by Brian Anderson, Ph.D.
Designing the pathway toward a decarbonized economy is a complex undertaking. When engineers and analysts design next-generation energy systems, they must balance the competing goals of meeting environmental and technical constraints, minimizing system cost, and addressing market and policy drivers. Given the sophistication of advanced energy systems and the urgent need for low-carbon energy generation, robust tools are required to ensure that the United States follows an optimal path that balances sometimes competing constraints.
Systematic analysis and evaluation techniques enable sound decision-making, and NETL energy analysts are experts in developing and applying advanced models with optimization and uncertainty quantification. Their insights and tools are key drivers in ensuring the Lab’s research and innovations offer meaningful impacts toward low-carbon energy technologies that power the nation and protect the environment.
For example, NETL has developed models of the performance and cost of: carbon capture technologies to both retrofit existing and to equip new fossil-fueled power plants; pipelines transporting liquid CO2 from a CO2 source to a potential storage site; and operations that inject CO2 into a subsurface saline formation. NETL regularly assesses advanced power technologies and subsurface management, and we continue to develop a comprehensive digital toolset to enable better decision-making by effectively evaluating carbon capture and storage (CCS) costs during each point of the value chain so that stakeholders can effectively evaluate the costs of implementing CCS technologies in electric power and industrial plants. Our leadership of the federal government’s interagency efforts in environmental life cycle analysis (LCA) — which examines the impacts associated with how purchased utility inputs can contribute significantly to the overall cradle-to-grave results for the system or product under evaluation — has led to recognition by the State Department and the European Union for its state-of-the-art LCA methodology that illustrates the benefits of decarbonization alternatives.
Another example is the Lab’s NETL’s Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy Systems (IDAES), which won a prestigious 2020 R&D 100 Award, is a center of excellence for the identification, synthesis, optimization and analysis of innovations to meet the nation’s growing energy needs. Led by NETL, IDAES is a collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, West Virginia University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Notre Dame. The IDAES Integrated Platform optimizes the design and operation of complex, interacting technologies and systems by providing rigorous modeling capabilities to increase efficiency, lower costs, increase revenue and improve sustainability.
The Lab also issued important reports and studies that examined critical energy issues such as natural gas pipeline capacity, energy grid stability for various regions under certain weather scenarios, and market opportunities for advanced materials, such as alloys, that inform future research and development investments.
From models and digital tools, reports and collaborations, NETL’s energy analysis experts are informing and advancing technology solutions that enhance America’s economy while protecting our environment. I invite you to learn more about our systems engineering and analysis work on the NETL website.