It’s hard to believe a full year has passed since I joined NETL. The Lab has long had a reputation as an innovation leader, and over the past year NETL’s talented team of experts has demonstrated the accuracy of this reputation.
A quick look at a few of the Lab’s accomplishments will illustrate why I’m optimistic about the year ahead and the breakthroughs in our future. For example, our team:
As NETL Director, it’s my honor and privilege to tout the innovative work of our talented experts. It’s a particular honor to share how NETL’s work is benefiting our nation and having a global impact. Coal, oil and natural gas provide power to people around the world, but our reliance of fossil fuels means we are also faced with a changing climate as a result of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. NETL researchers have been hard at work to develop technology solutions that will ensure continued access to affordable, reliable energy with responsible stewardship of the environment.
NETL is dedicated to developing energy technology solutions for today and options for tomorrow. Fulfilling that vision requires cultivating a fresh cadre of capable researchers, scientists and engineers ready and willing to tackle America’s most pressing energy challenges — including cybersecurity.
NETL compiled a long list of accomplishments in the fourth quarter of 2019, thanks to the notable talent and hard work of our team members. Among the most outstanding achievements were when:
October is National Energy Awareness Month, when we reflect on the role the energy industry has played in our nation’s success. It’s also a time to look forward to continued energy developments that help our economy and the American people.
As an applied laboratory, NETL’s role is to develop technologies and push them into the market. We work with 900 partners, including those in the energy industry, to reach this goal and tackle large-scale humanitarian challenges of affordable energy worldwide with minimal impact to our air and water.
The recent InnovationXLab Artificial Intelligence Summit demonstrated what a paradigm-shifting development artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have become across the Energy Department, accelerating the pace of discovery in nearly every area of research.
Innovation sometimes comes in unexpected forms, like discovering surprising alternative uses for commonplace items. For example, WD40 can be used to revive spark plugs; ketchup can be used to efficiently clean silver jewelry. At NETL, we are working on some impressive, innovative uses for common coal and most have nothing to do with burning it.
Developing technologies that operate on abundant domestic energy sources with responsible stewardship of the environment is a key component of NETL’s mission to discover, integrate and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations. That’s why development of a highly efficient electricity generation technology fueled by coal or natural gas with near-zero emissions is an exciting milestone accomplishment.
For decades, mention of fossil energy research conjured images of researchers hard at work with boilers, turbines, electronic sensors, carbon capture mechanisms, coal stockpiles, drilling rigs and a host of other traditional of devices and machinery used to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. Those images are still accurate impressions of NETL’s work. However, these days, the energy research landscape must also include an increasing amount of computerized research activity known as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
School is back in session, and teachers and students are not the only ones returning to the classrooms. NETL’s K-12 STEM Education & Outreach professionals are also going back to school — and bringing exciting “hands-on, minds-on” activities with them.
In its broadest sense, innovation is simply the introduction of something new. For technology developers like NETL, the spark of something new is just the beginning.
Innovations require years of work to become technologies that make a difference in commercial markets and positively benefit the nation, the environment, and our citizens. For example, the favorite invention of innovator Thomas Edison was the phonograph, which he invented in 1877 and continued to improve over the next 50 years.
Collaboration is a proven method to create an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts. Charles Darwin: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Collaboration is a route to progress and success.
Robust innovation, effective commercialization, exciting new research facilities and dynamic outreach were key milestones in the second quarter of 2019 with a host of NETL successes as evidence. For example:
Constant investigation, experimentation and inquiry lead to effective innovation and improvement. That’s one reason why NETL spearheaded an important research partnership that is expanding our knowledge about unconventional oil and natural gas technologies that have already sparked an economic boom and improved America’s national energy security.
The importance of energy in our lives is never more apparent than when a power failure occurs. Yet, as Indian yoga and meditation guru Paramahansa Yogananda once said, “the season of failure is the best time for sowing the seeds of success.” As the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season begins, NETL is proud to have a dedicated team of employee volunteers committed to helping facilitate the restoration of power and learning from critical outages as part of the Emergency Support Function #12 (ESF #12) program.
