Leveraging a Fossil-Focused Research Capability To Address National Issues
Alloy Fabrication Laboratory
At NETL’s Alloy Fabrication Facility in Albany, OR, researchers conduct DOE research projects to produce new alloys suited to a variety of applications, from gas turbines to medical stents. Once ingots have been shaped into plates, sheets, rods, or other forms at the lab, researchers can better characterize their properties and assess how they can be used in real-world settings. Most work done in the lab involves exposing alloys to intense heat. The lab’s equipment includes a 500-ton hydraulic press and a hot rolling mill. The alloys produced in the lab are highly resilient and may facilitate new energy technologies.
Contact: Jeffrey Hawk
NETL’s analytical laboratories in Pittsburgh, PA, and Albany, OR, give researchers access to the equipment they need to thoroughly study the properties of materials at very small scales. The Albany lab houses X-ray diffraction equipment, electron microscopes, a metallographic laboratory, and a complete analytical chemistry lab. It also enables scientists to conduct wavelength dispersive X-ray fluorescence and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy for chemical analysis. Researchers at the Albany lab can investigate materials on a micro scale in simulated environments on a micro scale. They can subject a material to thermal analysis to determine its melting temperature—crucial for assessing a material’s durability in hot environments, such as those found in power plants. Researchers can also use the Albany lab to discover the elements and compounds comprising a material, and if the material’s chemical composition is suited to various applications. The Pittsburgh lab has the only NETL facility capable of inductively coupled plasma optical emissions spectroscopy, used to perform trace-level elemental analyses. Ion chromatography and mercury analysis are also conducted at the Pittsburgh lab, as are thermogravimetric analysis (which can reveal the extent of a reaction or chemical kinetics) and proximate analysis (which can be used to determine how much ash a coal sample contains).
Contact Albany: Paul Turner
Contact Pittsburgh: Leslie Davis
Contact Morgantown: Randy Barnes
Chemical Looping Reactor
NETL's chemical looping reactor in Morgantown, WV, enables a high-temperature, integrated chemical-looping-combustion (CLC) process. During CLC, air does not come into direct contact with fuel. Instead, oxygen is delivered to the fuel via a solid material called an oxygen carrier. The flue gas generated by CLC consists of just carbon dioxide and water, making the carbon dioxide easily recoverable. Researchers are using NETL’s chemical looping reactor to overcome the technical barriers associated with CLC and make the technology less risky for investors. A non-reacting test unit is also used to study solids flow at ambient temperature. Because the reactor is so large, it provides data used to validate computational fluid-dynamics models, which hasten the scale-up of reactor units and make it more convenient to examine different reactor configurations.
Contact: George Richards
Engineered Natural Systems Laboratory
With its pressure vessels that simulate the pressures and temperatures found deep underground, NETL’s Engineered Natural Systems Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA, gives researchers a way to explore how subsurface formations would fare as carbon storage sites. The lab’s equipment makes it possible for researchers to accurately characterize geologic formations and predict how carbon dioxide will behave following underground injection. This knowledge helps scientist determine the rate at which carbon dioxide can be injected into a formation, how much the formation can hold, and how long it can keep it contained. The lab supports DOE’s core competency in science-based prediction for engineered natural systems. Not only does the lab provide information relevant to carbon storage, but it also aids researchers who are advancing the sciences of shale gas and ultra-deep offshore oil production.
Contact: George Guthrie
Fuels Processing Laboratory
NETL’s Fuels Processing Laboratory in Morgantown, WV, provides researchers with the equipment they need to thoroughly explore the catalytic issues associated with fossil fuel applications. There, scientists can synthesize catalysts, determine their characteristics and stability, learn how they can be poisoned or fouled, and glean other information about them. The lab houses a Fischer–Tropsch reactor (which is useful in turning solid fuels, such as coal, into gases) and two catalyst characterization units (which give researchers insight into the structure and chemistry of catalytic materials). The lab also includes two reforming test rigs and four bench-scale reactor systems. All of this equipment, and the analytical tools that accompany it, support innovations in how fossil energy sources are used, such as gasifying coal and biomass, removing sulfur from fuels, and turning natural gas into other valuable chemicals.
Contact: David Berry
Geological Services Laboratory
Researchers use computed tomography (CT) scanners at NETL’s Geological Services Laboratory in Morgantown, WV, to peer into geologic core samples to determine how liquids, solids, and gases flow through them. The lab’s three CT scanners—a medical CT scanner, an industrial CT scanner, and a micro CT scanner—serve different purposes. The medical scanner is useful for fluid-flooding evaluations and observations of sub-core bulk properties; the industrial scanner can portray pore networks; and the micro scanner analyzes pore surfaces. Researchers can also use the lab’s mobile core-logging unit to measure the physical properties of the samples. Moreover, the lab’s software (FLUENT and EarthVision) and visualization hardware provide both static and time-dependent data. The knowledge that researchers gain by using the lab has real-world applications. For instance, researchers can learn how carbon dioxide behaves in coal samples or how foamed cement holds up once it is injected into an offshore wellbore. Such insights are relevant to carbon sequestration and hydraulic fracturing.
