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 Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NETL has announced $118 million in federal funding to support the Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative) Initiative. Under this cost shared research and development (R&D), DOE is awarding a total of $37 million to seven projects and releasing a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for $81 million. 
With support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Ohio-based engineering and research firm Tech4Imaging LLC recently wrapped up two successful projects resulting in the development of a noninvasive, 3D imaging sensor technology for multiphase flows in advanced energy applications. This multi-year partnership highlighted the value of an industry-government collaboration that resulted in commercialization of the sensor technology while enriching the scientific knowledge base, advancing the education of several university students and creating jobs. “The Department of Energy and NETL were critical to the success of these projects,” Tech4Imaging CEO and President Qussai Marashdeh said. “With guidance and financial support from NETL, we’ve gone from a design phase to building and testing our sensor systems in commercial-scale applications. Additionally, our company has grown from just one employee to 13.”
M Alvin
Mary Anne Alvin, an NETL Technology Manager who has earned multiple awards and holds numerous scientific patents, will serve as co-editor of a new book on rare earth elements (REEs) that’s expected to provide the first comprehensive review of the technologies used to extract and process REEs for the manufacturing of high-tech products. “Rare Earth Industry Status and Prospects” is scheduled for publication release by Springer Publishing Company in May or June 2021. It will encompass the international scientific community’s expertise across the entire REE value chain — from field deposits through conventional and the latest state-of-the-art extraction, separation and processing methodologies, alloying, critical market sectors, REE application needs, and much more.  “The development of a reliable and abundant domestic supply of REEs is a priority for our nation. Being able to participate in the editing of a comprehensive, overarching book on rare earths is not only timely, it’s something that hasn’t been done to date, which positions this work as a potentially groundbreaking project,” Alvin said.
A digital tool developed by NETL researchers in collaboration with researchers from the University of Miami to make offshore oil production safer is being used around the world to inform a range of critical hydrocarbon exploration activities. Six external research groups from countries including Mexico, Brazil, India and Saudi Arabia are using NETL’s Climatological Isolation and Attraction Model (CIAM) to understand predominant ocean current and wind patterns. Over the last several decades, oceanographers have come to understand the ocean as a fluid in turbulent, perpetual motion. With CIAM, it was shown for the first time that, hidden behind the ever-changing currents, there are persistent structures influencing how water or oil travels. This is invaluable information that can help improve safety measures in hydrocarbon exploration efforts, as well as predicting and preventing oil spills.
Fly Ash
In an NETL-supported collaboration with Wayne State University (WSU), researchers used a newly developed sorbent and a process previously developed for nuclear applications to produce an economically viable concentration of rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic coal fly ash, signaling an important step toward commercialization. The new sorbent media developed by WSU researchers, in collaboration with the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), successfully concentrated the REEs in a coal fly ash sample taken from a coal-fired power plant near Detroit, resulting in a rare earth oxide (REO) powder of more than 13 percent weight, which demonstrates potential for economic viability. Using custom-built reactors at LANL, researchers used hydrothermal leaching to extract the REE content from the fly ash. A new sorbent developed at WSU was used in a solid-liquid recovery process, which eliminated the use of potentially hazardous organic solvents. The process combined multiple techniques previously developed to process spent nuclear fuel and other nuclear materials.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) are using advanced coal-based nanomaterials created by NETL to fabricate a paradigm-shifting computer memory device with improved energy consumption, processing speeds, durability and reduced manufacturing costs. The partnership is opening new commercialization opportunities for coal in high-tech industries and rapidly accelerating fields like artificial intelligence and big data. “Coal is an abundant natural resource in the United States,” NETL researcher Christopher Matranga said. “And while it is generally associated with energy production, coal naturally contains graphite-like carbon structures that make it ideal for producing graphene-type nanomaterials.”
Kick Detection
NETL’s work to meet the nation’s demand for reliable, affordable, and secure domestic supplies of energy will be presented during the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC). Scheduled for July 20–22 in Austin, Texas, URTeC is the premier event focused on the latest science and technology applied to exploration and development of unconventional resources. The conference brings together stakeholders from across the industry to connect on every facet of the unconventional space. While significant advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology were achieved during the boom in shale gas production since 2010, as much as three quarters of the oil and natural gas remains out of reach. The Lab’s Unconventional Resources Research Program remains committed to developing the technologies and methods to enhancing the nation’s ability to benefit from its vast natural gas and oil resources.
3d Printing
As part of the NETL-managed University Coal Research (UCR) program, a team led by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) recently completed a project that contributed to the training of several university students and researchers while advancing sensor technology to measure strain in an extreme environment. The team leveraged advanced 3D printing techniques to create new in-situ monitoring sensors capable of measuring the strain, or pull, on an object — even in the high-temperature environments of fossil energy applications. The team’s novel sensors have potential to lead transformative improvements in system performance and efficiency, resulting in more affordable and reliable energy for the nation. Strain gauges are important components of many engineered creations, including bridges, airplanes and railroads, but in energy systems like coal-fired power plants, in-situ measurement of strain is especially difficult due to high heat and pressure. In the project, CMU Associate Professor Rahul Panat and his team of researchers from Washington State University and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) turned to 3D printing to devise a solution.
Dr. Mengling Stuckman
An NETL collaboration with the University of Wyoming to develop technologies and methods for extracting rare earth elements (REEs) from coal ash is taking a major step forward with a recently awarded grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Technology Commercialization Fund. The project will work toward scaling up a patent-pending extraction technology developed by NETL researchers Christina Lopano, Ph.D., and Mengling Stuckman, Ph.D., and will ultimately result in a pilot-scale production facility. By demonstrating the economically viable production of rare earth elements from coal-related feedstocks, the project has potential to launch a new industry in extracting critical REE materials from the ash of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coals. 
Photos provided by Brad Deel, EnerVest Operating, LLC.
An NETL-supported project has provided researchers with core samples and other valuable subsurface data to assess natural gas resources in deep untapped reservoirs in Central Appalachia and evaluate potential extraction methods that would leave a light environmental footprint while creating needed jobs in a region significantly impacted by the downturn in the coal industry.  The Central Appalachian region (southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky) is known for hydrocarbon resources such as coal, but it is also home to abundant unconventional gas resources, including coalbed methane, shale gas and other low permeability natural gas and oil formations. Many of these gas resources are vertically stacked so that a single well drilled to a depth of 15,000 feet could produce simultaneously from multiple reservoirs located at various depths throughout the rock strata. The goal of NETL’s Emerging Stacked Unconventional Plays (ESUP) project is to investigate and characterize the resource potential for multi-play production in these emerging unconventional reservoirs.