design a completely new process that doesn’t use a solvent, a membrane or some sort of porous material, where do you start? You’ll be starting in your lab, and you’ll be playing with lab conditions for a long time, which doesn’t necessarily reflect power-plant conditions.

Q: Is current technology at a level for the electric power industry to implement widespread carbon capture if, say, the federal government wanted to tax emissions?

Bara: We have the technology to do this, though it’s not mature enough for full-scale capture at power plants, so the question is what is it really going to cost? Even the people doing this work at largest scales don’t quite yet know. That’s the challenge. I would say there is not enough steel or engineers available if we decided to capture CO2 from every power plant today. The chemical industry couldn’t support the demand even if we use the simplest solvents out there. You’d run out of chemicals quickly. So, it’s going to have to be phased in. There are a number of industries that will have to catch up.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,800 students and more than 130 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.