Innovation through Collaboration with DOE’s Energy Data eXchange
Through partnerships with universities, the private sector, and other government agencies, the National Labs serve as regional hubs for scientific innovation and technological advancement. At the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), collaboration is a key component to the complex challenges of fossil energy research. These challenges require cross-disciplinary approaches and quicker, more efficient access to resources. NETL’s Energy Data eXchange (EDX) facilitates the active advancement of energy innovations by simplifying the logistics of research and collaboration.
When the scientists from the DOE’s National Labs and other federal agencies needed to work together to find a swift solution to the Macondo oil spill disaster in 2010, it was not a simple matter to share ideas and data. Researchers from different organizations did not have access to each other’s files, and data sets were too large to be emailed. With each entity limited to its own servers, there was no efficient way to collaborate and problem solve. An additional challenge was finding other authoritative, appropriate sources for information not already within the response team’s working files. The scenario highlights a growing obstacle for multi-organizational teams: efficiently sharing and finding pertinent resources when tasked with solving knowledge and technology gaps related to energy related questions. "This experience really opened our eyes to the need for a common portal that would facilitate and enhance our ability to share ideas," says NETL researcher Kelly Rose, Geology & Geospatial Research Team Lead. Rose and her team began planning and developing EDX in late 2010 as a way for NETL researchers and their collaborators to share data and as a portal for easy access to pertinent data sets from outside the organization. Today, EDX is a comprehensive, evolving tool for research and collaboration.
Fostering Innovation through Efficient Data Exchange
EDX provides efficient access to key resources pertinent to energy related research and development. EDX version 1 launched in 2012 as an online system, offering researchers with a peer-to-peer tool they can use to efficiently find and share information and tools relevant to NETL’s research portfolios. In spring of 2013 version 2 was released, featuring additional functionality and resources to support research coordination and collaboration for teams actively working on projects; the system continues to evolve and grow via user feedback and user needs.
Today, EDX is improving coordination among NETL research teams and their outside collaborators in academia and industry. The system’s combination of efficient access to relevant resources and capabilities for multi-agency projects is especially valuable since NETL’s research crosscuts multiple areas associated with fossil energy research and development.
A fundamental benefit of EDX is its secure environment, which encourages collaboration among its users. "EDX has a public-private duality that’s unique among other data sharing services," Rose explains. "We looked at this from the perspective of both project managers and researchers and realized we needed a way to convey results but also to foster research as its happening." The public facing angle increases data exposure and reaches a wide audience for knowledge transfer, use and reuse, while the secure private side enables efficient data management, including holding sensitive datasets secure after a project’s end date to ensure publications, patents, etc. have time to be released. It also ensures long-term access to foundational datasets and research results that are often lost once a project reaches completion. In short, EDX addresses all facets of a collaborative effort, from planning, to solving, to curating.
Practically speaking, the system offers terabytes of storage space to accommodate the large files associated with advanced research projects. Handling this amount of information is often cost-prohibitive or impossible on similar business oriented technologies. EDX also avoids the obvious security issues involved with sharing thumb drives and other portable media. Plus, EDX offers users easy access to their workspaces; if they have access to a browser, they have access to all their data and their fellow collaborators.
Building Community in Collaborative Workspaces
One EDX feature that highlights how the system facilitates teamwork across the lab is the Collaborative Workspace. Here, NETL-affiliated researchers from around the United States and, when appropriate, from around the world are sharing information quickly, cost-effectively, and within a private online space designated for each team’s specific project.
As the name implies, EDX’s Collaborative Workspaces give researchers a common, private space to share data and ideas, keeping them connected to efficiently solve today’s energy challenges. Admission to a particular Collaborative Workspace is limited to approved members of that workspace. Users within a given workspace have access to working documents and project related content within that workspace, as well as built-in features like a calendar and forum. According to Rose, "It’s a useful research-support and development tool. The logistics of how to get the work done in a multi-organizational group are largely taken care of, allowing researchers to worry less about the mechanics of how to share or transfer information among team members and focus more time and resources on the research itself."
To date, EDX has 98 Collaborative Workspaces. For a more detailed tour inside EDX, its Collaborative Workspaces, and the system’s other collaboration–coordination tools, watch this video.
Collaboration & Coordination Drive Results
Collaborative Workspaces are just one facet of how EDX is enhancing collaboration among NETL’s energy researchers. Additional features within the system enable researchers to share information and enhance collaboration through tailored tools and other assets. "EDX is a coordination–collaboration tool," says Rose. "It gives researchers a way to advance their work through multiple applications. They’re not just finding results; they’re actually using the datasets. Ultimately, this allows us to address fossil energy challenges more quickly."
EDX’s tools and features promote more efficient and meaningful knowledge sharing, technology development, and knowledge and technology transfer. EDX Search and EDX Contribute underpin much of EDX’s functionality. Within these resources, research teams can search for key datasets relevant to their project’s needs. With EDX Contribute, researchers can upload data products from their own projects as well as links to relevant authoritative data sources outside EDX that they believe would benefit other EDX users. With EDX Search, users can discover resources contributed by their peers. This tool also allows users to actively search select authoritative sources, such as NOAA, NASA, and DOI, helping focus quests for research-relevant data sources and better ensuring that users’ web-based searches are fruitful and relevant. EDX’s search and contribute functionality is the foundation for the system’s core philosophy of peer-to-peer sharing, coordination, and collaboration to support more efficient research.
Other EDX resources, including EDX Groups, EDX Portfolios, and EDX Tools, help organize information under different topical themes to assist EDX users with finding pertinent information. With EDX Groups, users can organize datasets by theme, for example Appalachian Basin Data Group. EDX Portfolios offer an overview of key NETL research and development programs, such as Unconventional Resources. EDX Portfolios also highlight data-driven products resulting from these efforts. Users can add data to EDX via the EDX Contribute function, and users can also discover these data via EDX Portfolios, Tools, Groups, and other areas within EDX. Data are put to use in EDX Tools—a suite of applications driven by data resulting from NETL projects. In addition, EDX’s search functionality streamlines the hunt for outside data and resources.
A Nexus of Knowledge
Scientists across NETL rely on EDX to collaborate with partners at university, industry, and other National Labs. Researchers in the Offshore Energy Resources team use EDX as they develop a scientific base for reducing and quantifying potential risks associated with exploration and production in offshore environments. The Offshore team includes collaborators from National Labs, academia, industry, and other government agencies. Another example is engineers from the National Risk Assessment Partnership—a multi-agency initiative among five National Labs—which is harnessing the breadth of capabilities across the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) into a mission-focused platform to develop a defensible, science-based quantitative methodology for determining risk profiles at CO2 storage sites.
As a system, the National Labs bring the best minds together to solve today’s energy problems. NETL’s EDX is a multi-faceted online research tool, and its capability for coordination and collaboration is facilitating and accelerating energy technology innovation. EDX bridges the gap between NETL and our outside researcher collaborators to efficiently, effectively address fossil energy challenges.