Director's Corner

Release Date: July 05, 2018

Leading-Edge Energy Research with Lasers and Laser Sensing


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From an obscure theory to laboratory experiments to practical use in industry, operating rooms, and even outer space, lasers have become a ubiquitous technology device. At NETL, researchers use lasers in a variety of applications in a mission to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations.

Lasers have been the hallmark tool of space-age innovation ever since they burst onto the public scene mostly through movies and TV in the 1960s. Whether in the hands of super spy villains or sci-fi heroes, lasers captured the public’s imagination.
But, lasers are much more than the stuff of tall tales. They have come to represent cutting-edge devices that bring efficiency and precision to many industries. Lasers are used to cut, weld, mark, engrave, measure, and even perform delicate surgeries. In additive manufacturing, lasers cut costs by enabling mechanical repairs and product coatings, avoiding the need for machining expensive new parts. Lasers are useful in range finding, heat treating, communications, and lighting.

Lasers play a key role for researchers at NETL who use them in a variety of energy research. For example, using lasers, fluid mechanics and combustion processes can be studied without disturbing the functioning systems. Lasers can also collect data that is vital in enhancing reliability and improving efficiency of power generating technologies and selectively add energy to catalysts, triggering processes to make chemicals, fuels, and more.

In addition, today’s energy systems rely on sensors and controls to monitor plant conditions and provide real-time data on plant health and resiliency. Lasers are powerful assets when incorporated into sensors, and NETL is developing several technologies in this area. In gas sensing, for example, methane can be detected with lasers by the light it emits, which is unique to methane and identifies it from surrounding gas species.

There are many more NETL innovations that owe their success to the effective use of laser technology. You can read more about those innovations this month in our NETL newsroom.


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.