Features - March 2016

Scientific Strength: NETL’s Core Competencies


To create sensors that are capable of monitoring power plant operation within the high-temperature and harsh environments associated with advanced power systems, NETL researchers fabricate sensors using a novel crystal growth technique that reforms bulk high-temperature resistant materials, such as sapphire, into single-crystal optical fibers that have broader functional temperature ranges, increased durability, and reduced cost.

Charged with protecting and advancing the national, economic, and energy security of the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) serves an essential role in our Nation’s long-term energy strategy. One of the greatest tools the department has in pursuit of its mission is the system of National Laboratories that have acted as bastions of U.S. scientific innovation for over sixty years.

The National Laboratories are unique institutions designed to tackle some of the most critical challenges of our time—from researching the building blocks of matter to combating climate change. These tasks are complex and far-reaching; facing them requires some of the most talented scientific minds in the country and the development and maintenance of world-class research facilities.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is one of the 17 laboratories in the DOE system, and is entrusted with a very important mission—facilitating the most responsible and effective use of our Nation’s extensive fossil fuels resources. NETL’s mission has three enduring elements:

  • Effective resource development—advancing technologies that economically produce oil and gas to meet the world’s growing energy needs while protecting the environment for generations to come.
  • Efficient energy conversion—developing cleaner, cheaper, and smarter energy systems for the production of energy commodities by advancing clean fossil fuel conversion options.
  • Enduring environmental sustainability, accelerating development of transformative solutions for fossil fuel use that protect our air, land, and water. 

In pursuing these mission elements, NETL has developed six core competencies that place us in the forefront of global fossil energy research:


3-D rendering of NETL’s multi-cell array, used by NETL researchers to optimize reactions inside the cell to dramatically improve efficiency and performance of SOFCs, ultimately reducing their costs.

  • Materials Engineering & Manufacturing: Advanced energy systems require cutting-edge materials that can withstand high pressure, high-temperature, corrosive, or otherwise demanding service environments. NETL specializes in the design, development, and deployment of these materials.
  • Energy Conversion Engineering: NETL has a long history of developing energy conversion systems for the production of power, fuels, and chemicals from coal, and natural gas. Novel systems that can burn fossil fuels at very high efficiencies to generate electricity, and at the same time, capture CO2 emissions are one of the many systems being designed, built and tested in NETL labs and with our industry and academic partners.
  • Geological & Environmental Sciences: Many of the nation’s remaining fossil fuel resources can be found in challenging and unique locations, and NETL research is helping quantify the risk involved in efficient and environmentally safe gas and oil development. This same research is also being applied to the characterization of geologic systems, providing valuable data for CO2 storage and risk assessment partnerships.
  • Computational Science & Engineering: State-of-the-art computing facilities at NETL enable advanced computational capabilities and collaborative workspaces that researchers use to create cutting-edge modeling tools. Our powerful in-house supercomputer allows more researchers to run more simulations in much less time.


NETL is home to the Joule supercomputer, one of the world’s largest high-performance computers, along with advanced visualization labs serving the organization’s research and development needs.

  • Systems Engineering & Analysis: The discovery, design, and operation of energy systems benefit from systematic decision-making techniques for the often competing goals of maximizing profits, minimizing costs, and meeting environmental and technical restraints. NETL is working to accelerate deployment of these systems while ensuring the most efficient use of resources and technologies.
  • Program Execution & Integration: NETL’s Technology Development and Integration functions are powered by highly trained management experts that are effective technical mangers, communicators, and quality assurance analysts able to assess technical risks, assist with technical problem solving, and evaluate and manage risk.

These core competencies illustrate NETL’s essential role in the DOE system of National Laboratories. Our laboratory facilities enable the pursuit of our mission and speed the discovery, integration, and maturation of vital technological innovations. Through the development of these specialized areas of focus, NETL is helping to lead our Nation to a brighter, cleaner tomorrow.