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NETL Ends 2022 With a Long List of Clean Energy Successes
NETL Ends 2022 With a Long List of Clean Energy Successes

Director’s Corner

by Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

With a new year just around the corner, it’s a good time to take stock of the many accomplishments NETL scientists and engineers have achieved over 2022. This was a year of unprecedented opportunity with our work to support the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that is helping to deliver more clean energy and guiding the nation toward a 100% carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero economy by 2050, as well as many advances in energy research that are helping our nation meet these aggressive decarbonization goals and realize a sustainable energy future.

For example:

  • A six-year project managed with NETL oversight culminated in the manufacture of commercial-scale nickel superalloy components that are needed for higher-efficiency thermal power plants that will use less fuel and produce fewer emissions. Through this project, Energy Industries of Ohio Inc. and other partners, with NETL support and guidance, developed cost-effective, reliable components and brought them to the commercial-scale demonstration level of technology readiness.
  • NETL released its Carbon Ore Resources Database (CORD), a valuable online tool to enable the recovery of high-value carbon and critical minerals from U.S. mining and industrial waste streams needed to support innovative manufacturing while lowering the environmental footprint of using domestic resources. Tapping into these resources for maximum benefit requires large quantities of data to drive analyses and support regulatory, commercial, and research breakthroughs — and CORD can serve as a game changer.
  • Under an NETL-managed program, GE Global Research in partnership with Cooperative Energy completed commissioning tests for a first-of-its-kind full-scale prototype large power transformer (LPT), a technology that can lead to greater grid resilience during power outages. Now fully operational as part of the power distribution system in Columbia, Mississippi, the LPT represents the world’s first variable impedance flexible design transformer in its class.
  • Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with support from NETL, concluded a five-year project resulting in the development of a novel methane leak detection technology that has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reliably, accurately and autonomously detecting and estimating methane leaks in natural gas infrastructure in real time using midrange infrared optical gas imaging cameras. The technology represents a significant improvement over existing methane detection systems, which have significantly lower estimation capabilities.
  • NETL’s Climatological and Instantaneous Isolation and Attraction Model (CIIAM) digital tool, which helps examine ocean currents and wind patterns to predict where oil and other particles in the ocean are likely to travel in the event of an oil spill, is being used for a range of non-energy related uses, such as keeping track of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for cleanup activities. CIIAM is used to forecast hazards and identify risks that contribute to offshore spills and provides rapid predictions of the transport of surface spills to aid response planning and containment.
  • The project team developing the National Experimental Turbine (NExT), an initiative advanced with NETL support and oversight, surpassed several key milestones as it builds a first-of-its-kind testing platform for manufacturing a new generation of higher-efficiency gas turbines. Gas turbines play an important role in U.S. energy security and represent a critical technology for energy conversion. Technological strides in turbine development can have wide-reaching economic and environmental benefits.
  • NETL and West Virginia University researchers successfully used reinforcement learning — which allows a computer program to learn without user input — to develop adaptive control strategies that could reduce environmental emission and treatment costs during flexible operation of the nation’s power plants. In this reinforcement learning research, optimal strategies were found for controlling nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in power plants.
  • The Utah Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Energy (FORGE) research team, with NETL support and oversight, surpassed a significant milestone in its ongoing work to develop an enhanced geothermal system (EGS). Once the clean energy technology is optimized and developed, EGS could power tens of millions of American homes and businesses and help the nation meet its net-zero carbon emission goals in the power sector by 2035 and the broader economy by 2050.
  • NETL researchers’ detective work to locate abandoned and undocumented oil and gas wells using drone flights, electromagnetic field detectors, light detecting and ranging (LiDAR) technology and even operation of a user-friendly tip line were detailed in an article in National Geographic Magazine, one of the most widely read magazines of all time. Uncapped wells often emit methane and pollute groundwater.

In addition to these advances, we also earned accolades and external recognition including an R&D 100 Award bestowed to an NETL-Pitt research team for their optical fiber sensor technology that provides unprecedented measurement capabilities in environments previously thought impossible to probe. The NETL team also earned DOE Secretary’s Honor Awards for advancing technology to recover rare earth elements, incorporating big data capabilities into a platform to accelerate discoveries, and developing a suite of sorbents to remove contaminants.

This is just a snapshot of the many ways NETL researchers are working hard to drive innovation and deliver solutions for the American people. I could fill many more pages with examples deserving of recognition. I’m extremely proud of the talented scientists, engineers and professionals behind NETL’s success and the benefits they’re providing for the nation, especially as we look forward to another year of achievement in 2023.