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NETL researchers John Johnson and Dushyant Shekhawat operate a state-of-the-art variable frequency microwave reactor in  the Reaction Analysis and Chemical Transformation (ReACT) facility
NETL talent and expertise can strengthen U.S. capabilities to serve as a world leader in the conversion of natural gas and its liquid components into the chemical feedstocks to manufacture an extensive list of commodities and consumer products used daily. To maximize growing investment in research and development (R&D), NETL is prioritizing the Lab’s efforts to support projects focused on converting natural gas into the chemical building blocks needed to manufacture higher value products and positioning its multidisciplinary teams to support innovative technologies to transform the petrochemical sector. U.S. energy security is predicated on increasing natural gas usage. The chemicals marketplace also relies predominantly on natural gas, and the petrochemical industry is actively seeking to identify more uses for natural gas as a product feedstock and exploring ways to deliver those products to market faster, at lower cost and with less environmental impact.
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NETL experts shared their innovative research and development (R&D) work with scientists from around the world at the nation’s premier educational forum for chemical engineers, the American Institute for Chemical Engineers’ (AIChE) 2020 Annual Meeting. More than 40 NETL personnel participated in the virtual event held Nov. 16-20. Researchers from academia, government, and industry addressed a wide range of topics relevant to cutting-edge research, new technologies and emerging growth areas in chemical engineering.
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NETL researchers joined other innovators and industry experts from around the globe as they pitched cutting-edge technologies with commercial potential at the 2020 TechConnect Business Virtual Summit and Showcase, held virtually Nov. 19-20. The TechConnect Innovation Showcase provides a unique and vetted pipeline for corporate, federal and venture capitalist prospectors to discover and connect with emerging technologies. During a pre-recorded Thursday session, NETL researchers pitched a technology for removing carbon dioxide from flue gas and a technology for removing dyes from water sources. Both of these technology pitches were recognized with TechConnect Innovation Awards.
Jim Wilson
James Wilson, executive director and chief financial officer, Finance and Acquisition Center, has been named CFO of the Year for 2020 by the Pittsburgh Business Times. Wilson was honored for his excellence in providing the critical financial oversight needed to operate an innovative science-focused organization dedicated to maintaining U.S. energy independence, improving the environment and developing technologies to produce affordable and abundant energy. The CFO of the Year Awards honor financial professionals in western Pennsylvania for outstanding performance as financial stewards. Wilson and this year’s honorees, representing a diverse mix of corporate and not-for-profit organizations, will be recognized at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19. Click here for more information about this virtual event and to review the list of award winners.
NETL’s inventions recognized by TechConnect build upon the Lab’s work to remove CO2 from power plant operations and scrub organic contaminants from environmental and industrial water sources.
NETL inventions to separate carbon dioxide (CO2) from post-combustion flue gases and remove contaminants from water sources won at the recent 2020 TechConnect Innovation Awards for their ability to contribute to a more sustainable environment while providing potential economic benefits. Researchers David Hopkinson, Victor Kusuma and Surendar Venna earned an award for their development of “Crosslinked Polymer Blend Membranes for CO2 Separation” which builds upon previous work to capture greenhouse gases from the nation’s power plant fleet. Membrane-based separation is one of the most promising solutions for CO2 removal from post-combustion flue gases produced in power generation. Analyses showed that these membranes must possess high gas permeability. However, most high-permeability materials suffer from poor mechanical properties or unacceptable loss in performance over time due to physical aging. This technology is a successful attempt to turn one of these high-performance materials with poor mechanical properties into one amenable for use in practical separation membranes with virtually no physical aging issues.
Two researchers at NETL were recognized for achievements and contributions in their fields during the 2020 annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), being held virtually Nov. 16-20. Madhava Syamlal, Ph.D., senior fellow, Computational Sciences and Engineering, is the recipient of the Elsevier Particle Technology Forum Award for Lifetime Achievements. Isaac Gamwo, Ph.D., a research chemical engineer on NETL’s Reaction Engineering Team, received the AIChE Minority Affairs Committee’s Eminent Chemical Engineers Award. AIChE is an international organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 60,000 members from more than 110 countries.
An NETL collaboration with Cerebras Systems has demonstrated that their acclaimed CS-1 system could perform a key computational fluid dynamics (CFD) workload more than 200 times faster and at a fraction of the power consumption than the same workload on an optimized number of cores of the Lab’s supercomputer JOULE 2.0. Further development of this unique computational architecture could lead to a paradigm shift in NETL’s high-performance computing (HPC) efforts and help overcome challenges facing researchers as they design and model next-generation energy systems. The research was led by Dirk Van Essendelft, Ph.D., machine learning and data science engineer at NETL, and Michael James, Cerebras chief architect of advanced technologies and a cofounder of the company.
Gas Well
Drilling of a nearly 10,000-foot-deep characterization well in the Paradox Basin of Utah is scheduled to begin in late 2020. The primary goal of this field laboratory supported by NETL is to generate new strategies to efficiently extract oil from unconventional shales in the region. Spudding of the well, or initiation of drilling operations, will take place at the project site located near the community of Green River in Grand County. The Utah Geological Survey estimates undiscovered recoverable oil reserves from the Cane Creek shale play and other shales in the Paradox Basin of at least 471 million barrels, making the development of these sizable resources an important step to maintain U.S. energy independence. After it is drilled to a depth of 9,850 feet, the well will be used by NETL and its project partners, including the University of Utah and Zephyr Energy, to study and characterize the regional geology, stress regime and natural fracture networks.
Super Computer
According to the latest rankings by TOP500, NETL’s Joule 2.0 supercomputer remains among the most powerful in the world, securing a position of 11th among DOE national labs, 26th in the United States and 82nd in the world. Supercomputing is essential in achieving NETL’s mission to discover, integrate and mature technology solutions that enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations. By expediting technology development through computational science and engineering, Joule 2.0 helps NETL cut costs, save time and spur valuable economic investments with a global impact. Named for the familiar unit of energy, Joule allows researchers to model energy technologies, simulate challenging phenomena and solve complex calculations using computational tools that save time and money to ensure that technology development ultimately proves successful. A $16.5 million upgrade in 2019 boosted Joule’s computational power to 5.767 PFLOPS, meaning that it can perform more than 5 quadrillion calculations per second. That’s equivalent to roughly 54,658 desktop computers combined.
Across Appalachia, natural gas producers are supporting the energy security of the United States as they continue to tap the vast shale gas resources of the region. Shale gas is used for heating and power production, but the chemical industry also relies heavily on natural gas as a feedstock to manufacture valuable chemicals. With some of the world’s most cutting-edge facilities and a roster of preeminent fossil energy researchers, the Lab has decades of experience converting carbon to higher-value products and the established infrastructure to create an innovation center capable of transforming the downstream sector. With this in mind, NETL has prioritized natural gas utilization, leveraging the Lab’s capabilities and expertise to identify more uses for natural gas and bring valuable products to market faster, at lower cost and with less environmental impact. “We strive to bring national focus and coordination to technology development associated with the conversion of natural gas to high-value commodities, ultimately strengthening our national economy and national security,” said NETL Director Brian J. Anderson, Ph.D.