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Coal has helped power the nation for well over a century, but NETL researchers are beginning to find another use for this abundant energy source by developing advanced characterization techniques. Hidden within the black organic rock are tiny quantities of rare earth elements (REEs), and these special elements are widely used in high-tech products, including cell phones, computers, batteries, and lasers. REEs are of significant value to national security, energy independence, economic growth, and the country’s environmental future, but the United States currently imports most of its REE supply from off-shore countries.
Money graphic
A continuing challenge in most technology development is striking a careful balance between ways the technology stands to benefit society and whether the costs of that technology outweigh those perks. Recovering rare earth elements (REEs) from coal and coal by-products is no exception. REEs are a crucial component of many modern technologies, making them vital to national security and technological innovation. Currently, the global market is dominated by inexpensive off-shore production sources, but new, domestic sources would help to ensure U.S. security. Therefore, researchers must assess, through cost-benefit analysis, whether REEs can be separated and recovered from coal-based feedstocks in an economically feasible fashion. NETL is addressing these questions through the development and implementation of techno-economic analysis (TEA) models to evaluate the international REE market and to assess the economics of commercially producing REEs from existing conventional, novel, and advanced separation and recovery processes.
NETL NEWS
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) and the Office of Fossil Energy (FE) announced the selection of 5 projects to receive up to $15 million in funding to investigate wellbore integrity research subjects via a Lab Call announcement. This funding opportunity will address two topic areas: 1) Wellbore Diagnostics and Integrity assessment in legacy wells, and 2) Sensors and Tools for Autonomous Completions and Long Term Monitoring of Wellbore Integrity. The Lab Call is part of a larger effort to address technical challenges associated with operating in the subsurface. In response, DOE has established an integrated technology team that encompasses DOE offices involved in subsurface activities that are aligned with energy production/extraction, subsurface storage of energy and carbon dioxide, subsurface waste disposal and environmental remediation, as well as analysis associated with the subsurface.
VALUABLE RARE EARTH ELEMENTS
Coal powered the industries that created and transported products used by millions all over the world before other fuel options became more prevalent. By working on ways to extract rare earth elements (REEs) from coal and its by-products, NETL researchers are unlocking innovations that could once again make one of America’s most abundant natural resources part of the products people use every day. REEs are 17 elements found in the Earth’s crust that occur in low concentrations. Because of their unique chemical properties, REEs are essential components of technologies spanning a range of applications, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care, and national defense. Their unusual properties help make the best, strongest, and lightest magnets in the world that are used in products from ear buds to electric motors that power car windows and rearview mirrors. They also enhance light emissions making them integral in fluorescent lighting, computer screens, smartphones, and other every day products. In addition, REEs are important in making nearly every technology used in defense systems that protect the country.
Temperature contours from CFD simulation of a 300 bar oxycombustor.
NETL researchers are studying supercritical CO2 power cycles to improve thermal efficiency and alleviate adverse environmental impacts of using fossil fuels to generate power—work they hope will someday result in zero emissions and record-breaking efficiencies. This work features a special type of combustion known as oxyfuel combustion (or oxycombustion), in which oxygen rather than ambient air is used to combust fuel. The resulting flue gas is composed of highly concentrated, or supercritical, CO2.
Photos of researchers
Researchers and engineers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will join turbomachinery colleagues from around the world at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Turbo Expo, presented by the ASME International Gas Turbine Institute, to be held June 26–29, 2017, in Charlotte, N.C. This international conference and exposition brings together thousands of experts each year to share the latest in turbine technology, research, development, and application. Two NETL researchers, chemical engineer Dr. Stephen E. Zitney and mechanical engineer Eric Liese, will pick up an award at Turbo Expo 2017. Their paper, “Dynamic Model of a 10 MW Supercritical CO2Recompression Brayton Cycle,” was presented at Turbo Expo 2016 in Seoul, South Korea, and was chosen as a Best Paper by the Supercritical CO2 Power Cycles Committee. The paper was co-authored by Drs. Fabio Lambruschini and Alberto Traverso from the Thermochemical Power Group at the University of Genoa, Italy.
NETL NEWS
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the availability of $20 million for cost-shared oil and gas research projects to increase recovery efficiency from unconventional oil and gas wells and to prevent offshore spills and leaks.  This new funding opportunity seeks projects that will advance DOE’s objective to support a more environmentally responsible, secure, and resilient U.S. energy infrastructure, while enhancing economic competitiveness and national security. “This oil and gas research funding opportunity underscores the Department’s commitment to developing all of the nation’s energy resources,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Doug Hollett. “Increased efficiency and reliability of preventative and recovery measures promote our energy security, and contribute to making the United States energy dominant.”
CCSI and NRAP Logo
The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) – a ministerial-level initiative focused on the development of improved, cost-effective technologies for carbon capture and storage (CCS) – has recognized two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects led by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The selected projects are the National Risk Assessment Partnership (NRAP) and the Carbon Capture Stimulation Initiative (CCSI) along with its second phase, Carbon Capture Simulation for Industry Impact (CCSI2). NRAP is a multi-lab partnership developing a defensible, science-based methodology and platform for quantifying risk at carbon storage sites to guide decision making and risk management. Those efforts resulted in development of the internationally used NRAP Toolset, which was released for download last fall.   
START Lab Gas Turbine Test Bay
While gas turbines are integral to the propulsion of ships across the oceans and jets streaking through sky, many may not realize that these devices are responsible for producing vital electricity that helps powers our Nation. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is dedicated to ensuring our energy security, and developing and improving novel energy technology is part and parcel to its mission. Therefore, it’s no surprise that improving turbine performance is a core component of NETL’s Advanced Turbines Program, which seeks to develop next-generation turbine technology to accelerate performance, efficiency, and emissions reduction beyond the capabilities of current state-of-the-art systems.
NETL NEWS
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and National Energy Technology Laboratory today announced the availability of $12 million to advance new geological carbon storage projects that enable safe, cost-effective, and permanent geologic storage of carbon dioxide (CO2).  Two funding opportunity announcements (FOA), under FE’s Carbon Storage Program, will advance the development and validation of storage technologies associated with enhanced oil recovery operations or injection into a saline reservoir. Partnership for Offshore Carbon Storage Resources and Technology Development in the Gulf of Mexico ($8 million)