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University Training and Research

Preparing the next generation to meet future energy challenges

The University Training and Research (UTR) program comprises two long-running university training programs that prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers to meet future energy challenges. These are the University Coal Research (UCR) program and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority Institutions (HBCU-OMI) program. By working with students at the university level, the efforts ensure that key technologies in areas including advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, smart data analytics, and high-performance computing will be integrated into fossil plants of the future. This program upholds the DOE’s mission by supporting long-term, high-risk meritorious fundamental research that advances the science of coal technologies at eligible U.S. colleges and universities.

Since 2010, NETL has awarded 116 projects, a total of $39,800,000, through the University Training and Research program. A yearly breakdown is shown in Figure 1.

Awarded projects
Figure 1. Awarded Projects Since 2010.

In FY 2020, 143 students were affiliated with the University Training and Research program. Of these students, 60 were affiliated with the HBCU-OMI program and 83 were affiliated with the UCR program.

A yearly webinar outlines the program objectives and mission to help students and institutions gain an in-depth understanding of how to prepare and submit proposals. The program sponsors the education, training, and research capabilities in the fields of science and technology related to fossil energy resources. Annual Kickoff Meetings and Project Reviews allow for students to hone their presentation skills, demonstrating their own research, findings and status of all active projects.


The program provides a mechanism for cooperative research among minority-focused institutions, the private sector, and Federal agencies. The central thrust of the program is to generate fresh ideas and tap unique talent, define applicable fundamental scientific principles, and develop advanced concepts for generating new and improved technologies across the full spectrum of fossil energy R&D programs. Since its inception, the program has emphasized improving the energy and environmental capabilities of advanced coal, oil, gas, and environmental technology concepts. The program supports DOE’s Strategic Plan to advance domestic and global industrial competitiveness, clean energy research, national security, diversity initiatives, and environmental quality.

University Coal Research (UCR)

Since its inception in FY1979, the UCR Program has maintained three objectives, to be achieved simultaneously, which are: (1) sustain a national university program of research in energy and environmental science and engineering related to coal through innovative and fundamental investigations pertinent to coal conversion and utilization; (2) to maintain and upgrade the coal research capabilities and facilities of U.S. colleges and universities; and (3) to support the education and training of our next generation of scientists and engineers.

UCR Program Success
UCR Program Success


Historically, the involvement of professors and students has been an essential element in the success of the UCR Program. The participation of students is valuable because it serves to promote the influx of fresh ideas, and it ensures continued training of future scientists and engineers. Generally, four to seven competitively selected grants are awarded annually. In addition, each participating university is required to provide research education for at least one student. View New Projects in 2020!

Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority Institutions (HBCU-OMI)

Work conducted in this program enables segments of the college population, not typically tapped for educational research in these subject areas, to advance technical skills and provide a meaningful contribution to the Fossil Energy Program. Thus, grants awarded under this program are intended to maintain and upgrade educational, training, and research capabilities of HBCUs and OMIs in the fields of science and technology related to fossil energy resources. The key purpose of this program is to involve professors and students. Essential to the success of this program are (1) the collaborative involvement of HBCU-OMI professors and students along with the commercial sector; and (2) the establishment of linkages between the HBCU-OMI and private sector fossil energy community in the development and execution of fresh research ideas. Approximately three to four competitively selected grants are awarded annually. Each participating university is required to provide research education support for at least one student. View New Projects in 2020!

HBCU-OMI Success Map
HBCU-OMI Program Success.

Current Research Efforts

As of the third quarter of FY 2020, there are 30 active University Training and Research projects. These projects are the product of six different Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs).

The University Training and Research project portfolio spans a wide array of technologies. Half of the projects focus on sensors, controls, novel concepts, or cybersecurity research. These projects are part of the Crosscutting Research Sensors and Controls program. UTR projects in this program focus on five different research areas:

  • Advanced Sensors are being developed to optimize plant performance, increase plant reliability, and increase plant availability. Current work focuses on the development of passive wireless sensors for temperature and health monitoring, metal oxide nanomaterials for fiber optic sensor platforms, and active wireless microelectromechanical sensors.
  • Cybersecurity-focused projects explore emerging technologies such as blockchain and decentralized, peer-to-peer internet protocols for the purpose of securing process signal data and other information flows within distributed sensor networks for fossil-based power generation systems.
  • Data Analytics projects aim to develop novel, state of the art measurement techniques from non-traditional areas such as physical or biological sciences to determine both qualitatively and quantitatively the speciation and mass distribution of arsenic and selenium, both total and with valence states, as appropriate, within coal fly ash.
  • Distributed Intelligent Controls research is focused on creating advanced numerical methods for real-time modeling of energy components for the NETL HYPER cyber-physical system.
  • Robotics-based Inspection technologies are being developed as an improvement over current state-of-the-art inspection methods, which are time-consuming and, in some cases, not possible due to process and safety constraints.

