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Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy Research Continues to Evolve at NETL
Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, or LIBS, is a rapidly advancing analytical technique that provides a cost-effective, quick and precise method for determining the elemental composition of any solid, liquid or gas sample. Knowing exactly what elements are present enables researchers to characterize domestic sources of valuable rare earth elements, help natural gas producers develop more efficient shale drilling operations, assure safe and permanent carbon storage and monitor groundwater quality — essential work for providing the nation with affordable, reliable energy while still protecting the environment. In prior research, NETL researchers successfully miniaturized a LIBS system that can be deployed downhole for subsurface measurements. The simple, easy-to-fabricate, miniature LIBS probe is fully adaptable to field use and capable of measurements even in harsh environments. Now, the same research team has developed a complimentary lab-scale LIBS system that can take measurements under conditions representing the native environment of the sample.
Sensor Advances
With sponsorship by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and NETL, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) has advanced a harsh environment sensor technology from concept to full industrial validation. The sensor system will enable real-time, accurate and reliable monitoring of temperatures inside a power plant’s boiler system, lowering operating costs through better operational control. “Temperature measurement helps optimize processes and detect failures, reducing downtime and improving operational efficiency,” said NETL’s Jessica Mullen, who managed the project. “Advantages like these could help make technologies like coal gasifiers, gas turbines, ultra-supercritical steam cycle designs and other critical power systems more cost-competitive.”
Brian Anderson
NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., appeared before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday to discuss how the Laboratory effectively develops innovative energy technologies that promote economic growth and competitiveness.  The committee is chaired by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the ranking member on the committee. Anderson told the committee that as a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratory, NETL addresses large scale, complex research and development challenges and emphasizes innovation while playing a key role in the innovation ecosystems of the regions where it operates and the nation. He said NETL pursues an aggressive strategy for discovery, development and deployment of energy technology innovations with an emphasis on collaborations with universities, other national laboratories and private sector partnerships.
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Representatives from NETL’s Oil and Gas Program attended the 2019 Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC) July 22-24 in Denver, connecting with other experts advancing the science and technology of unconventional resource development and exploration. Unconventional resources, which include supplies of oil and gas contained in shales and other tight formations, are critical to ensuring energy security for the nation, and conferences like URTeC provide a way for Lab employees to share their expertise in the field while learning about important new developments in academia and industry.
National Lab Day
NETL researchers highlighted the Lab’s work to develop innovative technology solutions focused on flexibility and sustainability July 24 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2019 National Lab Day on the Hill. Held on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., National Lab Day on the Hill offers members of Congress, their staffers, DOE leaders and others an opportunity to engage with scientists and learn more about the groundbreaking research underway by DOE’s 17 national laboratories. This year’s presentations focused on key themes tied to emerging DOE research areas — including flexibility, sustainability, resiliency, reliability, security and the National Labs as a system.
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NETL in Pittsburgh hosted a visit from researchers with the PPG Coatings Innovation Center, who learned about the Laboratory’s work in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), sensors and controls and advanced membranes and sorbents. The delegation, led by Stuart Hellring, Ph.D., was interested in exploring potential areas of common interest. PPG is a global supplier of paints, coatings, optical products and specialty materials. The PPG Coatings Innovation Center, an 86-acre complex located near Pittsburgh in Allison Park, Pennsylvania, opened in 1974. The center creates and tests sealants, adhesives, and pretreatment solutions in robotic spray booths with environmental controls for variable temperature, humidity and airflow. In addition to Hellring, the visitors from the PPG Coatings Innovation Center visitors included Terry Hart, manager of R&D government contracts, Nicolas Duarte, research associate, and Jim Peters, research manager. The PPG visit and tour of NETL’s Pittsburgh facilities was born out of interactions between Hellring and NETL personnel who attended the recent Department of Energy InnovationXLab Advanced Manufacturing Summit.
Rock Core
A team of NETL researchers conducted a high-tech examination of a 139-foot core sample taken from a Marcellus shale test well in western Monongalia County, West Virginia — research that could yield technologies and techniques to improve production efficiency and environmental performance throughout the Marcellus shale region. A rock core is a cylindrical sample obtained by drilling with a hollow steel tube known as a core barrel. In the process of coring, the sample is pushed into the tube and brought to the surface where it is removed, inspected and analyzed, commonly in a laboratory employing various equipment and techniques based on the type of data sought.
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Six college students and two professors, who participated in a mentored training program at NETL sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and designed to encourage pursuit of careers in energy industries, presented the results of their summer research projects during a technical forum held this week in Morgantown, West Virginia. The individuals were participants in the Consortium for Integrating Energy Systems in Engineering and Science Education (CIESESE) – a program that supports DOE's goal of building a continuing cadre of professionals, particularly from the Hispanic community, who are ready to take on the challenges of new energy systems – the infrastructure, technologies, and procedures used to generate, store, and distribute energy. CIESESE consists of five Hispanic-serving institutions: Universidad Ana G. Mendez – Recinto Gurabo (formerly Universidad del Turabo) under the Puerto Rico Energy Center, Miami Dade College, University of New Mexico, Recinto Universitario De Mayaguez and the University of Texas El Paso. Sandia National Laboratory and NETL are also part of the consortium.
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The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and NETL have selected five projects to receive approximately $39.9 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development projects under funding opportunity announcement (FOA),  Advanced Technologies for Enhanced Oil Recovery. DOE selected these projects as part of its basin-specific research strategy focused on increasing ultimate recovery and operational efficiency. “The extraordinary growth in U.S. oil and gas development is transforming the energy landscape across the world,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “Developing technologies to improve enhanced oil recovery will help maximize America’s energy sources, ensuring continued American energy independence.” “Enhanced oil recovery is a critical component to maximize American energy production,” said Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg. “By increasing American oil and natural gas recovery and production, we affirm both our energy and national security.”
Lego
More than 1,000 K-12 students and their parents learned about NETL’s work to develop innovative technology solutions through hands-on educational exhibits at a recent international First LEGO League competition in Fairmont, West Virginia. First LEGO League is a global robotics competition program that helps children expand their knowledge, develop beneficial learning habits and build their confidence as they tackle research, problem-solving, coding and engineering challenges. Fairmont State University welcomed more than 1,000 participants from 11 countries and 15 U.S. states to its campus July 12-14 for the Mountain State Invitational competition, co-organized by NASA’s Independent Verification & Validation facility.