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NETL’s First Quarter 2019 Saw Research Results, Recognitions and Collaboration Opportunities

Director’s Corner

by Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

For NETL, the first quarter of 2019 featured a long list of solid research results, prestigious recognitions and aggressive engagement with an energized collection of agencies and organizations across America that are interested in our work to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions that enhance the nation’s energy foundation while protecting the environment. 

Here are just a few highlights of our work that occurred between January 1 and April 1, 2019:

  • In March, Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas visited NETL in Morgantown, West Virginia, to discuss how we can collaborate on opportunities that bolster economic and workforce development in the Appalachian region. Key discussions focused on the transformative research NETL conducts on energy and advanced manufacturing and programs that support future innovation and entrepreneurship based on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Visit here for more information.
  • Cutting-edge computational tools developed by the NETL-led Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy Systems (IDAES) were made available for the first time in March as open-source software. The revolutionary IDAES framework expands process modeling and optimization capabilities to boost the efficiency, reliability and flexibility of today’s fossil fuel-based power plants and accelerate next-generation energy technologies. Learn more here.
  • NETL helped solve a critical technical issue at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU), preventing a delay of start-up operations. IWTU treats 900,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste by heating and drying it into a solid granular material for long-term storage. When IWTU operators encountered an issue with a key part of its process, they called on NETL to help because we are globally recognized leaders in multiphase flow. NETL researchers located the problem and enabled IWTU to adjust accordingly. More information is available here.
  • Our researchers reported positive results in developing new pre-combustion solvents that can capture CO2 more effectively and economically than state-of-the-art solvents now in use. CO2 capture and storage from power generation is a critical component of strategies for preventing a further rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Current solvent technology could result in a prohibitive rise in the cost of energy production. NETL researchers discovered solvents that are more effective and economical than solvents now being used to capture CO2. Learn more here.
  • Two NETL achievements were selected to receive prestigious awards from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center. NETL’s global oil and gas infrastructure (GOGI) database won in the Innovation in Energy category, while the Lab’s permeability engineering through strain annealing technology won in the Advanced Manufacturing and Materials category. The awards demonstrate the powerful impact of NETL’s innovative work to develop technological solutions to America’s energy challenges. Learn more here.
  • NETL joined a prestigious panel at CERAWeek, the world’s premier energy event, in Houston, Texas. I spoke on a panel with three other national laboratory leaders at the five-day conference, which brought together 4,000 global industry leaders and policymakers from more than 75 countries to discuss a range of energy-related topics. Read more here.
  • NETL researchers reported on a new catalyst that can selectively convert syngas into light hydrocarbon compounds called olefins for application in a $200 billion per year chemical industry market. The work was detailed in ChemCatChem, a premier catalysis journal. The NETL research is significant because light olefins are currently produced using steam cracking of ethane or petroleum derived precursors. Read more about it here.
  • It was my honor to deliver the 2019 Carnegie Mellon University Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation Distinguished Lecture Series in February. My talk presented an in-depth description of the Laboratory’s fossil energy research priorities, activities and capabilities. The Carnegie Mellon Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation addresses the world’s most important energy-related challenges by enabling collaborative research, strategic partnerships, public policy outreach, entrepreneurship, and education. Read more here.
  • A collaborative NETL-led effort to transform Pittsburgh’s energy infrastructure and establish the Steel City as a “Clean Energy City of the Future” received the 2019 State and Local Economic Development Award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) for Technology Transfer. Read about it here.
  • NETL hosted a visit from the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment Manufacturing Institute in January to explore possibilities for collaboration. The Institute helps develop breakthrough technologies that enhance energy productivity and efficiency via industrial modular chemical process intensification. More information is available here.
  • NETL expanded its work with the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, Texas, to develop the next generation of methane leak detection technology that combines remote sensing and artificial intelligence capabilities in a system that can operate from an aerial platform — an approach that can more effectively help alleviate methane emissions from multiple operations in the natural gas industry. Read more here.
  • NETL, as part of an international partnership, investigated the resource potential of natural gas hydrates within the Prudhoe Bay Unit on the Alaska North Slope. Gas hydrates are naturally occurring combinations of natural gas and water that form in specific conditions of relatively cold temperatures and relatively high pressures.  Two high-quality gas hydrate reservoirs with characteristics typical of many global accumulations (arctic and marine) were confirmed via extensive, research-level logging-while-drilling data. Read about it here.
  • NETL researchers created a new copper-gold alloy that can selectively convert CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO) — a breakthrough that could impact a $3.4 billion global market for methanol and other synthetic fuels. The breakthrough landed on the cover of a prestigious national scientific journal. More information is available here.
  • A delegation from the West Virginia Manufacturers Association and the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) learned more about NETL’s Regional Workforce Initiative during a tour and visit to the Laboratory’s Morgantown site in January. Helping to build a trained workforce is a critical component of a vibrant economy and our Regional Workforce Initiative works to identify skills and training gaps that hamper creation of energy and advanced manufacturing jobs. Read more here.
  • A project led by NETL identified membrane materials that will make carbon capture more affordable for coal-fired power plants, reducing the cost to less than $50 per metric ton of CO2 removed.  A research team leveraged NETL’s computational capabilities to connect simulations to techno-economic analyses of the membrane-based carbon capture process. Their efforts identified the best combinations of polymers and nanoparticles to make novel membranes with outstanding properties for carbon capture.  Read more about it here.