MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) received nine patents in 2008 and 2009 for breakthrough technologies that are leading the way toward cleaner, more efficient and cost-effective use of our Nation’s energy resources.
The far-reaching innovations address a range of fossil fuel issues, including hydrocarbon production, carbon dioxide (CO2) storage and sequestration, emissions controls, and making fossil fuel systems, such as boilers, turbines, and fuel cells, more efficient.
The first patent law was enacted in 1790 and granted Congress the power to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.”
Brief descriptions of NETL’s 2008–09 patents follow:
- Regenerable Sorbents for CO2 Capture from Moderate and High Temperature Gas Streams (U.S. Patent Number 7,314,847)—NETL researchers are reducing the cost of CO2 capture with this innovation which prohibits CO2 power plant emissions from entering the atmosphere. The process removes CO2 at high temperature before combusting the fuel in applications such as turbine systems. This reduces the size of the downstream components and avoids having to cool down a post-combusted CO2-laden exhaust stream, which compromises efficiency. NETL’s novel sorbents are not only inexpensive but also possess higher CO2 sorption capacities than existing sorbents, and they can be reused for additional cycles.
- Laser Spark Distribution and Ignition System (U.S. Patent Number 7,421,166)—Running engines at lean fuel and air mixtures keeps nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions low. However, the high pressures needed under these conditions to gain efficiency causes great strain on engine components, such as spark plugs, which inflicts high maintenance costs and inhibits cost effectiveness. NETL researchers have solved this dilemma with a laser system that bypasses the need for traditional spark plugs and distributors and promotes environmentally sound engines with greater efficiency and longer wear. The groundbreaking invention will provide low-emissions engines at low cost and has applications in reciprocating engines, turbine combustors, explosives, and spectroscopy.
- Mercury Sorbent Delivery System for Flue Gas (U.S. Patent Number 7,494,632)—With this innovation, NETL researchers promise a cost-effective means of mercury capture for use in coal-fired power plants. The novel system embeds a sorbent in the fabric material of fly ash filters, and it can be easily adapted to any facility that already uses a baghouse. By making use of existing equipment rather than fitting the plant with additional devices or processes, the NETL innovation lowers costs and makes mercury capture not only effective but also affordable. The system is also frugal with sorbent compared to other methods, such as duct injection, which accounts for further cost savings. Additionally, the approach prevents the fly ash from being contaminated by mercury, thereby ensuring that the fly ash can be recycled for use in concrete or other applications.
- Module-based Oxy-Fuel Boiler (U.S. Patent Number 7,516,620)—This NETL invention applies an oxy-fuel combustion system to a boiler for reduced environmental pollution and high-efficiency operation. The novel system comprises a series of oxy-fuel boilers that work independently of each other, composing a system for producing steam from water. Unlike conventional boilers, which use air to carry in oxygen for the combustion process, the oxy-fuel system uses only oxygen. Accordingly, there is a lower volume and flow rate of gas, which affords the opportunity for an overall smaller physical plant and lower capital cost for the system. With this downsized volume of gas flow comes a reduced volume of exhaust gases. Since NETL’s oxy-fuel boiler system is designed to capture and sequester CO2, this system results in a near-zero emissions plant.
- Ionization-based Multidirectional Flow Sensor (U.S. Patent Number 7,523,673)—NETL researchers have invented an ionization-based multidirectional flow sensor for monitoring flow speed and direction in advanced power systems, such as hybrid fuel cell–turbine systems. The new sensor technology will provide a fast-response flow measurement to enable the efficient and safe operation of such hybrid systems. The innovation works by measuring ion movement in flames to detect changes in flow and will be especially useful for monitoring air flows at critical locations in systems where flow reversal can be detrimental to performance. The pressure drop penalty of the sensor is low, which is important to maintaining the improved efficiency expected from hybrid systems. Since fuel cell–turbine hybrid systems are expected to dramatically increase power generation efficiency from fossil fuels while reducing emissions, this new sensor promises to boost efforts towards clean, abundant energy at an affordable cost.
- Method of Applying a Cerium Diffusion Coating to a Metallic Alloy (U.S. Patent Number 7,553,517)—This NETL invention provides a much-needed, simple method for improving the oxidation resistance of components used in fossil energy systems, such as turbines and solid oxide fuel cells. Protecting components avoids costs associated with replacing damaged parts and ensures that these systems can supply continuous, reliable energy. Additionally, the treatment can greatly improve the performance of some component alloys. The NETL-developed technique involves coating a surface with a cerium oxide paste and then heating the coated surface to a high temperature, which diffuses the cerium into the surface and greatly reduces the oxidation rate.
- Real-Time Combustion Control and Diagnostics Sensor-Pressure Oscillation Monitor (U.S. Patent Number 7,559,234)—Lean-premixed gas turbine combustors operate near the fuel-lean flame extinction limit to achieve very low NOx emission levels, but operating near the lean limit may result in combustion instabilities that can reduce the life of engine components and significantly increase maintenance costs. This NETL invention will help improve cost and efficiency of fossil fuel power by detecting and mitigating potentially detrimental combustion instabilities before they cause damage to engine components. Using an electrode integrated into the combustor, this monitor measures hydrocarbon ions produced by the combustion process, and employs a calibrated relationship to determine the amplitudes of the pressure oscillations. The turbine control system then uses these calculations to assess the operating condition of the combustor and adjust the amount of fuel to return to stable combustion.
- Process for Sequestering Carbon Dioxide and Sulfur Dioxide (U.S. Patent Number 7,604,787)—Developed in conjunction with NETL’s research partners, this innovation mimics the naturally occurring weathering of rocks to provide a route for carbon sequestration. The cyclic process employs mineral CO2 sequestration, in which magnesium-rich minerals react with CO2 to form geologically stable mineral carbonates, and enables the safe and permanent storage of CO2 in solid form. While mineral CO2 sequestration occurs very slowly in nature, this invention significantly increases the reaction rates and efficiencies for forming carbonates from the mineral matrix, thereby speeding up the process. This alternative acid-based technology uses exothermic reactions, rather than the high-temperatures and pressures of other methods, providing a cost-effective option toward the environmentally safe use of fossil fuels.
- Design of Slurry Bubble Column Reactors: Novel Technique for Optimum Catalyst Size Selection (U.S. Patent Number 7,619,011)—Industry worldwide is gearing up to make catalysts for hydrocarbon-producing reactors, such as slurry bubble column reactors, which are instrumental in converting synthesis gas into liquid fuels. While the current trend is to estimate catalyst particle size via ad hoc methods, NETL and its research partners have invented a much-needed method to systematically determine optimum catalyst size, thereby making the process more efficient. Using multiphase computational fluid dynamics, researchers have determined the optimum catalyst size to be 60–70 microns for methanol production from synthesis gas in a slurry bubble column reactor.