NETL is home to world-class talent. Our researchers, scientists and engineers have unmatched expertise that contributes to the Lab’s reputation as the nation’s premier fossil energy science and engineering resource. Facilities provide critical support for this expertise by empowering researchers to push boundaries and enhancing the Lab’s capabilities. NETL’s work to develop technological solutions for America’s energy challenges requires world-class facilities that enable researchers to make breakthrough science and technology discoveries.
At NETL, teams of talented experts are performing sophisticated research in pursuit of innovations to gasification technologies that convert coal into synthetic fuels – improvements that will increase efficiency and lower costs while protecting the environment. We call the field of study “energy conversion engineering.”
When American leaders from academia, industry and government gather at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee Tuesday, May 7 and Wednesday, May 8 to participate in the Department of Energy’s Innovation XLab Advanced Manufacturing Summit, NETL accomplishments, ingenuity and innovation will be a key part of the discussion.
For NETL, the first quarter of 2019 featured a long list of solid research results, prestigious recognitions and aggressive engagement with an energized collection of agencies and organizations across America that are interested in our work to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions that enhance the nation’s energy foundation while protecting the environment.
Here are just a few highlights of our work that occurred between January 1 and April 1, 2019:
Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, and recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete. – Steven Johnson, American popular science author and media theorist.
At NETL, finding good ideas that help deliver cleaner and more efficient ways to use America’s fossil fuel resources are opening new avenues of possibility through scientific innovations and productive collaborations with universities, national laboratories and the private sector.
NETL is truly a national laboratory and the only Department of Energy Laboratory dedicated to fossil energy research. We have critical ongoing energy projects underway in nearly every state. But, we are keenly aware of our obligation and potential to assist in the continued workforce and economic evolution of our original home territory – the coal fields, oil and gas fields, factories, classrooms, and businesses of Appalachia.
NETL develops technologies that enable the environmentally responsible use of America’s domestic energy resources. Part of that work depends on the Lab’s expanding expertise in geological and environmental systems and its ability to monitor and analyze the behavior of the Earth’s natural systems from both the surface and subsurface.
When you have a great story to tell, you need a special place to tell it. For telling stories about the positive impact of NETL’s work, that place is in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, March 12 when I will join a prestigious panel to discuss how innovative technologies emerge from Department of Energy Research.
Nearly 12 years ago, a committee of American leaders commissioned by the National Science Foundation put the final touches on a report called “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” It was an urgent call to action to preserve the nation’s strategic and economic security by creating high-quality jobs for Americans and responding to the nation’s need for clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Much of NETL’s history, focus and vision has been all about answering that call — work that continues at a hectic pace in 2019.
NETL is sponsoring a special webinar 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 8 that demonstrates the wisdom of a tried and true proverb: “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together.”
NETL is America’s fossil energy research laboratory, and our researchers are proud to share their vital work through the Lab’s annual Science and Technology Accomplishment Session. Energized by the success of last year’s inaugural event, NETL researchers set ambitious new goals for themselves to further support key research priorities for the Office of Fossil Energy (FE).
Vannevar Bush, FDR’s wartime science advisor had a vision for how to use the nation’s vast research resources after hostilities of World War II ceased. Bush envisioned a system where the results of government research, like the energy work done by the men and women of NETL, would be effectively transferred to private sector entrepreneurs for adaptation to the American commercial market creating jobs and a strong economy.
The people of NETL, an impressive collection of talented researchers, focused contract support personnel, promising young program interns and post-graduate scientists, are poised to broaden and enhance an aggressive pursuit of fossil energy innovation and progress as we enter 2019 – innovation that follows a robust vision that will continue to power the nation’s economic progress, ensure its security, and enhance national prosperity.
