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Simulation Tool
Chemical reactors—like fluidized beds, transport beds, and gasifiers—are critical and complex components of power generation systems that involve a variety of multiphase chemical reactions. Understanding the reactions and designing optimized reactors requires intricate modeling and simulation. A new toolset being developed by NETL multiphase flow science experts will make the optimization process faster and more efficient. NETL modeling and simulation experts are creating a new toolset for optimizing chemical reactors with the goal of creating technologies to reduce costs and increase efficiency of coal-based power generation systems. “The toolset has the potential to redefine how innovation comes about,” said Dr. Dirk Van Essendelft of NETL’s multiphase flow science team. “These new simulation and modeling tools will change how the technology development community conceptualizes, designs, and builds coal conversion reactors and plants that are economically attractive while reducing the environmental impact of fossil energy use.”
Elements table
Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected four projects to move on to a second phase of research in their efforts to advance recovery of rare earth elements (REE) from coal and coal byproducts. DOE will invest $17.4 million to develop and test REE recovery systems originally selected and designed under phase 1 of a prior funding opportunity announcement through DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE). REEs are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust that are essential components of many technologies, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care, and national defense. The demand for REEs has grown significantly over recent years, stimulating an emphasis on developing economically feasible approaches for domestic REE recovery. These four selected research projects will further the goals of FE’s Rare Earth Elements Program by focusing on the development and validation of cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches for the recovery of REEs.
NETL is collaborating with Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the University of Colorado Boulder to develop MFIX-Exa, the next generation of NETL’s internationally acclaimed Multiphase Flow with Interphase Exchanges (MFIX)—a suite of specialized computational fluid dynamic codes (CFDs) that help researchers study the simultaneous flow of gases, liquids, or solid materials.
Yttrium, one of the 17 rare earth elements, is used in the production of computers and mobile phones.
In addition to the robust in-house rare earth elements (REE) research conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Technology Laboratory (NETL), the Laboratory also partners with leaders in industry and academia to facilitate REE technology research and development, and its potential deployment. REEs are valuable for manufacturing a vast array of high-tech products, and these strategic partnerships amplify NETL’s contribution toward recovering REEs from domestic coal and coal-based products. As commented by Chuck Miller, NETL Federal Project Manager, “The DOE-NETL REE Program portfolio currently comprises 14 active external projects that are achieving remarkable successes.”
Computer operator
Coal has helped power the nation for well over a century, but NETL researchers are beginning to find another use for this abundant energy source by developing advanced characterization techniques. Hidden within the black organic rock are tiny quantities of rare earth elements (REEs), and these special elements are widely used in high-tech products, including cell phones, computers, batteries, and lasers. REEs are of significant value to national security, energy independence, economic growth, and the country’s environmental future, but the United States currently imports most of its REE supply from off-shore countries.
Money graphic
A continuing challenge in most technology development is striking a careful balance between ways the technology stands to benefit society and whether the costs of that technology outweigh those perks. Recovering rare earth elements (REEs) from coal and coal by-products is no exception. REEs are a crucial component of many modern technologies, making them vital to national security and technological innovation. Currently, the global market is dominated by inexpensive off-shore production sources, but new, domestic sources would help to ensure U.S. security. Therefore, researchers must assess, through cost-benefit analysis, whether REEs can be separated and recovered from coal-based feedstocks in an economically feasible fashion. NETL is addressing these questions through the development and implementation of techno-economic analysis (TEA) models to evaluate the international REE market and to assess the economics of commercially producing REEs from existing conventional, novel, and advanced separation and recovery processes.
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) and the Office of Fossil Energy (FE) announced the selection of 5 projects to receive up to $15 million in funding to investigate wellbore integrity research subjects via a Lab Call announcement. This funding opportunity will address two topic areas: 1) Wellbore Diagnostics and Integrity assessment in legacy wells, and 2) Sensors and Tools for Autonomous Completions and Long Term Monitoring of Wellbore Integrity. The Lab Call is part of a larger effort to address technical challenges associated with operating in the subsurface. In response, DOE has established an integrated technology team that encompasses DOE offices involved in subsurface activities that are aligned with energy production/extraction, subsurface storage of energy and carbon dioxide, subsurface waste disposal and environmental remediation, as well as analysis associated with the subsurface.
Coal powered the industries that created and transported products used by millions all over the world before other fuel options became more prevalent. By working on ways to extract rare earth elements (REEs) from coal and its by-products, NETL researchers are unlocking innovations that could once again make one of America’s most abundant natural resources part of the products people use every day. REEs are 17 elements found in the Earth’s crust that occur in low concentrations. Because of their unique chemical properties, REEs are essential components of technologies spanning a range of applications, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care, and national defense. Their unusual properties help make the best, strongest, and lightest magnets in the world that are used in products from ear buds to electric motors that power car windows and rearview mirrors. They also enhance light emissions making them integral in fluorescent lighting, computer screens, smartphones, and other every day products. In addition, REEs are important in making nearly every technology used in defense systems that protect the country.
Temperature contours from CFD simulation of a 300 bar oxycombustor.
NETL researchers are studying supercritical CO2 power cycles to improve thermal efficiency and alleviate adverse environmental impacts of using fossil fuels to generate power—work they hope will someday result in zero emissions and record-breaking efficiencies. This work features a special type of combustion known as oxyfuel combustion (or oxycombustion), in which oxygen rather than ambient air is used to combust fuel. The resulting flue gas is composed of highly concentrated, or supercritical, CO2.
Photos of researchers
Researchers and engineers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will join turbomachinery colleagues from around the world at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Turbo Expo, presented by the ASME International Gas Turbine Institute, to be held June 26–29, 2017, in Charlotte, N.C. This international conference and exposition brings together thousands of experts each year to share the latest in turbine technology, research, development, and application. Two NETL researchers, chemical engineer Dr. Stephen E. Zitney and mechanical engineer Eric Liese, will pick up an award at Turbo Expo 2017. Their paper, “Dynamic Model of a 10 MW Supercritical CO2Recompression Brayton Cycle,” was presented at Turbo Expo 2016 in Seoul, South Korea, and was chosen as a Best Paper by the Supercritical CO2 Power Cycles Committee. The paper was co-authored by Drs. Fabio Lambruschini and Alberto Traverso from the Thermochemical Power Group at the University of Genoa, Italy.