This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project proposes to develop a technology that can effectively capture ventilation air methane (VAM) generated in coal mine operation and convert it to fuels. VAM is the #1 cause of coal mine explosion. Currently, the only available method to reduce this risk is to use powerful ventilation systems, which are costly to maintain and insufficient to handle emergencies. Methane is also a greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat than CO2. Each year tens of millions tons of methane are released into the atmosphere due to mining activities. The proposed technology will provide an ideal technical solution that can solve all the main concerns of VAM - safety, environment, and energy. Compared to existing methods, such as ground VAM burners, the proposed technology features underground operation, room-temperature operation, portable in size, stand-alone, energy efficient and much lower costs.

The broader/commercial impacts of this research are the reduction of coal mine accidents, reduction of mine shut-down time, increase of work place safety, a technology that may lead to further development and applications for the treatment of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), a constant threat to people safety and health. Although, this project targets at the coal mine industry at Phase I, the technology developed in this project can be easily adopted for applications in other industries without significant modification, such as petroleum, chemical engineering, pharmaceuticals and residential air quality control etc.

Project Report

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project aims at the development of an innovative photocatalytic oxidation technology that can effectively degrade hydrocarbon gases or volatile toxic industrial chemicals at near ambient conditions. During Phase I, a highly portable and energy efficient prototype was built and carefully tested. The conversion efficiency of the prototype system was evaluated with simulated coalmine ventilation air methane. Results show that the oxidation of methane instantly starts upon UV illumination. Products include methanol, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The PCO reaction was found to be function of a number of factors, including gas flow rate, temperature, humidity, catalysts etc., among which flow rates and humidity are the most critical factors. The selectivity towards one or same products can be improved by catalyst selection and shorter oxidation cycles. High conversions can be achieved by simply adopting tandem cell structures. The discoveries in Phase I prove the technical and economical feasibility of the PCO technology for the proposed coalmine applications. Beside coal mining industry, the technology developed in the work provides a technical platform, based on which new and efficient equipments can be developed for safety, detoxification and environmental protection applications. Significant market sectors include energy, chemical, manufacturing, agriculture, food industries, where low concentration VOCs and TICs are constantly threats to people working there. Also, people spend most of their time on indoor activities. As a result, the indoor air quality is very important to the physical and psychological health of people. The indoor air quality has been largely altered by the numerous man-made materials used, such as building materials, furniture, electronics, packaging, paints, clothing etc. Most of the materials have to be treated chemically more or less before use. The release of those chemicals from materials may last months or even years, and can sometime be harmful to human health. The PCO technology developed in this work can provide economic solutions to improve residential air quality and thus improve the health of general public.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP)
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Program Officer
Gregory T. Baxter
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Torrey Hills Technologies LLC
San Diego
United States
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