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NETL Achieved Wide-Ranging Success in 2020 

Director’s Corner

by Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

As we close out what has certainly been a year like no other, I’m proud to say that NETL remained highly productive and unwavering in our work to deliver technology solutions to the nation’s energy challenges. Energy underpins every facet of our society, and NETL researchers remain committed to finding ways to use our nation’s resources sustainably and efficiently. The fruits of our work are enabling affordable power generation for healthcare workers, teleworkers, truck drivers, grocery workers and everyone else across our country who persevered through 2020. 

NETL’s in-house research is built on five competencies — computational science and engineering, materials engineering and manufacturing, energy conversion engineering, geologic and environmental systems, and systems engineering and analysis — designed to accelerate development of technologies that will enable effective resource development, efficient energy conversion and environmental sustainability:  

With this expertise, our researchers are tackling a wide-range of energy challenges — with impressive results. For example:   

  • Our researchers demonstrated that machine learning (ML) and data analytics can be used to design next-generation alloys. ML algorithms and other artificial intelligence techniques can also be used to give oil and natural gas producers more certainty when deciding where to drill. 
  • We advanced integral components for a highly reliable combined heat and power system that operates with greater efficiency than current methods as well as  rotating detonation engine technology, which can achieve much greater efficiencies than traditional combustion engines. 
  • NETL researchers made important strides in microwave-assisted dry reforming, a process that reacts CO2 with methane to yield synthesis gas, which is a chemical building block for many products. Microwave systems enable the required high-temperature reactions without needing to heat the entire reactor volume. 
  • We also continued to lead the way in producing graphene materials — lightweight, flexible and stronger than steel — from coal. This is a significant development because graphene is traditionally sourced from far more expensive feedstocks.
  • For the second consecutive year, researchers in NETL’s geoimaging center scanned more than 3,000 feet of rock core samples using computed tomography (CT) scanners and other sophisticated equipment, allowing researchers to see inside the sample and study its characteristics without physically dividing it into sections. 
  • NETL collaborated with partners in a multi-scale modeling project that resulted in an approach that significantly improves the prediction of hydraulic fracture propagation. The modeling approach from the project, “A New Framework for Microscopic to Reservoir-Scale Simulation of Hydraulic Fracturing and Production: Testing with Comprehensive Data from Hydraulic Fracturing Test Site (HFTS) and Other Hydraulic Fracturing Field Test Sites,” was adopted by numerous oil and natural gas operators following publication.
  • Our dedicated team of men and women collaborated with project partners to develop tools that support better decision-making regarding the economic challenges of implementing carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), like an open-source computer model that can quantify baseline life cycle impacts of U.S. electricity consumption. 
  • Another suite of digital tools developed in 2020 can effectively evaluate the costs of CCUS during each step of the value chain, allowing users to customize analyses as technologies advance, policies change or new policies are enacted. 

These are just a few examples of the breakthroughs our team achieved this year. You can read more about these accomplishments and others throughout December, as we share success stories of how our talented team of scientists and engineers made a difference in 2020. Visit our newsroom to read more.