Odd traditions are observed at this time of year all over the world to mark the end of the year and to express good wishes for the beginning of a new one. For example: In Denmark, they save all their unused dishes and plates and then shatter them against the doors of friends and family as an expression of best wishes. In Ecuador, they celebrate the New Year by burning paper filled scarecrows at midnight. There’s a village in Peru where residents engage in a mass fist fight to settle differences and then start the year off with a clean slate.
Clemens Winkler, the 19th century German chemist, once quipped that “The world of chemical reactions is like a stage, on which scene after scene is ceaselessly played.” It’s an action-packed simile that’s particularly accurate when applied to much of the work underway at NETL where talented researchers are using sophisticated technologies and approaches to discover new ways to cleanly and efficiently use fossil fuels to keep the nation strong.
NETL is in the problem-solving business, and one of our key researchers may be on to solving a big one that has puzzled American cities for a long time. The Pittsburgh Business Times agrees and that’s why it announced that it will recognize our McMahan Gray with its innovator award later this year for his work on a technology that can filter heavy metals, including lead and other contaminants, from municipal water systems. That’s problem-solving in the NETL tradition.
Throughout human history, coal has been an invaluable resource for heat and light and all the commodities that have played such an important role in advancing our global civilizations. From ancient China to ancient Greece, coal was recognized as a useful and important material. Today, coal continues to fuel our prosperity in new and surprising ways.
There’s more to October than falling leaves and candy. October is National Energy Awareness Month, a time to recognize American innovation and progress toward our nation’s energy independence.
Today marks the beginning of National Clean Energy Week, a timely opportunity to recognize our robust portfolio of research aimed at promoting responsible stewardship of the environment.
Responsible stewardship of the environment is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Energy and a key tenet of NETL’s mission. As we work to produce technological solutions for America’s energy challenges, environmental sustainability remains a driving factor. That’s why our research – from developing innovations for highly efficient energy production, to advancing technologies that enhance the extraction and transmission of domestic resources – is underpinned by innovations that monitor the environment to safeguard our air and water and ensure the safety and health of all Americans.
A big part of NETL’s responsibility is to share knowledge. Sometimes the information we share provides a broader focus to the research data we develop that improves the way our nation uses fossil fuel energy resources. For example, through a recent online webinar, we shared analytical information to help business, industry, and higher education leaders make decisions to better prepare the next generation of energy and manufacturing workers.
There’s an old proverb: “if you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” NETL and the Carnegie Science Center are planning for a lifetime with an updated version of a popular Science Center fixture known as the NETL Energy Zone exhibit.
Nearly all the energy sources that helped build our nation came from deep beneath our feet. The rich subsurface of our planet provides the oil, gas, and coal that fuel our prosperity and build a foundation for future growth. The wealth of domestic resources found in our nation’s subsurface, coupled with advanced energy technologies that enable their efficient use, promote competitiveness across our industry. That’s why cutting-edge research now underway at NETL is focused on maximizing our ability to access the vast domestic resources of the subsurface.
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” wrote Ben Franklin more than 250 years ago. Every year, America invests in knowledge when it supports Department of Energy national labs where some of the best researchers in the world analyze and discover scientific breakthroughs. NETL has joined with its sister national laboratories in a project to make sure that the knowledge we collectively produce pays the best interest, just as Franklin espoused.
For nearly 20 years, the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) program has not only been improving opportunities for under-represented students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), it has also built a diverse foundation of future STEM professionals. That important mission has been bolstered recently through the success of another opportunity called the Consortium for Integrating Energy Systems in Engineering and Science Education (CIESESE).
From an obscure theory to laboratory experiments to practical use in industry, operating rooms, and even outer space, lasers have become a ubiquitous technology device. At NETL, researchers use lasers in a variety of applications in a mission to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations.
Simply put, turbines make the world work. They propel our planes, trains, and ships; allow us to harness the power of wind; and make electricity from abundant fossil energy resources. They help keep lights on, homes warm, and schools, hospitals and industries productive. But at NETL, we believe we can make them even better.
