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TTU News

Tennessee Tech University's Ying Zhang is working to make tomorrow's power plants more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

The mechanical engineering professor recently received a $371,288 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a high-tech coating to protect turbine components in advanced power plants. The grant is one of 10 across the nation to be awarded by the department’s Office of Fossil Energy, under the University Turbine Systems Research Program.

“With the rapid increase in the price of natural gas, the development of more advanced power generation technologies becomes increasingly attractive,” Zhang said. “The use of these technologies is critical in securing U.S. electric power production that is clean, efficient, affordable and fuel flexible, which will allow us to use our domestic fossil energy resources and thus ease the dependence on imported oil and gas for power generation."

Zhang will spend the three-year grant period trying to develop a low-cost alternative process of applying protective coatings to industrial turbine components. The current method uses a thermal spray technique, which requires high capital investment and needs complex robotic manipulation for complete coverage of components with complicated shapes.

Zhang plans to develop a method of coating turbine components in an electroplating solution that contains additional metal powders. Since very limited work has been done on this coating process in the past, a knowledge base needs to be established to optimize the coating performance.

“If our research is successful, a new type of coating will be realized, which will lead to improvement in durability and reliability of turbine coatings,” Zhang said. “Our collaboration with GE Global Research and GE Energy will facilitate potential technology transfer in the future.

“This research project will have a strong impact on engineering education at TTU, as it will provide unique opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students to tackle technological issues with direct relevance to the energy industry.”