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A Generational Opportunity to Maximize Appalachia’s Shale Gas Boom

Across Appalachia, natural gas producers are supporting the energy security of the United States as they continue to tap the vast shale gas resources of the region. Shale gas is used for heating and power production, but the chemical industry also relies heavily on natural gas as a feedstock to manufacture valuable chemicals.

With some of the world’s most cutting-edge facilities and a roster of preeminent fossil energy researchers, the Lab has decades of experience converting carbon to higher-value products and the established infrastructure to create an innovation center capable of transforming the downstream sector. With this in mind, NETL has prioritized natural gas utilization, leveraging the Lab’s capabilities and expertise to identify more uses for natural gas and bring valuable products to market faster, at lower cost and with less environmental impact.

“We strive to bring national focus and coordination to technology development associated with the conversion of natural gas to high-value commodities, ultimately strengthening our national economy and national security,” said NETL Director Brian J. Anderson, Ph.D.

NETL has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in facilities, equipment and expertise necessary to develop technologies that would be too risky or far-term for private-sector investment alone, helping to bridge the gap between initial discoveries and full-scale commercialization in which funding or support often falls through. 

“Our own researchers, as well as partners in academia and industry, have explored and tested concepts with great potential,” said Director of NETL’s Research and Innovation Center Bryan Morreale, Ph.D. “But, widespread adoption of these tools and technologies by industry still remains a challenge. We are exploring how to refine these technologies and make them more affordable, which will incentivize large-scale commercialization.”

Prioritizing natural gas utilization is an important regional and national effort for NETL as it continues its work to create solutions for the nation’s energy challenges. Efforts are already underway with industry to explore possible partnerships targeting the most challenging opportunities.

“NETL has established its presence as the premier research organization driving innovations and delivering fossil fuel-related technology related to industry,” said NETL Deputy Director and Chief Research Officer Randall Gentry, Ph.D. “As an enabler, the Lab also can provide data, insight and analysis to better inform the conversation. NETL could function as a convener that brings together all interested parties across the value chain. We’ve already seen similar success at events like our recent InnovationXLab Carbon X Summit, and we know the industry interest is there.”

DOE has positioned the nation to be energy secure through natural gas development, including NETL’s game-changing research in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. By increasing use of natural gas, this priority will help support the rapidly evolving chemicals landscape, helping to ensure that the Appalachian region will seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity in the natural gas supply chain.

“There are thousands petrochemical facilities across 13 key industry sectors within 300 miles of Pittsburgh that manufacture adhesives, paints, plastics and many other important products,” Anderson said. “Successfully developing our own regional natural gas processing and refining capabilities will enable a surge of new companies and jobs and enrich development of the workforce, particularly in economically depressed areas. Over the next decade, we are going to work hard to realize this goal through creating a Natural Gas Utilization Center of Excellence.”

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that produces technological solutions for America’s energy challenges. From developing creative innovations and efficient energy systems that make coal more competitive, to advancing technologies that enhance oil and natural gas extraction and transmission processes, NETL research is providing breakthroughs and discoveries that support domestic energy initiatives, stimulate a growing economy, and improve the health, safety, and security of all Americans. Highly skilled men and women at NETL’s sites in Albany, Oregon; Anchorage, Alaska; Houston, Texas; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania conduct a broad range of research activities that support DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States.