Back to Top
Skip to main content
Improving Energy Technologies through Energy Conversion Engineering
Director Corner

Director’s Corner

by Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

At NETL, teams of talented experts are performing sophisticated research in pursuit of innovations to gasification technologies that convert coal into synthetic fuels – improvements that will increase efficiency and lower costs while protecting the environment. We call the field of study “energy conversion engineering.”

Gasification is a set of chemical reactions that use limited oxygen to convert a carbon-containing feedstock like coal into a synthetic gas, or syngas that is used for energy and in essential chemical products. NETL’s reaction science/energy conversion engineering work seeks improvements to conventional gasification processes. For example:

  • Because gasification involves reacting coal at high temperatures without combustion, traditional thermal heating can be costly and very energy intensive. NETL researchers are using microwaves to provide rapid and selective heating on a molecular level, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
  • Pure oxygen is important to maximize the efficiency of gasification technology. However, oxygen is challenging to make and expensive to purchase. NETL is working with different types of metal oxides to serve as oxygen carriers that can produce pure oxygen streams that can be fed into gasifiers. The carriers eliminate the need to obtain oxygen from outside sources while still providing optimal operating conditions for energy production.

This month, we will be reporting on these innovations. We hope our readers find them interesting to learn about in equal measure to the fascination our researchers experienced while pursuing them. It’s all a part of our mission to discover, integrate and develop new technologies that advance the nation’s energy security.