Chemical engineering professor awarded Fulbright Distinguished Chair

Charles Coronella to spend next year in Sweden collaborating on clean energy technology

5/29/2013 - By: Kirstin Swagman
Charles Coronella

Charles Coronella was just looking for a good place to spend his sabbatical. He ended up being awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy Technologies for 2013-2014.

The Fulbright Distinguished Chairs, of which only about 40 are awarded each year, are among the most prestigious awards in the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Coronella, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, will spend the 2013-2014 academic year at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, collaborating on some specialized research to produce cleaner energy.

"I applied thinking I had kind of a long shot, but knowing that I was going to leave the country for my sabbatical one way or the other," Coronella said, laughing. "I'm very happy."

At Chalmers, Coronella will be working with a research group that focuses on chemical looping combustion, or CLC.

"It's an area I've become interested in over the last five years," he said. "It combines a lot of technical expertise that I've developed with some of my interests in alternative energy."

Chemical looping combustion is a technology that makes use of fluidized beds, an area Coronella has developed significant expertise in through his prior work with biomass conversion and treatment. 

CLC has been slow to catch on in the U.S., with only a handful of research groups working on the technology, but it's a more popular topic in Europe. Its main advantage is that it produces a relatively pure stream of carbon dioxide that can be easily captured, reducing emissions and cutting costs traditionally required to clean CO2 emissions.

Chalmers has been a leader in chemical looping combustion since the late 1990s, but researchers are still working on scaling up the technology for commercial use. Coronella hopes to support those efforts by bringing his expertise in mathematical modeling to the experimental work going on at Chalmers.

"They've been doing a lot of the bench scale and larger scale work, but they've never done any modeling work, so it'll actually be a really good collaboration," said Coronella. "Modeling work is much less expensive than what they're doing and can really support and rapidly progress the technology development, when done correctly."

Coronella is already working with a small start-up in the U.S. to develop a prototype using chemical looping combustion, with funding from the California Energy Commission. While in Sweden, he's looking forward to the chance to dedicate himself to research.  

"It'll be really a new thing for me, because I haven't had that opportunity at any time in my career to do full-time research," he said. "It will be a good opportunity for me to think creatively about research and not much else."

While on campus at the University of Nevada, Coronella dedicates much of his time to teaching and mentoring graduate students.

"I love teaching," he said. "I think teaching can and should the core strength of any land grant university."

While Coronella teaches a lot of undergraduate courses, his graduate students also stand out for their impressive accomplishments, winning University research awards as well as recognition from groups like the Graduate Student Association.

Coronella has also played a role in the University's efforts to enhance its renewable energy programs, both in research and education. He serves as the advisor for the undergraduate minor in renewable energy, an interdisciplinary program open to students from all majors. He's also affiliated with the University's Renewable Energy Center, where he serves as coordinator of educational and curriculum efforts.  

Coronella hopes he can lay the ground work for future international collaborations during his year in Sweden.

"In Europe they're a little bit more progressive on these things than we are in the U.S.," he said. "As the technology develops, I expect those international collaborations are going to become more significant as the U.S. eventually embraces sustainable energy."


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