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Senior researcher Thomas Sarkus
Senior NETL Researcher Preps Tomorrow’s Engineers, Scientists to Make Impact

NETL’s Thomas Sarkus demonstrated the importance of giving back to ensure the next generation of engineers and scientists is prepared to advance crucial energy technologies when he addressed students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

At a seminar held at the university’s College of Engineering, Computing, Technology & Mathematics, Sarkus summarized lessons learned from technology demonstration projects, as well as future directions in fossil energy and carbon management technologies, including those that have been funded by the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The landmark legislation calls for the allocation of more than $62 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to deliver a more equitable clean energy future for the American people by investing in American manufacturing and workers; expanding access to energy efficiency and clean energy for families, communities and businesses; delivering reliable, clean and affordable power to more Americans; and building the technologies of tomorrow through clean energy demonstrations. It also specifically includes historic investments in carbon management, both to mitigate and remove carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Sarkus, a member of the university’s Advanced Energy Institute External Advisory Board, told the students that the nation’s research universities are important partners in energy-related technology development and provided tips students can take to conduct impactful research as they enter the workforce.

“Researchers must share their insights by speaking to students at research universities so they are prepared to advance the technologies needed to address the climate crisis and achieve the nation’s goals for a 100% carbon emission-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero clean energy economy by 2050,” said Sarkus, whose career spans 36 years at NETL and includes current projects focused on CO2 capture and geologic storage, hydrogen production, long-duration energy storage, and rare earth elements and critical minerals recovery.

Researchers in academia, industry and other organizations apply for DOE research dollars managed by NETL by responding to funding opportunity announcements (FOAs).

Sarkus offered the students several pointers to follow when preparing FOA applications.

  • Study the entire FOA, including the evaluation criteria, proposal preparation instructions and model cooperative agreement.
  • Read the applicable provisions of the enabling appropriations legislation to better understand FOA objectives.
  • Consider teaming with other researchers (for example, in industry), which can vastly improve a proposal. As a rule of thumb, it can take six months or longer to assemble a major project team. Assemble the team when the notice of intent to issue an FOA is announced or earlier. If you wait, you may not have enough time to fully develop the teaming relationships for your proposal.

Engagement with local communities is essential to ensure the success of many FOA projects. Sarkus instructed the students to:

  • Engage local communities proactively and respectfully.
  • Educate all segments of the community, especially regarding projects to store CO2 in the subsurface.
  • Engage the local community with some frequency and be prepared to repeat or revisit various topics (especially CO2 geologic storage) for people who were unable to attend prior meetings.

Sarkus challenged the students to be passionate about their careers, be kind to the people they work with, develop good listening skills and consider multiple points of view. “Much like facets on a diamond, complex issues can have many more than two sides to consider,” he said.

NETL is a DOE national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.