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The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have issued a Request for Information (RFI) for strategies for improving or creating emission-reduction or utilization technologies for hazardous substances resulting from coal combustion. DOE is seeking information that may assist in formulating strategies for the reduction of hazardous materials and waste streams, including approaches involving containment and/or isolation.  Waste streams of interest include those affecting air, water, and solid waste (by-product) disposal areas.  DOE is also interested in learning about technological strategies to improve management of coal ash ponds, such as by-product management facilities, ponds, and landfills. Responses to this RFI should provide an understanding of the state of the art and the potential benefits from the next generation of emission-reduction technologies, including removal or containment strategies, and by-product utilization strategies, for current and future coal-fired utility and industrial applications in the following areas:
Medical X-ray machines use electromagnetic radiation — radiant energy with wavelengths shorter those produced by visible light — to gain information about what is happening inside the human body. Likewise, airport security checkpoints employ X-rays to examine the internal contents of travelers’ baggage. Similarly, NETL researchers are using powerful light sources at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities to enhance their fundamental understanding of rare earth elements (REEs) and their mysterious chemical bonds. In doing so, they hope to find a better way to optimize potential extraction of valuable REEs and other trace metals from rock, coal and coal combustion byproducts.
Chris Guenther and Yong Liu
In a cost-saving computer modeling effort, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) assisted in solving a critical technical issue at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU), preventing a long-term delay of start-up operations. IWTU is an Energy Department facility designed to treat 900,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste by heating and essentially drying it into a solid granular material for long-term storage. The heat required in this process is created by a piece of equipment called a denitration mineralization reformer (DMR), in which coal, steam, air and oxygen interact. Because this mixture contains multiple phases of matter (i.e., solids and gases), an understanding of multiphase flow is critical for design and troubleshooting. “NETL is a globally recognized leader in multiphase flow,” said NETL researcher Chris Guenther, who worked on the project. “So, when IWTU encountered an issue with their DMR, they called on the Lab’s expertise.”
Water Management
NETL technology research and innovation dedicated to more efficient energy-related water management approaches and recovery of heavy metals like lead and useful rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic water supplies are being highlighted by the Laboratory March 22 as part of its recognition of International World Water Day — a United Nations designated time for reflecting on the importance of water in daily life. World Water Day was established in 1993 to increase awareness and action dedicated to sustainably managing water resources.
Researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) are reporting positive results in development of new pre-combustion solvents that can capture carbon dioxide (CO2) more effectively and economically than state-of-the-art solvents now in use. A solvent is a liquid capable of dissolving another substance. For example, water is a solvent for salt. CO2 capture and storage from power generation is a critical component of strategies for preventing a further rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. However, current solvent technology could result in a prohibitive rise in the cost of energy production. NETL researchers have been searching for better solvents that can be more effective and economical than solvents now being used to capture CO2.
Power Plant
After 17 years of research involving NETL, industry partners, and a high-tech research group known as the AUSC Consortium, significant progress is being made toward scaling up the fabrication of components made from advanced nickel superalloys that will help bring advanced ultrasupercritical (AUSC) power plant technology to the level of readiness for commercial-scale demonstration. In the 1950s, coal-fired power plants operated at a then cutting-edge steam pressure of 2,400 psi and main steam temperatures of up to 538 degrees Celsius (C). They were known as “subcritical.” Increasing the pressure and temperature of a power plant can increase power plant efficiency, and by the end of the 20th century, new coal-fired power plants were designed for “supercritical” steam conditions where steam conditions and power plant efficiency were as high as 610 degrees C, 4300 psia and 41 percent. Further, increases in power plant efficiency continue to be sought to reduce the cost of power generation and carbon capture. A new generation of AUSC power plants is viewed as a promising way to attain those goals.
NETL experts used a suite of sophisticated data-gathering instruments at the Marcellus Shale Energy Environmental Laboratory (MSEEL) near Morgantown, West Virginia, to secure a greater understanding of emissions and dispersion rates of various compounds — geological and environmental systems research that could help avoid future adverse impacts on local and regional air quality where unconventional oil and gas activities are underway. By providing a complete understanding of the impacts of oil and gas development on regional air quality, the Laboratory can help ensure that development proceeds at a rate that protects the environment while ensuring an adequate domestic supply of oil and gas. Recent technological advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have made recovery of large quantities of natural gas in shale formations economically feasible. Production from shale gas and associated gas from tight oil plays in the United States is the largest contributor to natural gas production growth and is projected to account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. energy production by 2040.
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Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)  and NETL have announced up to $30 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development (R&D) for front-end engineering design (FEED) studies for carbon dioxide (CO2) capture systems. The projects, funded by the Office of Fossil Energy’s Carbon Capture program will support FEED studies for CO2 systems on both coal and natural gas power plants.  “With the Department’s ongoing investment in advanced carbon capture technologies, we will ensure that we can continue using our abundant domestic resources to power the Nation in a way that’s environmentally sound,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “Carbon capture plays an integral role in reducing emissions and safeguarding the environment, while simultaneously protecting our energy security.”
Carnegie Science Awards
Two of NETL’s innovative technological achievements have been selected to receive prestigious awards from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center. NETL’s global oil and gas infrastructure (GOGI) database won in the Innovation in Energy category, while the Lab’s permeability engineering through strain annealing technology won in the Advanced Manufacturing and Materials category. The honorees were announced at a VIP reception March 12, and the awards will be presented at a May 10 celebration.
NETL Director Brian Anderson joined a prestigious panel this week at CERAWeek, the world’s premier energy event, in Houston, Texas. Anderson spoke alongside three other national laboratory leaders at the five-day conference, which brought together 4,000 global industry leaders and policymakers from more than 75 countries to discuss a range of energy-related topics. The panel, called “Voices of Innovation: How innovative technologies emerge from DOE’s research — A dialogue with National Laboratory directors,” was hosted by DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul M. Dabbar, who serves as the principal advisor to the Department on fundamental energy research, energy technologies and science.   The panel, which also featured Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Zacharia and Brookhaven National Laboratory Director Doon Gibbs, was held under CERAWeek’s Innovation Agora agenda focused on the intersection of energy, technology and the innovative disruption transforming the industry. Anderson said the conference represented a unique opportunity for industry, government and society to exchange ideas, network and address the future of energy.