Contact: George Guthrie
High Bay Reaction Chemistry & Engineering Laboratory
Researchers at NETL’s High Bay Reaction Chemistry and Engineering Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA, study gasification, a method for converting coal, natural gas, biomass, and other energy sources into their gaseous chemical building blocks, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen. Subjecting energy sources to the gasification process makes it easier to capture the carbon dioxide they emit. Researchers at the lab assess the durability of materials used in gasification, which must withstand the hot, contaminated environment associated with the process. Researchers also use the lab’s reactor to investigate how the gasification process changes when biomass is mixed with coal before gasification. They also develop membranes that separate the components of mixed-gas streams and use the lab’s equipment to test their resilience and performance over time in the face of high temperatures and contaminants. The research conducted at the lab advances novel ways to keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
Contact: Dirk Link
High Pressure Combustion Research Facility
At NETL's High-Pressure Combustion Research Facility in Morgantown, WV, researchers can investigate new high-pressure, high-temperature hydrogen turbine combustion concepts, using the facility’s dynamic gas turbine and simulation validation (“SimVal”) test rigs. The first simulates gas turbine conditions with acoustic feedback to help researchers better understand fluid flow and combustion variability. The second is an optical combustor that can achieve high flow rates, high pressures, and high temperatures (up to 700 degrees Kelvin)—conditions that are optimal for analyzing high-pressure combustion and validating fluid-dynamics models. Scientists conduct research at the facility that can make turbines more efficient, keep them in service longer, and address the role various fuels play in combustion and emissions issues. The facility also enables scientists to develop new sensors, thermal-management methods, and control capabilities to conserve fossil fuels and comply with future emissions standards.
Contact: Todd Sidwell or Douglas Straub
High-Pressure Immersion and Reactive Transport Laboratory
At the High-Pressure Immersion and Reactive Transport Laboratory in Albany, OR, NETL researchers study subsurface geologic systems that are good candidates for carbon dioxide storage. The lab’s facilities can re-create the conditions found 10,000 feet underground, which can help scientists model them to gain a better understanding of how geologic formations would fare as long-term carbon-dioxide-storage sites. The lab is equipped with autoclaves that allow researchers to perform experiments under high temperatures and pressures. These autoclaves shed light on the reactivity of solutions, geochemistry of shale gas environments, response of microbes exposed to carbon dioxide, and other topics. Based on results from research conducted in the lab, scientists can predict the conditions that will be encountered in engineered geologic systems. They can also accelerate the progress of carbon storage technologies.
Contact: Nicholas Heurta
Hybrid Performance Laboratory
NETL’s Hybrid Performance Laboratory in Morgantown, WV, focuses on hybrid systems that pair fuel cells with gas turbines. Combining fuel cells and turbines in unified systems can generate power more fuel-efficiently and with less environmental impact than either fuel cells or turbines alone. However, hybrid systems are more complex than their conventional counterparts, and they present a different set of issues. The lab couples simulations and physical hardware so that researchers can investigate a fully integrated system. Researchers use the lab to study the behavior of hybrid systems and observe the effects of new control strategies without actually having to implement new technologies. The Hybrid Performance Laboratory helps researchers gain insight into the use of hybrid systems to conserve resources and make fossil fuels more environmentally friendly.
Contact: David Tucker
Mechanical Testing Laboratory
NETL’s Mechanical Testing Laboratory in Albany, OR, helps researchers investigate materials that can withstand the heat and pressure commonly found in fossil energy systems. They use the lab’s state-of-the-art equipment to test the mechanical behavior and performance of materials—in particular, how much pressure it takes to compress them, how much they can be stretched before they break, how they behave in response to cyclical mechanical loads, and under what circumstances they become deformed. They also conduct impact testing to determine a material’s toughness when it experiences a sudden blow, and hot hardness testing to determine how hard a material remains under drastic heating. The knowledge gained from these experiments speeds the development of materials that are rugged enough to be used in the demanding environments associated with cutting-edge energy systems.
Contact: David Alman
Polymer Synthesis Laboratory
At NETL’s Polymer Synthesis Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA, scientists develop novel materials that can make carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) more affordable and effective. They explore how chemical compounds interact with carbon dioxide and determine which compounds show promise as CCS materials. The products produced by the lab include functional polymers and tailored ionic liquids. If a compound made at the lab performs well under bench-scale testing, researchers may then strategize how to produce it in larger quantities. Researchers not only synthesize chemicals at the lab, they also purify and subject them to rigorous analyses to verify that a synthetic reaction has gone according to plan, confirm the adequacy of a chemical purification, or parse the qualities of a newly invented compound.
