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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.
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).