Director's Corner

Release Date: October 12, 2017

Commemorating 40 Years of Innovation


When he visited NETL, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry described our Laboratory as “a fascinating place to work” and remarked that he is “continually amazed at what goes on at our National Labs.” He added that “as a country, we thrive off innovation…and the Department of Energy embodies that innovation.”

I couldn’t agree more with those statements. Now, as the U.S. Department of Energy observes its 40th anniversary, it is clear that NETL has had a lot to do with those four decades of success.

Since joining DOE, NETL and our predecessor organizations have solved some of the most pressing environmental issues and we’ve innovated technologies that were years ahead of their time, making them ready for use when they were urgently needed. Together, DOE and NETL have steadily advanced affordable, domestic energy production with energy technology options. Here are few highlights of our shared past:

As DOE took the helm of energy leadership in the late 1970s, NETL was innovating technology drivers for shale gas production. Directional drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and high-efficiency “down hole” tool advancements were pioneered by researchers from our predecessor organizations. These technologies all contributed to the increased shale gas production that has helped provide a healthy boost to the Appalachian economy and other areas.

In the 1980s, DOE researchers at NETL’s predecessor organizations took on the most formidable environmental challenge of that decade: acid rain. Researchers developed scrubbers to clean sulfur dioxide from power plant exhaust and special burners to limit the amount of nitrous oxides produced. The technologies effectively mitigated the pollutants causing acid rain.

In the 1990s, the fluidized bed coal combustor—a technology developed through NETL research programs—was named “the [power generation] commercial success” of the last decade. The technology generated more than $6 billion in domestic and $3 billion in international sales. Fluidized bed coal combustors are just one of the energy innovation successes NETL developed as part of DOE.

NETL officially became DOE’s 15th National Laboratory in 1999.

In the early 2000s, our nation’s coal-fired power plants achieved a 50-70 percent cost reduction in mercury control thanks to technologies developed as part of DOE-NETL’s Mercury Control Program. The premier technology to come out of this program was activated carbon injection, which can remove 85-95 percent of the mercury in flue gas at a fraction of the cost before the program. NETL also achieved noteworthy success in an unexpected technology area: coronary stents. Working with Boston Scientific, NETL developed a unique platinum-chromium alloy for making a stronger, more flexible, highly corrosion resistant stent capable of saving lives.

Today, we continue to develop impressive technologies that enhance our nation’s energy foundation while protecting the environment for future generations. For example, we are:

  • Designing high-temperature materials that can be used in the extreme environments of cleaner and more efficient advanced energy systems
  • Inventing sensors and controls that enhance the performance of power plants and our electric grid
  • Advancing affordable carbon capture technologies that reduce emissions and use captured CO2 to increase domestic oil production from depleted oil fields and
  • Developing technologies for more effective and efficient extraction of domestic oil and gas.
  • Delivering expert program planning and implementation expertise covering research from fundamental stages through major demonstrations
  • Partnering in all these efforts across the public and private sectors of America

The men and women of our Laboratory are proud to serve as the United States’ National Energy Technology Laboratory."

These are just a few of the energy issues we’re addressing in our drive to become the nation’s renowned fossil-energy science and engineering resource, delivering world-class technology solutions today and tomorrow.

Under DOE leadership, NETL has achieved remarkable success in developing innovations to protect our environment, enhance our energy independence, and power our nation’s prosperity. I am proud to be a part of this legacy of excellence in innovation. It’s been a remarkable 40 years, and I look forward to participating with my NETL and DOE colleagues as we continue to make history.

NETL Celebrates 40 Years with the DOE

As Acting Director of NETL, Sean I. Plasynski, Ph.D., builds on an extensive background in energy as he leads NETL in its mission to enhance the nation’s energy independence and protect the environment for future generations. For more information about Sean Plasynski's experience, please click here.