Contact: David Luebke
Severe Environmental Corrosion Erosion Facility
NETL’s Severe Environment Corrosion Erosion Facility in Albany, OR, allows researchers to safely examine the performance of materials in highly corrosive or erosive settings. Research conducted at the facility supports NETL’s investigations into oxy-fuel combustion oxidation, refractory materials stability, and fuels. It also sheds light on how existing power plants, which subject materials to extremely harsh conditions, can best be upgraded. Materials are tested via exposure to conditions that mimic those found in power plants or gasifiers. Researchers can use the facility to conduct experiments at low or high temperatures, in pure- or mixed-gas environments, and in pure- or mixed-gas/liquid environments. The lab features a safety system that detects gas leaks both inside and outside of the lab’s six research modules, each of which can be exposed to 11 different gases (or dry air) at a researcher’s discretion.
Contact: David Alman
Simulation-Based Engineering User Center
NETL’s Simulation-Based Engineering User Center (SBEUC) was designed for performing engineering calculations that apply to fossil energy research. It houses one of the world’s largest supercomputers, the High-Performance Computer for Energy and the Environment, and also encompasses visualization centers in Morgantown, WV; Pittsburgh, PA; and Albany, OR. Researchers can use the SBEUC to model phenomena that are very difficult if not impossible to measure in real life. They can also run modeling tools at scales ranging from molecular-scale to entire power plants. The SBEUC makes it easier for researchers to collaborate, access enhanced visualization tools, and store and analyze data in order to overcome technical barriers to innovations in the energy industry.
Contact: Madhava Syamlal
Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Experimental Laboratory
NETL’s Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Experimental Laboratory in Morgantown, WV, gives researchers access to models and simulations that predict how solid oxide fuel cells will behave under certain conditions. Its test stands can subject fuel cells to demanding conditions (up to 1,000 degrees Celsius and 90 pounds per square inch gauge). The lab is also equipped for current-interrupt and spectral impedance analyses. Researchers at the lab explore how single fuel cells—or small stacks of them—perform; they investigate high-temperature fuel cells, assess how contaminants degrade them, and help develop sensors that measure their temperature, strain, and heat flux. They also invent new materials to advance the use of fuel cells in more applications as well as establish testing protocols. By enabling this body of research, the lab helps scientists support the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance Program, which strives to develop affordable fuel cell technologies that reduce the carbon emissions associated with producing power from coal.
Contact: Kirk Gerdes
Surface Science Laboratory
At the Surface Science Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA, NETL researchers view material surfaces on an atomic scale to better understand how they react when they are exposed to other substances. Researchers at the lab can even manipulate individual molecules or atoms, which is useful in determining the rate of a chemical reaction or observing how atoms move as a chemical reaction takes place. The lab can also be used to develop innovative sorbents, catalysts, metals, or alloys. The lab’s Omicron Surface Analysis and Imaging System is key to such discoveries. It houses several surface analysis and imaging tools in a single vacuum chamber, including those that enable scanning tunneling microscopy (which makes the atoms on a surface visible) and ion-scattering spectroscopy (which reveals the chemical and structural properties of a surface). Other techniques the system makes possible are X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, low-energy electron diffraction, auger electron spectroscopy, and atomic force microscopy. The knowledge gained by conducting experiments at the lab can hasten the arrival of new carbon-sequestration technologies, among others.
Contact: Christopher Matranga
Thermogravimetric Analysis Laboratory
At NETL’s Thermogravimetric Analysis Laboratory in Morgantown, WV, researchers study how chemical looping combustion (CLC) can be applied to fossil energy systems. During CLC, oxygen in the form of a solid material (called an oxygen carrier) is used rather than oxygen from the air. Because CLC produces just carbon dioxide and water—rather than the pollutants and greenhouse gases conventional combustion emits—it is a cleaner way to extract power from fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide emitted from CLC can be captured with relative ease. Researchers rely on the lab’s equipment to help them develop effective and affordable oxygen carriers and then subject them to rigorous testing to determine, among other things, their robustness and stability. Thermogravimetric analyses performed at the lab monitor the weight of oxygen carriers as a function of time, which enables scientists to evaluate how they react when they come into contact with fuel at combustion temperature. Oxygen carriers that successfully undergo increasingly large-scale tests may eventually be produced in large quantities and tested in NETL’s pilot-scale chemical looping reactor. The oxygen carriers developed in the lab can advance more widespread deployment of CLC.
Contact: Paul Turner
Water Tunnel Facility
NETL’s High-Pressure Water Tunnel Facility in Pittsburgh, PA, re-creates the conditions found 3,000 meters beneath the ocean’s surface, allowing scientists to study the chemistry, physics, and hydrodynamics of gas bubbles, liquid drops, and solid particles deep underwater. The lab was once used to investigate the fate of carbon dioxide released either intentionally or inadvertently in the ocean as a result of carbon sequestration activities. Now researchers use the lab to study the release of fluids from subsea hydrocarbon reservoirs. In this way, researchers can learn about offshore well accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well blowout in 2010. What sets the lab apart from similar facilities is that scientists can use a vertical countercurrent flow of water or seawater to keep an object (for instance, a bubble of methane) stabilized behind an observation window. The advanced video capabilities available at the lab give scientists incredibly detailed information about how an object of interest reacts in a deep-water environment.
Contact: George Guthrie