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University of Calgary – Schulich professors explore hydrogen as alternative fuel for gas burners

University of Calgary – Schulich professors explore hydrogen as alternative fuel for gas burners
University of Calgary – Schulich professors explore hydrogen as alternative fuel for gas burners

Hydrogen could be an alternative to gas burners at both industrial and domestic levels. University professors at the Schulich School of Engineering are leading the way in researching this possibility.

A team of researchers, including Drs. Lion Fang and Mustafa Mohamad, both PhD, from the University of Calgary, along with Dr. Sina Kheirkhah, PhD, from the University of British Columbia, were awarded a grant to further our understanding of the use of hydrogen fuel for gas burners.

Interestingly, their research received $1.2 million from Alberta Innovates Hydrogen centre of excellence And CONVERGENT Science for studying hydrogen flashback. This is when Burner flames propagate back to where the fuel is injected or mixed, posing potential safety hazards.

The Schulich professors also received $300,000 from the Alberta Innovates Advance Program for the investigation of instabilities in hydrogen combustion. Fang, who works with Mohamad in the Mechanical and Production Engineering Department, says that hydrogen will become very important as we find alternative energy sources.

Currently, burners used for electricity generation and residential heating, and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems in commercial buildings, run on natural gas. According to Fang, using hydrogen would reduce the CO2 emissions associated with combustion.

However, he adds that the challenge with hydrogen lies in creating the right mixing conditions of hydrogen and air for safe use. Fang’s team is looking for solutions to these types of problems and the ‘flashback phenomenon’.

“There are new characteristics that we really want to understand before we apply them to end-user equipment,” Fang says. “That’s why it’s important research for us, not only from a safety perspective when using hydrogen as a fuel, but also from a performance perspective, because we still want to make sure that it meets the technical purpose of certain devices, such as gas turbines or power plants.”

His team has also received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Benefit Program And NSERC discovery to continue their research.

Mohamad is a co-principal investigator on the project. He emphasizes the importance of financial support to advance their research, saying the more than $2 million in grants will be a game-changer for their work.

“It will be great to be able to do new experiments,” Mohamad says. “It will be very useful to train new personnel, a new generation of engineers who have expertise in hydrogen technology and it will be instrumental in allowing us to move forward.”

For him, the most rewarding part of working with hydrogen is being a pioneer in the industry. “The most rewarding part is discovering things that haven’t been discovered before, so a lot of our work is new,” he says.

“It’s rewarding in a way that we’re doing groundbreaking work in a new area, so you can think of it as being the first person to climb Everest. I find that very rewarding.”

Fang also emphasizes the importance of the province in leading their work.

“We are very fortunate to be in Alberta because we have tremendous support from the Hydrogen Centre of Excellence and from various initiatives within Alberta Innovates and the University of Calgary that are committed to the energy future,” he said.