The University of Texas-Pan American is one of six universities awarded research funds by the U.S. Department of Energy to help students and professors pursue fossil energy projects.
Specifically, UTPA faculty and students will investigate how to reduce pollution from natural gas diffusion flames. The goal is to develop an efficient and environmentally superior burner system combining the merits of higher efficiency and cleaner combustion of natural gas.
The UTPA project will cost $65,000, with additional funds possible based on progress. The Department of Education (DOE) will provide $20,000, with the remaining $45,000 provided by the University in release time and in-kind contributions.
Supplemental funding from the DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other automobile/burner industries is possible because reducing pollutant emissions from combustion and environmental safety are prominent national issues, said Dr. Ala Qubbaj, principal investigator of the grant. Dr. Hashim Mahdi, mechanical engineering program director and associate professor, is co-investigator.
Research will focus on an innovative burner design using fuel-air mixing. The project also may be extended to practical applications such as actual vehicle engines, said Qubbaj, Department of Engineering assistant professor.
"I expect the current project to serve as the starting milestone of the fossil energy and pollution control research program at the Department of Engineering," he said. "This will enhance our institution research infrastructure in the area of fossil energy and enable us to seek research funds immediately for extensions and other projects from federal agencies such as DOE, EPA and the National Science Foundation, which have considerable interest in this area."
UTPA was awarded the research grant by the DOE office of Fossil Energy's Minority Institutions Research program. The program objective is to foster minority university participation and interaction with the DOE laboratories in fossil energy research and development.
"In addition to enhancing the research infrastructure of our institution, the proposed project will have a strong impact on our student's education and research training," Qubbaj said. "Some of our students will be directly involved in the project, giving them a great opportunity to participate and interact with their professors, colleagues and partners at the DOE in the fossil energy research and development."
Qubbaj credited Dr. Edwin LeMaster, Department of Engineering chair, and Dr. Jacob Chen, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, for their dedication and leadership in securing the grant and enhancing the department's status.
Tony Casas, director of the Office of Sponsored Projects, also credited UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez and Rodolfo Arevalo, provost/vice president for Academic Affairs. Their efforts allowed part of the total research costs to include a commitment of faculty release time and equipment for actual research.
"UTPA is investing in its faculty, staff, students and infrastructure to enhance the research initiatives of the institution. Dr. George Avellano, associate vice president for Academic Affairs/Graduate Programs and Research, and I will be working closely with the college deans and faculty to help define and enhance these initiatives," Casas said.
"Dr. Qubbaj's research is a perfect example of how we can expand on existing research to branch out to complimentary research programs."
Other participating universities in the nearly $1 million initiative are Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas; Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta; North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro; Grambling State University in Grambling, La.; and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala. All six schools are recognized as historically black colleges and universities or minority education institutions.