Back to Top
Skip to main content
Director’s Corner: NETL Celebrates Successes in Sustainability During Energy Awareness Month
Sunset falls on an electric pylon, surrounded by sunflowers in a field

Director’s Corner

by Sean I. Plasynski, Ph.D — Acting Director

During Energy Awareness Month, celebrated each October, we raise awareness of the importance of sustainably managing our nation’s energy resources. For NETL, this is also a time to celebrate our successes toward driving innovation and delivering solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. Let’s look at a few recent examples. 

A pair of microwave reactors recently installed at NETL are providing researchers with tools to quickly screen materials called catalysts for their potential to trigger the chemical reactions needed to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful chemicals and decarbonize industrial processes that emit greenhouse gases. NETL’s microwave catalysis unit and the microwave synthesis are up and running at the Lab’s research campus in Morgantown, West Virginia, which is also home to NETL’s Reaction Analysis and Chemical Transformation (ReACT) facility. The only facility of its kind in the world, ReACT explores the use of breakthrough technologies, such as microwaves and other non-traditional energetics, to advance reaction science.

We’re also collaborating with industry partners, including a project by OxEon Energy with support from NETL that is building upon earlier extraplanetary success on Mars to create a stable, robust and low-cost system capable of producing hydrogen at high pressures — an important step toward the commercialization of clean energy devices. OxEon designed, built and delivered an electrolysis stack to NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover mission. The stack met all requirements of the mission and NASA declared the unit to be at a technology readiness level, or TRL, of nine, the first ever solid oxide stack to reach that TRL. That technology formed the basis for this project with NETL.

In a forward-looking intramural research effort, Structural Materials Team researchers produced a more robust pipeline material for transporting hydrogen and captured CO2 by adding the rare earth element cerium to create a tougher steel alloy. The accomplishment simultaneously addresses two important U.S. Department of Energy priorities: development of infrastructure needed for decarbonization and improvement of the critical minerals supply chain. The added cerium reacts with oxygen and sulfur impurities that are introduced during steel manufacturing and eliminates the negative impact of those impurities, producing a steel that is less susceptible to cracking during its service life. Testing at NETL has shown that cerium additions to X90 pipeline steel can improve the Charpy impact toughness—a measure of the steel’s ability to absorb energy and resist crack propagation—by up to 50%.

Another milestone in our work to decarbonize the energy sector and the economy is NETL’s development of computational models and software applications that are supported with funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Instructure Law. These technologies are poised to accelerate the commercialization of technologies to safely inject and store hundreds of years of CO2 in the subsurface. This innovative use of data will provide research universities and technology developers, government agencies and regulators, community groups, property owners and others with tools to accurately predict how CO2 will behave when it is sequestered in underground storage reservoirs and forecast how CO2 will react with subsurface conditions.

These are just a few snapshots of NETL’s dedicated energy technology work that is helping to usher in a new era of clean energy. I’m proud to share these success stories with you during Energy Awareness Month and showcase some of the ways NETL is working to ensure affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle and enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.