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Coal Mats
As America’s energy landscape evolves, NETL is advancing emerging technologies that offer new economic opportunities for the nation’s most abundant domestic resource — coal. Converting coal to high-value carbon nanomaterials has the potential to reduce manufacturing costs and energy consumption while improving the performance of electronics, batteries, solar cells, cements, plastics and other in-demand consumer products. Carbon nanomaterials are tiny, carbon-based materials with unique properties that enhance the mechanical strength, optical properties, corrosion resistance, and thermal and electrical conductivity of materials. Traditionally derived from petroleum or graphite feedstocks, their use in commercial products has been limited largely due to high manufacturing costs and finite supplies. As an affordable alternative, NETL and its partners are developing simple, scalable methods to produce carbon nanomaterials from coal and coal byproducts.
Tim Skone
NETL Senior Environmental Engineer Timothy Skone was recently honored by the ACLCA for leadership in life cycle analysis (LCA) that exemplifies bold and forward-thinking initiatives that advance the implementation and application of LCA. The award was presented at the LCA XIX Awards dinner Sept. 25, 2019, in Tucson, Arizona. Skone, who has 21 years’ experience in energy analysis, was one of six award winners recognized as a “true catalyst in the field of LCA.”  Skone works in the Lab’s Systems Engineering and Analysis Directorate, where he leads life cycle analysis research with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy. Much of his work focuses on carbon utilization technologies, methane emissions from the natural gas value chain, alternative transportation fuels, and advanced power generation systems. He is the primary author on multiple natural gas and coal-related life cycle analyses published by DOE.
Development and commercialization of coal-derived carbon fiber composites to meet the needs of industries, improve the nation’s energy and environmental security and create new U.S. manufacturing jobs is the focus of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) stakeholders’ event underway today in Detroit and NETL experts are a key part of the discussions. Carbon fiber is a material composed of thin, strong crystalline filaments of carbon that can be thinner than a strand of human hair yet is five times stronger than steel and twice as stiff. Carbon fiber can be laid over a mold and coated in resin or plastic. It is a popular material in aerospace, automotive, military and recreational applications. In addition to its strength, carbon fiber is high in stiffness and tensile strength, has a low weight to strength ratio, has high chemical resistance, is temperature tolerant to excessive heat and has low thermal expansion.
Coal Mats
For generations, coal powered industries that created new jobs and helped supply light, heat and hot water to homes, hospitals, schools and businesses. But soon, people may associate the nation’s most abundant natural resource with a host of other uses from building materials and energy storage capabilities, to carbon composites and 3D printing materials. NETL experts are advancing those and other ideas through the Laboratory’s Coal Beneficiation Program and a dynamic new collaborative effort with universities and sister national laboratories known as the Consortium on Coal-based Carbon Materials Manufacturing (COAL MAT). Beneficiation is a term used to describe the treatment of raw materials like coal to improve physical or chemical properties so it can be used for new applications. Coal Beneficiation at NETL focuses on both enhancing the value of coal as a feedstock and developing new high-value products derived from coal. NETL’s John Rockey explained that research includes testing of laboratory- and pilot-scale technologies to produce upgraded coal feedstocks and additional revenue-producing products.
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The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and NETL have selected seven Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative) conceptual designs to receive $7 million and proceed with preliminary front-end engineering design (pre-FEED) studies. These designs have been selected from 13 conceptual design studies that were completed by 11 different recipients as part of the first phase of the effort. The DOE selected the designs as a part of its Coal FIRST initiative, which seeks to advance coal power generation beyond today’s state-of-the-art capabilities and make coal-fired power plants better adapted to the evolving electrical grid. Research and development resulting from this initiative will underpin coal-fired power plants that are capable of flexible operations to meet the needs of the evolving grid, use innovative cutting-edge components that improve efficiency and reduce emissions, provide resilient power to Americans, are small compared to today’s conventional utility-scale coal, and will transform how coal technologies are designed and manufactured.
An NETL review of corrosion sensing technology demonstrates the powerful potential of emerging applications to provide continuous real-time, in-situ monitoring of oil and natural gas infrastructure. This capability empowers industry to prevent pipeline leaks and failures, boosting infrastructure resilience and safety while mitigating unnecessary expenses that are often passed on to consumers via energy bills. The United States is home to roughly 400,000 miles of oil and natural gas pipelines, which transport vital fuels across the country to meet energy demands. Every inch is susceptible to corrosion, the natural deterioration of metal materials caused by chemical or electrochemical reactions with the environment. Corrosion leads to structural damage that costs billions of dollars each year; however, it’s challenging to detect during routine maintenance and inspections, and current state-of-the-art solutions typically involve periodic inspections rather than real-time monitoring. 
A new NETL study identified strong opportunities for global export of high-performance materials that are used in power plants and the aerospace industry – exports that could mean increased demand for U.S. goods and services and positive impacts for the U.S. economy. The report, “Assessing the Export Potential for High-Performance Materials,” examined the export potential and economic impacts resulting from both the primary and potential secondary applications of NETL high-performance materials (HPM) research. The research specifically assessed the potential international demand for HPMs in advanced ultra-supercritical (AUSC) and natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants, as well as the aerospace sector. The study estimated the potential economic impacts within the U.S. associated with estimated HPM exports in each market.
NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., will participate in a roundtable discussion at National Lab Day at the University of Toledo, which will be held Oct. 10-11 in Toledo, Ohio, to meet with other national laboratory directors and discuss NETL’s role in moving technology to society. Held each year, National Lab Day connects students and researchers with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories to offer unique scientific and technological capabilities that are often beyond the scope of academic and industrial institutions. NETL’s expertise in fossil energy research makes it a valuable resource for students and researchers in support of the Lab’s mission to produce technological solutions to America’s energy challenges. Anderson will convene with other laboratory directors to discuss the Lab’s recent accomplishments, future research goals and technology transfer challenges and solutions. Officials representing 15 DOE labs will be attending the event, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and more.
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A team of researchers from government, academia and industry used NETL’s advanced carbon storage estimation tool called CO2-SCREEN to assess the feasibility of a commercial-scale carbon dioxide (CO2) storage complex in the Northern Michigan Basin (NMB) that could safely and cost-effectively store carbon emissions from industrial operations in the region. Use of the tool was documented in the “International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control.”
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NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., discussed state-of-the-art energy R&D and his Lab’s work to meet the nation’s most important energy challenges with representatives from mining companies, power providers and other businesses that rely on lignite at the Lignite Energy Council Fall Conference Oct. 3, 2019, in Bismarck, North Dakota. Anderson delivered a keynote address focused on state-of-the-art energy R&D and scientific and technological initiatives related to fossil energy that bring together multidisciplinary teams to meet some of the nation’s most important energy challenges. The presentation, titled “Accelerating Breakthrough Innovation in Clean Coal Technologies,” highlighted NETL’s forward-looking research and technology development and the Lab’s team of world-renowned experts who are driving fossil energy innovation. Prior to the event, NETL hosted a program review workshop that covered a wide range of coal-related topics, including carbon capture, carbon storage, rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts, and high-value carbon products from coal.