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Committed to its goal of developing new energy technologies while retaining environmental integrity, NETL manages a vast portfolio of carbon capture research and development projects that are successfully reducing costs to ensure the availability of clean, reliable and affordable power from America’s abundant domestic resources. In 2007, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that current and projected atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), threaten the public health and welfare of present and future generations. Carbon capture technologies reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capturing CO2 from fossil energy-fueled power plants before they are released into the atmosphere. Existing capture technologies add costs for industry and consumers. NETL is leveraging cutting-edge research facilities, world-class technical expertise and strategic collaborations to develop efficient and economical solutions that make carbon capture technology viable for decades to come.
The oxy-kerosene flames used in the research is the same ultra-high temperature fuel used during the Space Race.
NETL-led research shows the possibilities and benefits of developing magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) power generation such as improved efficiency for fossil fuel power plants and reducing the costs of implementing carbon capture. MHD generation works by taking direct kinetic energy from fast-moving ionized gases and converts it into electricity without any moving parts. This is done through the Lorentz force, which deflects opposite charged particles away from each other in a strong magnetic field. By collecting oppositely charges on electrodes, an electrical potential or voltage is developed that can be used to drive external loads. Peter Hsieh, with NETL’s Structural Materials Team, said the conditions to make an MHD generator work can be applied in solar, nuclear, and fossil fuel power plants to increase energy efficiency and drive down the costs of carbon capture. Carbon dioxide and water vapor are the only combustion products in oxy-fuel fired power plants, and the latter is readily separated through condensation. MHD generation makes oxy-fuel combustion more economical by helping to recoup the energy needed to separate oxygen from air.
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Researchers at NETL are one step closer to solving one of the most difficult problems associated with developing post-combustion carbon dioxide (CO2) capture technology. The team has developed a new process to create a chemically bound, dual-layer membrane or sorbent that combines the benefits of high permeability and high selectivity – two material qualities that are usually mutually exclusive – to more effectively separate CO2 from nitrogen found in power plant flue gas.
Over the last 10 years, the NETL-led National Risk Assessment Partnership (NRAP) has built industrial confidence and worked to accelerate the commercial deployment of large-scale geologic carbon storage (GCS), which will allow for the continued use of abundant fossil fuels in an environmentally responsible manner by safely and permanently storing carbon dioxide from industrial sources deep underground. Now well into its second phase, NRAP is expanding its award-winning toolset and forging new collaborations that will continue to improve the initiative’s ability to address critical questions of GCS risk management.
Placed end to end, the total length of the rock core samples scrutinized last year by NETL researcher Dustin Crandall, Ph.D., and his colleagues would span roughly 10 football fields. Driving much of that impressive volume is the need to complete rock core characterization studies to support large-scale geologic carbon sequestration and to make that data available to the public. NETL supports projects to safely and permanently store carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants and other industrial sources by injecting it into deep underground reservoirs capped by layers of non-porous rock. These efforts not only reduce emissions of greenhouse gases; they also support continued use of abundant fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas in an environmentally responsible manner.
A new iteration of NETL's CO2-SCREEN software application is enabling researchers to more accurately estimate carbon dioxide storage potential in previously overlooked locations, opening the door for carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) projects on a large scale, along with new enhanced oil recovery operations. Originally developed to estimate prospective carbon dioxide (CO2) storage potential in saline and shale formations, the latest version of the Lab's CO2-SCREEN (Storage prospeCtive Resource Estimation Excel aNalysis) tool can be used for estimations in residual oil zones (ROZs), which can serve as valuable sites for CCUS projects. ROZs are deposits of immobile oil typically found underneath conventional reservoirs. These reservoirs have essentially been "waterflooded” by nature — natural water movement through the reservoir, pushing the oil in the direction of production wells. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates ROZs could contain 100 billion barrels of recoverable oil, representing a substantial yet underutilized source of domestic energy.
As a testbed for new innovations on the road to commercialization, the National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC) has proved vital to NETL’s work in developing technologies that lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the nation’s coal and natural gas power plant fleet. The Lab’s Research and Innovation Center developed transformational solvent, sorbent, and membrane carbon capture technologies and the NCCC could provide critical industrial-scale testing. For example, NETL used its revolutionary computational framework to screen more than a million mixed matrix membranes (MMM) and to identify promising MMMs for post-combustion carbon capture. These membranes are now being scaled up for demonstration at the NCCC, advancing their commercial feasibility.
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Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy and NETL have announced up to $131 million for carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) research and development (R&D) projects through one new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) and the winners of five project selections from a previous FOA.  Under the new FOA, Engineering-Scale Testing from Coal- and Natural-Gas-Based Flue Gas and Initial Engineering Design for Industrial Sources, DOE is making up to $46 million available for cost-shared R&D projects that capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial sources.  CCUS is often viewed in the context of power production. However, capture and storage of CO2 from industrial sources is also vitally important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Growing up outside Detroit, Katharina “Katy” Daniels and her sisters were encouraged to pursue their dreams, even if it meant choosing a career in a field such as engineering where opportunities for women traditionally have been limited. “Fortunately, I never had any reason to think there was a limitation on what I wanted to become,” said Daniels, a general engineer who joined NETL’s Carbon Capture Team in June. Daniels’ parents, Lucinda and Michael Bellairs, urged their daughter to read and explore her early interests, which included rock and bug collections. In addition, they made sure Bring Your Child to Work Day was always a meaningful, hands-on experience. “My mother was a computer technician who installed servers. I enjoyed spending the day taking apart computers or checking out circuit boards,” said Daniels. “I looked forward to it every year.” Those early lessons have paid big dividends.
A recently released report, “Safe Geologic Storage of Captured Carbon Dioxide: Two Decades of DOE’s Carbon Storage R&D Program in Review” dives into how the department and NETL and other national laboratories, research organizations, and industry stakeholders have worked collaboratively to meet the challenge of addressing the emission of greenhouse gases while ensuring the continued use of fossil fuels that underpin our nation’s economic prosperity. One of the most successful pillars of DOE’s Carbon Storage Program is the NETL-managed Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (RCSP) Initiative, which began in 2003 with a characterization phase that focused on collecting and analyzing data on potential reservoirs and assembling resources to test CO2 storage. This effort culminated in the development of a standard, consistent methodology for assessing geologic reservoirs and estimating the volumes of CO2 that could be stored, an effort led by NETL. The methodology has since been applied in a series of Carbon Storage Atlases for the U.S. and portions of Canada.