The remaining half of the projects are performing research relevant to Crosscutting Research’s High Performance Materials, Water Management, or Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis programs. The High Performance Materials projects focus on two research areas:

  • Advanced Structural Materials are being researched through the development of experimental methods to reduce the time and cost of initial testing and screening of new alloys for high temperature, long service life fossil energy applications. In addition, novel high temperature carbide and boride ceramics are being designed and fabricated to support the development of electrodes for use in high temperature direct power extraction applications.
  • Computational Materials Design efforts aim to develop models to extrapolate creep life data to 300,000 hours of operation, enable high throughput ab-initio computations of multi-component alloy compositions at elevated temperatures, and employ advanced computational techniques to address the challenge of increased material deterioration due to a shift in operational mode from baseline steady state to cycling.

UTR projects that are part of the Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis program focus on two research areas:

  • Advanced Process Simulation-focused projects are developing insight into existing coal plant challenges and mitigation solutions using advanced modeling tools and leveraging high performance computing resources.
  • Multiphase Flow Science is an area in which NETL has world-class expertise. NETL developed Multiphase Flow with Interphase eXchanges (MFiX), which is a suite of multiphase computational fluid dynamics code. Work in this area is implementing a general framework in MFiX for radiative heat transfer in gas-solid reacting flows. 

Water Management projects are focusing on two research areas:

  • Energy Water Analysis studies are being conducted to evaluate the overall fate of coal contaminants from various control methods. The studies aim to optimize the ultimate fate of contaminants and minimize the cost and treatment energy required.
  • Treating Alternative Sources of Water such as brackish water and effluent streams offers opportunities for scientists to address energy-water system challenges. Research in this area includes the development of a sensor for continuous water quality monitoring and flue gas desulfurization wastewater treatment technologies.

Together, the projects within the University Training and Research program are educating the next generation of scientists and engineers and helping to advance innovative and fundamental research focused on coal-based, fossil energy resources.

Future Research Efforts

The National Energy Technology Laboratory released a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA; DE-FOA-0002398) soliciting projects for the University Training and Research Program. The FOA has these areas of interest:

  • Energy-Water Nexus Implications and Opportunities of a Hydrogen Economy will focus on evaluating water consumption and production of current and future hydrogen economy scenarios. Projects will seek to document a baseline understanding from which DOE and stakeholders could make investment decisions that take into account energy-water implications.
  • Electromagnetic Energy-Assisted Approaches to Convert Fossil Fuels to Low Cost Hydrogen seeks innovation in the use of alternative energy processes including microwave, radio frequency (RF), plasma, and other electromagnetic inputs for low cost hydrogen production from fossil fuels. Projects will focus on electromagnetic energy-assisted approaches that are applicable to a fossil-based feed process.
  • Process and Materials Co-optimization for the Production of Blue Hydrogen seek research that will develop and apply an integrated framework for co-optimization of processes and materials that leverage the capabilities of the Office of Fossil Energy’s Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy Systems (IDAES) Integrated Platform. The resulting optimization framework and modeling results will co-optimize both materials and process, taking into account the specific characteristics and integration opportunities of the chosen hydrogen production processes.
  • High-Temperature Materials Supply Chain will support materials research, development, testing, and validation to enhance the Nation’s materials supply chain. Enhancing American supply chains will lead to broader deployment of advanced materials enabling higher performance boilers, steam turbines, gas turbines, and novel energy conversion systems such as supercritical COpower cycles. Broader deployment of advanced fossil energy power generation technologies is a key objective of the Department of Energy as these improvements lead to lower electricity costs to consumers, maintaining highly reliable grid services, and improved environmental performance.
  • 5G Wireless Technologies will support fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology-based research and development projects related to fossil-based power generation that (1) conduct a paper-based assessment of 5G technology, and, (2) result in a laboratory-scale demonstration of a novel concept. These projects will help to answer outstanding questions concerning the true implications of this technology as applied to fossil energy generation.

FOA 2398 Project Selections Announcement

To sustain a healthy economy and remain competitive internationally, the United States will need a highly-skilled workforce, which includes competent and dedicated scientists, engineers, and managers in technical fields. It will need not only advanced technology markets, but also knowledge of and sensitivity for culturally diverse customers and business partners.

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NETL implements this effort as part of DOE’s Crosscutting Research Program.
Technology area contact:

Sydni Credle

HQ Program Manager:

Bhima Sastri