scientist won a 1.5 million euro grant, whose work could revolutionize electricity generation

Sylvia Lasala, a researcher at the University of Lorraine, won a European grant for the Reacher project. He is one of the 397 winners of the ERC Starting Grant 2021. His research focuses on promising energy conversion (first publication in January 2022).

“No one has designed a reaction with the thermochemical properties we want to realize. This is a first!“This is a real problem for Silvia Lasala, Lecturer at the University of Lorraine, researcher at Lrpg and lecturer at Ensic.

And this motivates him even more. He won 1.5 million euros for a high-risk but high-potential project. A European grant awarded by the ERC (European Research Council) as part of the 2021 Starting Grant. This scheme favors pioneers who will go far enough to make potentially great discoveries while taking great risks. Sylvia Lasala proposed the Reacher project (reactive fluids for enhanced thermal energy conversion).

Sylvia Lasala explains to us: “The Reacher project will for the first time reveal the potential of using chemical energy in thermodynamic cycles”. The scientist has an intuition that this potential will allow more electricity to be produced from a residual heat source or from a renewable heat source or from the combustion process. And this in new facilities smaller in size than the plants currently in use. They would be more efficient.

This concept is not easy for ordinary people to understand. But imagine a coal-fired power plant. As a result of combustion, heat is generated, which is converted into electrical energy. This is thanks to the energy vector, which today can be water, carbon dioxide and even air. “These liquids absorb heat in the boiler and convert it into mechanical work in the turbine, which turns the alternator and produces electricity. Today, during these energy conversions of the liquid, the molecules that make it up do not change their molecular structure, but only the level. excitation of molecules.

It is the first time that two forms of energy are converted simultaneously, chemical energy and thermal energy.

Sylvia Lasala and her team will explore another way of seeing things: “In this project, we will study and try to discover the fluids that allow us to use their chemical energy, that is, the molecules that rapidly and reversibly separate during these transformations and begin to recombine. This is “at the same time, the thermal and chemical energy of these new energy carriers. A scientist has already worked on this topic and published articles.

“This is the first time that we transform two forms of energy, chemical energy and thermal energy, at the same time. We never do this in energy conversion processes. We always have the conversion of one form of energy into another. For example, we know how in our cars and heat converting heat into mechanical work in power plants. We know how to convert chemical energy into electrical energy, as in batteries. In this way, we know how to convert chemical energy into heat by combustion, mechanical energy into electricity by hydraulics, and wind generators.”

“The sum of these two effects has a significant effect: more energy is released. You produce more electricity. You need less work to compress the fluid, and when you expand it in the turbine, you release more energy. At the compressor and turbine level. But we can understand the structure of the thermodynamic cycle. if we don’t change it we can lose efficiency. Specifically, part of the project aims to obtain the optimal thermodynamic cycles for this type of fluid. The difficulty lies in the approach: I want him to release this energy. We start with the result we will get to find a molecule that can overcome this problem.”

Applications for Silvia Lasala are of three types: “The first is the conversion of heat into electricity. We use heat generated by fossil fuels, nuclear, natural gas or coal. To achieve the same result, we would need less because the efficiency would be higher. And we could reduce. We also reduce the waste lost in industries. we were able to recover its heat to efficiently convert it into electricity Finally, by using these new fluids, reagents, we were able to improve the performance of the heat pump. it will reduce the work required by the compressor and increase the heat exchange”.

“A large part of the grant will be used to hire the team: two PhD students, three post-docs and two colleagues from the Lrgp lab. A team of eight people. Part of the grant money will also allow us to invest in high-performance machines like the expensive Raman Spectrometer.”

During these five years, Silvia Lasala’s team will have to submit interim reports and publish their results. It doesn’t have to lead to a big discovery. Silvia Lasala is convinced that this new way can provide solutions to our ever-increasing energy needs.

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