NETL performs onsite R&D in support of its technology lines and for external government and industry customers. In addition, NETL onsite research pursues knowledge, science, and technology of interest to industry and society for which NETL has received numerous licensable patents. NETL onsite R&D helps industrial and academic partners solve problems that would otherwise become barriers to commercializing power systems, fuels, and environmental and waste management technologies. NETL uses a variety of partnership mechanisms to conduct R&D with academic and private-sector organizations on work of mutual interest.
The Office of Research and Development (ORD)
, provides DOE's Fossil Energy R&D program an onsite "corporate laboratory" at NETL. The onsite R&D efforts utilize state-of-the-art capabilities and facilities
in Morgantown, WV; Pittsburgh, PA; Albany, OR. About one-quarter of NETL's approximately 1,100 Federal and contractor employees are involved with onsite research activity. Because NETL is DOE's only government-owned, government-operated (GOGO) national laboratory, the onsite research program has a core group of about 150 Federal scientists and engineers. Supplemental site support comes from contractors who are selected through a competitive process, as well as research fellows and associates at the faculty, postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate levels.
NETL onsite research provides:
- A flexible, focused research effort that addresses national fossil energy R&D needs
- Impartial evaluation of new concepts and materials and expert authoritative review of external R&D proposals
- A venue for universities, other Federal agencies (e.g., DOD, NASA), and other research organizations to participate in collaborative research
- In-depth expertise in technologies and research methodologies for program planning and management purposes
- Hands-on fossil energy technology training for experienced postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, visiting professors, and undergraduate students
- A wide-ranging set of university-supported projects on fossil energy research issues.
Onsite research conducted at NETL makes significant contributions in addressing key energy and environmental issues, including secure and reliable energy, future roles for hydrogen, clean power generation from coal, global climate change, and critical infrastructure assurance.
Research Focus Areas
Onsite research is conducted in four primary focus areas:
- Computational and Basic Sciences integrates physical and chemical experimental research with computational sciences as the preferred method for understanding and developing technologies, advanced materials, and multi-scale energy systems ranging from the molecular-scale to device-scale to plant-scale.
- Energy System Dynamics conceives, analyzes, and develops pre-commercial energy technology that minimizes the environmental impact of fossil fuel use, and maximizes reliable use of domestic energy sources and infrastructure.
- Geological and Environmental Sciences conducts research into minimization and abatement of environmental problems associated with the development and use of fossil fuels. Research concentrates on geological sequestration of carbon dioxide, oil and gas exploration and production, air pollution/particulate matter issues, and removal of toxins from emissions from coal utilization systems.
- Materials Science specializes in formulating, characterizing, and/or melting of most metals, alloys, and ceramics; casting and fabrication, prototype development; and the recycle and remediation of waste streams associated with these processes. NETL is one of the few places in the world where alloy development, melting, casting, fabrication, physical and chemical analyses and performance testing (wear, erosion, and various forms of corrosion) can be performed in one place.
Criteria for Onsite and Extramural Research
In establishing research focus areas for onsite research, NETL considers whether the broad research topic is consistent with NETL’s mission, matches the core competencies of the laboratory, and is a long-range issue suitable for dedication of NETL researchers and facilities. R&D will be conducted by the onsite organization if:
- The research involves a long-range issue central to continuing fossil energy programs
- It crosscuts multiple fossil energy programs or projects
- The work is small in scale or pre-commercial (not demonstration or commercial scale)
- It is a good match to the core competencies of the Laboratory
- The Laboratory was involved in early development of the topic
- The Laboratory holds an intellectual property position.
R&D may be procured from an extramural source if:
- Near-term commercialization is planned
- An industrial “champion” is necessary at the current stage of work
- The work is important to only one potential commercial technology
- The work is pilot-scale or larger
- The work relies on known external capabilities
- An outside organization holds an intellectual property position on the technology
- The topic or problem area needs specialized expertise or facilities at one or more of DOE’s contractor-operated national laboratories (e.g., specialized materials, high-energy light sources, etc.).
To maintain a high level of quality and relevance for onsite research, NETL conducts a comprehensive peer review program. Typically, teams of more than 30 external science and technology experts review nearly 50 proposed research projects. The reviewers include members from industry, universities, other DOE national laboratories, other Federal agencies and laboratories, and DOE Office of Fossil Energy headquarters. NETL Technology Management staff selects the reviewers and participates in the reviews and follow up. Following the reviews, ORD management revises the research objectives to address review comments. The revised objectives are then sent for a review by Technology Management staff. In this way, external experts make recommendations, but final decisions as to funding of research topics are made by NETL Federal staff.