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An energy-hungry world requires innovative approaches to meet the increasing needs of homes, hospitals, schools and businesses, military installations and industries—the kinds of innovative approaches that NETL pursues daily under the research banner of one of its major core competencies known as energy conversion engineering. NETL is America’s only national laboratory dedicated to fossil fuel research and the work it tackles seeks to discover, refine, and disseminate new technologies that embrace the abundance of fossil fuels while carefully considering and addressing challenging requirements and opportunities Energy conversion is the process of changing one form of energy to another. For example, energy conversion is used to change the chemical energy in coal to thermal and mechanical energy that can turn a power plant’s turbine. Many of NETL’s energy conversion engineering efforts focus on increasing power cycle efficiency, enabling more power generation for less fuel and fewer emissions. The Laboratory’s Associate Director of Energy Conversion, Dave Berry, explained that the research can be sorted into short-term and long-term efforts.
Outreach Event
Whether putting a new roof on a building or keeping computers running, you will find small business professionals doing the work at the National Energy Technology Laboratory.  This Department of Energy facility is one of many in the nation that utilizes the goods and services of small businesses to support its mission.  National Small Business Week, April 30-May 6, offers an opportunity to highlight their contributions.  “We are proud of our track record in providing opportunities for small businesses to help us achieve our energy research and technology development mission at NETL,” said Dr. Grace Bochenek, Laboratory Director.
Equipment placed in the ground
When researchers from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) set up new monitoring capabilities at active Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing sites in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to better understand seismic activity, they discovered that low frequency tremors occur, which they believe could be useful to optimize oil and natural gas production from unconventional shale. Abhash Kumar, a contractor at NETL who developed the new surface seismic monitoring capability along with Erich Zorn, an intern with NETL in the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), explained that hydraulic fracturing has revolutionized the Nation’s energy security requirements as well as hydrocarbon production capabilities.
Polar Bear
Researchers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have successfully demonstrated a new oil-spill recovery process under simulated Arctic conditions. The work, which is being conducted under a grant awarded to NETL by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement, is focused on verifying that this process can have real-world applications for oil recovery in a harsh Arctic environment. Increasingly, offshore domestic oil and natural gas exploration and production are taking place in more challenging regions, such as the ultra-deepwater in the Gulf of Mexico and the offshore Arctic waters of the United States. Offshore domestic resources currently account for approximately 17 percent of U.S. crude oil production, a figure that is expected to grow in coming years. Industry and regulatory agencies are preparing for increased exploration and production activities in the U.S. Arctic offshore waters.
Contrary to that old cooking adage, “a watched pot never boils,” keeping a careful eye on things—in the kitchen or in the laboratory—can be essential to making a useable (or edible!) final product. Take chocolate, for instance, that foundational block of the food pyramid. An important part of creating high-grade chocolate is a step called tempering, or the melting, stirring, and cooling of the liquid chocolate to align the crystals that give it a smooth texture and a glossy shine. One of the key senses chocolatiers use to monitor tempering is sight, giving them information on the thickness and color of the batch to make sure it tempers evenly as it cools. But what if they had to do it blind?
Scanning Electron Microsopy
Fuel cell technology is a unique form of energy creation—an efficient, quiet, and clean method of transforming an energy source (such as propane, diesel, or natural gas) into electricity. Traditional fossil-fuel power generation technology produce energy through combustion—harnessing the energy of a chemical reaction to power the mechanical processes that produce electricity. This is often a noisy process, and produces exhausts and toxic fumes that must be carefully contained. Fuel cells, in comparison, transform their energy sources into electricity through a direct chemical process, effectively converting fuel into energy with little byproducts or waste.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony today to mark the opening of Petra Nova, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project, which was completed on-schedule and on-budget. The large-scale demonstration project, located at the W.A. Parish power plant in Thompsons, Texas, is a joint venture between NRG Energy (NRG) and JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corporation (JX). “I commend all those who contributed to this major achievement,” said Secretary Perry. “While the Petra Nova project will certainly benefit Texas, it also demonstrates that clean coal technologies can have a meaningful and positive impact on the Nation’s energy security and economic growth.” Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and originally conceived as a 60-megawatt electric (MWe) capture project, the project sponsors expanded the design to capture emissions from 240 MWe of generation at the Houston-area power plant, quadrupling the size of the capture project without additional federal investment. During performance testing, the system demonstrated a carbon capture rate of more than 90 percent.
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.