June 28, 2007

Researchers participate in trade mission to India

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Two researchers from Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Engineering were among a handful of delegates who visited India recently during a state-sponsored trade mission.

Tomasz Wiltowski, associate director of the SIUC Coal Research Center and professor of mechanical engineering and energy processes, and Kanchan Mondal, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and energy processes, accompanied the delegation, led by the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. During the trip, the two scholars met with top energy research scientists at some of India's leading universities and laid the groundwork for recruiting top students and exchange programs.

The proposed FutureGen power plant concept was a top item of discussion. Both SIUC researchers are heavily involved in the next-generation clean energy technology, as is India. Like Illinois, India has abundant coal reserves but must find a way to remove the sulfur contained in its coal.

The FutureGen prototype project will use a coal gasification processes to generate electricity while also generating hydrogen for use in a variety of applications, including fuel cells. It will drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions by storing it underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere like traditional power plants.

As envisioned, the plant would supply enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes while creating near zero emissions. The plant's success also would be a huge boost to the coal industry in Illinois and other states by removing the environmentally damaging effects of burning that fuel for energy.

Mattoon and Tuscola in central Illinois are among the four finalists under consideration for locating the prototype plant. The other two are in Texas.

Wiltowski and Mondal met with researchers from the India Institute of Technology and the Center for Science and Industrial Research, two top institutions also working on energy solutions for the future.

"We talked with their researchers, presented our work and found many common areas of interest and research," Wiltowski said.

The pair also focused on representing SIUC as a leader in energy research — especially in the area of coal — to students there. India will need clean, sustainable energy as its economy surges and new markets become available. That could mean more students for SIUC, as well.

"We want to top students to come to SIUC," Wiltowski said. "And it's not just one-way. We also want to find ways to send SIUC students to India to study, maybe for a semester or so, in an exchange program."

The global nature of business today demands engineers be conversant in multiple cultures, more so even than language, where English is an accepted standard, they said. Companies are more apt to hire young engineers who have worked and studied in foreign countries because they know the students understand the multiple cultures and can work within their frameworks.

"Preparing students for this global business makes a difference for them and will help SIUC with enrollment," Mondal said.

"The best commercial for our University is happy, current students," Wiltowski agreed.

"They are a credible source for other students," Mondal echoed.

DCEO Director Jack Lavin led the delegation, which included 14 people from various organizations and businesses. The group visited New Delhi and Mumbai, among other places.