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Small-scale, modular power systems offer distinct advantages amid a changing energy landscape. Among other benefits, they expedite technology development, cut investment and operating costs, improve availability, reduce environmental impacts and offer flexibility in meeting location-specific needs. As NETL strives to develop technological solutions to the nation’s energy challenges, the Lab is investigating ways to improve modular systems that convert coal to energy and other useful products through gasification. The combustion-free gasification process relies on chemical reactions to convert coal into clean power, chemicals, hydrogen and transportation fuels within an enclosed space. Gasification also captures carbon for storage or enhanced oil recovery. The addition of pure oxygen enhances gasification systems; however, producing pure oxygen from ambient air within a modular system is a challenge. That’s why scientists at NETL are exploring the use of metal oxides, known as oxygen carriers, which absorb oxygen from the air and release it as a pure oxygen stream.
NETL researchers are creating more efficient and environmentally benign electrochemistry technologies that turn carbon dioxide ( CO2) and excess energy back into valuable chemicals and fuels. One of the challenges associated with power plant economics is excess energy generation. Fossil fuel power plants can’t simply be turned off and on as demand increases or decreases. This picture becomes more complicated when renewables are added to the grid because wind and solar don’t generate a steady supply of power; it’s intermittent as weather conditions vary throughout the day. As a result, over-supply of energy becomes an issue. Storing electricity is not practical because of high costs, low-efficiency and poor reliability of methods for retaining energy that is generated during off peak hours. That’s where electrochemistry comes in. As its name suggests, “electrochemistry” uses electricity to do chemistry. Electrochemistry research is one way NETL researchers are transforming the reaction science landscape. As NETL researcher Doug Kauffman explained, “we’re basically moving electrons around to make chemistry happen.”
The Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is seeking field work proposals (FWPs) from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Laboratory Complex. These FWPS will focus on identifying new concepts and technologies for producing oxygen via air separation for use in flexible, modular gasification systems. The objective of the Laboratory Research Call is to solicit and competitively award research projects to develop air separation technologies to be used in advanced fossil energy-based modular energy systems that will make progress toward enabling cost-competitive, coal-based power generation with near-zero emissions. Air separation technologies developed under FWPs selected through this Laboratory Research Call would eventually find applications in coal-fed, small-scale (1-5 MWe) modular gasification-based power plants.
Refractory Brick
NETL researchers have developed a refractory brick that can increase the service life of refractories that are used to line entrained flow slagging gasifiers, reducing wear from molten mineral impurities (slag) in carbon feedstock, and resulting in reduced replacement costs and an increased gasifier availability and efficiency. The brick is composed primarily of chromium oxide (Cr2O3), aluminum oxide (Al2O3), and carbon (C); and is designed to decrease molten slag corrosion, which is a dissolution of the refractory into the slag and pore penetration that causes spalling—a repetitive wear process where layers of the brick porosity penetrated by slag break off at the slag refractory interface. Corrosion and spalling are the two primary wear mechanisms causing refractory replacement in the high-pressure, high-temperature environment of these types of advanced energy systems.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected nine projects to support the development of advanced technologies that will foster early adoption of small-scale modular coal-gasification. Used for power and other applications, these technologies may open new market opportunities for domestic coal. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage these nine projects. The funding opportunity announcement (FOA), Small-Scale Modularization of Gasification Technology Components for Radically Engineering Modular Systems will support the new projects. This FOA will focus on the development of emerging gasification technologies that can be scaled down to modularization to support program goals using the Radically Engineered Modular Systems (REMS) concept.