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NETL Capabilities and Technology Showcased at ARPA-E

NETL’s ongoing research activities to build a decarbonized economy and some of the Lab’s innovations were on display during the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Energy Innovation Summit.

The ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit (Summit) is an annual conference and technology showcase that brings together experts from different technical disciplines and professional communities to think about America's energy challenges in new and innovative ways. Taking place in a virtual format from May 24-May 27, 2021, this year’s event marked the eleventh Summit. The event offered a unique program aimed at moving transformational energy technologies out of the lab and into the market. This year’s Summit featured more than 1,700 attendees from across the globe with more than 300 transformational technologies detailed from 21 U.S. government agencies including NETL.

NETL’s Tech Partner Booth provided an overview of Lab’s research profile, which includes Geological and Environmental Systems for harvesting rare earth elements from the nation’s coal resources and Materials Engineering and Manufacturing to make modern power plants more flexible and efficient in the wake of changing demands due to climate change. Key Lab initiatives such as Decarbonized Chemical Sector Technologies and Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage were also on display.

“As the Department of Energy’s only Government-Owned, Government-Operated laboratory, NETL is implementing the projects that will allow the U.S. economy to maximize the use of its abundant fossil fuel resources while also reaching near-zero carbon emissions,” said Michael Nowak, Project Manager with the Research Planning & Delivery directorate of NETL’s Research & Innovation Center RIC. “Our laboratory’s research portfolio includes more than 1,000 research activities with private industry and academic institutions across all 50 states, with a total award value that exceeds $5 billion inclusive of private sector cost-sharing of $1.3 billion.”

NETL’s Raman Distributed Fiber Optic Temperature Sensing System (DTS) for advanced molten salt nuclear reactors was also on display the Summit. The NETL Raman DTS is specifically designed to measure the temperature distribution in next-generation nuclear reactors. These reactor systems feature lots of neutron flux, high temperatures, and corrosive salt chemistries. This makes them very difficult environments to measure. NETL’s novel sensor system uses single-crystal optical fiber to enable measurements in these environments. 

By using a crystal fiber as the sensor element, users can take distributed measurements (measurements made continuously all along the length of the fiber) using a pulsed green laser and high-speed time-domain detection system. Crystalline fibers are being produced for these systems with NETL’s dual Laser Heated Pedestal Growth system, which grows long lengths of single-crystal fiber using a carbon dioxide laser to melt precursor materials at over 2,000 degrees Celsius. The result is a system capable of measuring a large energy system like a nuclear reactor core using only one fiber-optic feed-through.

By understanding the distribution of temperature rather than just measuring the temperature at one or two points, reactor operators will be able to more carefully control and regulate their operation, which will both increase the safety of operations as well as improve the efficiency of the plant. Improving plant efficiency reduces costs and energy use, which in turn lowers the carbon footprint and makes the technology more attractive to investor.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide clean energy while safeguarding the environment. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.