The people of NETL specialize in not only making an impact on better and safer ways to use our nation’s energy resources, they also are making a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens. The Federal Executive Board (FEB) in both Pittsburgh and in Oregon confirmed outstanding examples with significant recognition awards recently.
The great captain of industry Henry Ford once said that, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
That spirit of collaboration resonates strongly here at NETL, as evidenced by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) extension the Laboratory recently executed with the president of the Brazilian Coal Association (BCA).
Designing new efficient power plants that use fossil fuels – America’s most abundant energy resource – to affordably maintain our energy dominance, economic prosperity, and quality of life is a challenging prospect because of how difficult it is to assess and measure aspects of complex energy systems. Simply put, researchers can’t crawl around inside an experimental system to observe first-hand how things work.
Hephaestus was the God of Metallurgy in Greek mythology. He had a pretty good run in ancient stories crafting impenetrable metals for Achilles’ armor, Hercules’ shield, Hermes’ helmet and even arrows for Apollo. At NETL, we take our metallurgy work seriously too, but instead of preparing mythological heroes for battle against make believe monsters, our work is crafting tough new alloys for turbines, boilers, and other equipment that can help meet energy efficiency challenges – heroic achievements as well.
At NETL, we talk a lot about advancing our mission to discover, integrate and mature technology solutions to enhance our nation’s energy foundation while protecting the environment and there are a great many examples of how well we pursue it on this site. But, one of the key ingredients for success is the ability to listen. It’s that input that guides our research and steers our progress.
Here are two examples:
Sometimes, the work of NETL to produce solutions to energy challenges involves much more than the arduous work of researchers in a collection of cutting-edge energy laboratories. Sometimes, it requires a flair for partnering, communicating, analyzing, organizing, and providing access to critical energy data on a global basis. That’s just what the Laboratory accomplished recently with the release of the global oil and gas infrastructure inventory database or GOGI.
More than 135 years ago, Warren Seymour Johnson, a college professor who was frustrated with his inability to regulate the temperature in his classroom, invented what he called the “electric tele-thermoscope.” It was little more than a contraption that rang a bell to alert heating system operators to open or close dampers. It turned out to be the first sensor.
NETL was busy in the first half of March innovating, communicating, and supporting technologies and ideas that help America address energy challenges of today and tomorrow. We hit productive new levels scoring successes, posting research funding opportunities, forging a strong new partnership, and setting new records.
To be associated with NETL and its history of innovating a robust American energy future is an honor itself. To be asked to help lead a cast of very talented people who craft energy innovations every day is a new and exciting challenge that heightens that honor. The people of NETL are special because they each bring high value skills to their teams and their work to support the goals of the Laboratory – to discover, develop and integrate innovative technologies that will help lead and elevate our nation’s safe and productive energy future.
Veteran’s Day is an aptly named, sacred tradition when we express regards and appreciation to the men and women who have answered the nation’s call to duty. At NETL, it is an honor and privilege to work side-by-side with many men and women who actively served with pride and distinction in our armed forces. I am extremely proud of their continuing contributions to energy science as they work at our laboratories in Albany, Pittsburgh, and Morgantown with the kind of dedication and diligence that characterizes service in the U.S. military.
Few things are certain in a changing world, but some things we can be sure of—through the year 2030, our electricity consumption will grow by about one percent a year; fossil fuel will remain a major fuel source for the facilities that produce electricity to meet that demand; and NETL’s work developing lower cost carbon capture and storage technologies will help make producing electricity and chemicals more efficient while enhancing the recovery of oil reserves once thought inaccessible.
Discovery, development and deployment of effective and safe technologies for the recovery of underground energy sources like oil, gas, and the emerging possibilities for gas hydrates in the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico are at the heart of NETL’s mission to conduct research for a prosperous American energy future. It’s a mission that has already produced successes, but is poised to create even more opportunities.