NETL’s world-class work in materials engineering and manufacturing designs, develops and deploys advanced materials for use in energy applications and extreme service environments. In 2019, a number of significant developments yielded promising results that support NETL’s mission of creating technologies that secure and enhance the nation’s energy foundation for future generations.
The Lab’s functional materials research aids in developing technologies that can perform unique functions or exhibit properties not usually found in nature. This expands their number of uses and finds new purposes for materials already in use in the energy industry. For example, NETL researchers developed a cost-effective method to produce quantum graphene dots from domestic coal supplies that are useful in a range of energy applications and products such as sensors, solar cells and more. The dots are only a few hundred atoms in diameter, but their unique size imparts optical and electronic properties to coal-based derivatives that aid in manufacturing processes.
Additionally, the Lab collaborated with partners at Carnegie Mellon University, Metglas and Eaton this year to develop two complementary technologies — a cobalt-based nanocrystalline alloy and an innovative strain annealing manufacturing process that produce inductive components with unprecedented magnetic capabilities for use in motors, electrical machinery and more. The market-ready technologies offer the possibility of customizing magnetic properties for superior performance in a variety of technologies. To date, the advanced magnetic core technology has already enhanced motors for natural gas compressors, subsea electrification for oil and gas resource recovery and more.
Similar advancements have also found uses outside of the energy industry. NETL’s Functional Materials team developed a way to effectively filter water from industrial waste streams, acid mine drainage and other sources to recover valuable rare earth elements (REEs), but the technology also has the potential to remove heavy metals such as lead from drinking water. The technology, known as a basic immobilized amine/silica sorbent (BIAS), was originally developed to capture CO2 from coal-burning power plants, but was repurposed to include collecting REEs and other materials. The technology shows promise in being incorporated into a home-based water filtration system, which would protect the health of millions of Americans.
The Lab’s structural materials research focuses on developing cost-effective materials that can withstand a combination of mechanical stress and corrosive and erosive environments. This is accomplished through designing new materials and reducing manufacturing costs of existing technologies. This year, advancements in this area have contributed to enhancing both oil and gas operations and important sensing and monitoring equipment.
Durability is a necessary quality in technologies that monitor the right conditions for energy production. Turbines and other advanced energy systems that operate at extremely high temperatures boost efficiency, so the tools that monitor their performance must be able to withstand these temperatures to ensure safe and efficient operation. One NETL-managed project produced smart temperature sensors that can operate up to 1800 degrees Celsius, as well as pressure sensors that operate at temperatures up to 1600 degrees Celsius for improved performance in monitoring gas turbines, combustion systems and more. Extensive testing in relevant environments shows that the developed sensors offer the potential for greater durability, functionality and reliability at a more affordable price than existing alternatives.
Durable technologies are also crucial in oil and natural gas production efforts, as drilling operations take place in extreme environments that can impact the efficiency and safety of hydrocarbon extraction. To prevent complications that could result in the loss of an oil well and even human life, an NETL research team came up with a way to observe downhole well conditions in real time to prevent drilling complications before they occur. The revolutionary technology was granted a patent earlier this year and results in significant cost savings for both consumers and operators while enhancing safety measures.
These and other advancements provide solutions to challenges faced by modern energy systems and technologies important to the energy industry. NETL is internationally recognized for its ability to design and develop new materials — and advance existing technologies — with its world-class facilities and world-renowned researchers. This work is an important element in the Lab’s mission to discover, integrate and mature technologies to enhance the nation’s energy foundation while protecting the environment for future generations.