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Button Fuel Cells
Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), a promising technology that can efficiently produce energy using fossil fuels with no moving parts and low emissions, present a particularly perplexing economic challenge: current systems operate at maximum efficiency between 700 and 1000 degrees Celsius, but such high temperatures shorten their service life, requiring more frequent fuel cell stack replacements. Lowering the operating temperature makes them last longer, but requires additional cells in the stack to deliver the same performance, and that drives up costs. Researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) are searching for answers to create SOFCs that can effectively operate at lower temperatures with a longer life-span by taking a deep look inside fuel cells on a microstructural level. It is a process that involves an integrated research effort across NETL, its research and industry partners, and their combined expertise in modeling, analysis, and characterization. Their work could lead to an effective and economical coal-based option for utility-scale power generation.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today that the Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage (ICCS) project in Decatur, Illinois, has begun operation by injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) into a large saline reservoir.  This project received a $141 million investment from DOE, matched by over $66 million in private-sector cost share. Led by the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), the large-scale major demonstration project is demonstrating an integrated system for collecting CO2 from an ethanol production plant and geologically storing the CO2 in a deep underground sandstone reservoir. The CO2 is a byproduct from processing corn into fuel-grade ethanol at the ADM plant through biological fermentation. “Today’s announcement marks a major step forward for the advancement of industrial carbon capture and storage technologies,” said Doug Hollett, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy.  “We congratulate ADM and their partners on this important accomplishment.”
Button Fuel Cell
In the 1960s, when humans were taking their first grand leaps into outer space, NASA needed a clean reliable way to supply electricity to its spacecraft. The answer to the problem was fuel cell technology. NASA’s manned space flights marked the first commercial use of the fuel cell, and they have been providing electrical power for space missions—and more down-to-earth applications—for more than 40 years. So, what’s so great about a fuel cell? Unlike renewable energy sources like solar or wind, fuel cells can run in any environment quietly and efficiently. They have near-zero emissions, and, unlike batteries, which are simply energy storage devices, fuel cells can run continuously as long as fuel is provided. In certain configurations, fuel cells can even run in reverse, generating hydrogen that can then be used as fuel for continuous operation.
In a project managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), GE Global Research has advanced a method to lower the energy requirement and cut the cost of recovering usable water from high-salinity brines. The new technology offers a way to turn a potential waste product into a usable source of water and minerals. Water and energy are surprisingly interconnected: much water is needed to generate electricity, and much energy is needed to purify water. The lowest energy method of water purification is typically a membrane process, such as reverse osmosis; however, some wastewaters are not good candidates for this because of very high salt concentrations. Reverse osmosis also leaves behind a brine with very high salinity that must be disposed of properly.
Biomass to Liquids Process
With an eye toward the development of cleaner coal-derived liquid fuels that can someday power cars, trucks, tanks, and even jets, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has been supporting researchers at the University of Kentucky as they close in on an innovation that could someday advance the state of the art for transportation fuels production. In an ongoing 5-year project, the researchers have advanced the design, construction, and operation of a small-scale pilot plant that gasifies coal and coal/biomass blends to form syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) and then converts the syngas to liquid fuels. The facility, located at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, has a 1‑barrel‑per‑day liquids fuel capacity and is intended to develop meaningful information about the technology; its scalability, cost, and economics; and product characteristics and quality.
Sensing Equipment
Just as the newest jet aircraft technologies require cutting edge innovations like carbon-fiber composites, polymers, and avionics to make them fly, the next generation of high efficiency and environmentally sound energy-producing technologies demand a very specific set of functional materials to make them capable of answering the nation’s increasing energy needs. NETL is internationally recognized for its success in designing, developing, and deploying functional materials tailored for use in energy applications and extreme service environments for next-generation energy technologies like solid oxide fuel cells, chemical looping, carbon capture, fuel processing, and many other applications.
Carnegie Science Awards Logo
A research team at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has been honored with a Carnegie Science Award in recognition of the ways their work has serviced manufacturing and materials science in the western Pennsylvanian area. In a collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, NETL assembled a multi-disciplinary team tasked with developing high-performance optical sensors capable of operating in harsh environments, such as those found in fossil-fuel power generations systems  including solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs).
RS 25 Rocket engine
Extreme environments are everywhere. From the pressures of the ultradeep ocean to the inferno heat of a power plant, harsh conditions make scientific ingenuity a necessity. To operate technology in extreme environments, new materials that can withstand those environments need to be created. Scientists at NETL are known for their ability to do just that. The three RS-25 engines used to propel NASA’s Space Shuttles are technological marvels. Fueled by liquid hydrogen, they generate intense heat and pressure to create the force necessary to escape the Earth’s atmosphere. During operation, an engine’s main combustion chambers can reach temperatures of 6,000 °F—far hotter than lava or molten steel.
Barbara Kutchko
What does a CT scanner have to do with safer drilling operations? The answer may surprise you. Researchers at NETL are combining their unparalleled expertise with unexpected tools like CT scanners to investigate a material that prevents leaks and spills during oil and gas drilling operations—foamed cement. To most people, cement is the material of buildings, roads, bridges, sidewalks, and security barriers. However, cement also plays a critical role in the safe recovery of oil and gas from wellbores beneath oceans and land sites around the world. Foamed cements are ultralow-density systems that are used during oil and gas drilling operations to encase production tubes and prevent leaks and spills. The “foam” part of the cement is created by injecting inert gas into cement slurries to create millions of microscopic bubbles. NETL’s foamed cement research has been recognized around the world as one of the best sources for reliable information about the performance of foamed cements in oil and gas wellbores. The increased use of foamed cement systems in high-stress environments makes understanding its stability in the wellbore vital.
The U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected seven projects to receive $5.9 million to focus on novel ways to use carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from coal-fired power plants.  In addition to federal funding, each project will also include non-federal cost share of at least 20 percent. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a commodity chemical used in many commercial applications, such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and production of chemicals, fuels, and other products. The selected research projects will directly support FE’s Carbon Storage program’s Carbon Use and Reuse research and development portfolio.  This portfolio will develop and test novel approaches that convert CO2 captured from coal-fired power plants to useable products.  The projects will also explore ways to use captured CO2 in areas where high-volume uses, like enhanced oil recovery, may not be optimal or the use could partially offset the cost of carbon capture technologies.