Features - April 2015

Global Challenges, Global Solutions: NETL’s CCS Expertise

Climate change doesn’t recognize borders on a map; the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is seen as a major contributor to a rise in the temperature of the Earth. Although some countries may be disproportionately affected, left unchecked, greenhouse gases will globally alter the environment, impacting everyone. Therefore, mitigation of this serious problem requires a global response.


A composite image of the Earth at night illuminates the global demand for power.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by at least 50 percent before 2050, or the consequences will be drastic. But the global demand for energy continues to rise. According to estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 83 percent of US energy demand was satisfied by fossil fuels in 2011. Projections indicate that in 2035, that number will still exceed 80 percent. Moreover, the EIA estimates that almost 95 percent of the coal-based CO2 emissions projected to be released from today through 2030 will originate from existing coal-based power plants.  A reduction of CO2 emissions through enhanced energy efficiency and increased renewable energy production is viable. However, considering how dependent our current energy infrastructure is on fossil fuels, we cannot expect the introduction of new forms of energy production to be adequate to solve the problem. Consequently, in the near term, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is one of the most promising options for large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions.


In the United States, the Department of Energy (DOE) has created a national network of partnerships and programs to develop and demonstrate technologies, inform regulators, and improve or build infrastructure in support of advancing CCS. To date, DOE’s CCS projects have captured and securely stored 10 million metric tons of CO2, which is equivalent to taking more than 2 million cars off the road for a year. Together, these projects are laying the groundwork for wide scale implementation of CCS technologies. With expertise in energy research from computational modeling to metallurgy, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is serving a vital role in the DOE’s mission to reduce CO2 emissions and help prevent the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

CCS-SorbentNETL scientist Ranjani Siriwardane working with CO2 sorbent in spectrometer. Good sorbents have a high CO2 capture capacity and are a promising technique for post-combustion capture.

Responsible for ensuring the availability of clean, abundant, low-cost domestic energy from coal, NETL is using a multi-disciplinary approach that leverages the expertise and knowledge of the laboratory’s outstanding scientists and engineers to tackle the challenge of climate change.  NETL’s CCS research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) program is being executed across four program areas: Carbon Capture, Carbon Storage, Advanced Energy Systems, and Crosscutting Technology Research.

NETL’s Carbon Capture program focuses on the development of post-combustion and pre-com­bustion CO2 capture technologies for new and existing power plants.  Post-combustion CO2 capture technologies are applicable to both new and existing conventional combustion-based power plants, while pre-combustion CO2 capture is applicable to gasification-based power generation systems.  RD&D is under­way to develop a variety of post- and pre-combustion capture systems including solvent-, sorbent-, and membrane-based CO2 capture technologies.  NETL currently has more than 30 active carbon capture projects across the country.

Carbon Storage research at NETLaddresses the safe, cost-effective, and permanent geologic storage of CO2. The technologies developed and large-volume injection tests conducted will benefit the existing and future fleet of fossil fuel power-generating facilities. The work conducted through this program will help develop the tools necessary to increase understanding of geologic reservoirs that are appropriate for CO2 storage and increase knowledge about the subsurface behavior of CO2.


In 2003, DOE awarded cooperative agreements to seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships (RCSPs). Tasked with determining the best geologic storage approaches and apply technologies to safely and permanently store CO2 for their specific regions, the RCSPs are led by NETL and comprised of state and local agencies, private companies, electric utilities, universities, and nonprofit organizations. Beyond the RCSPs, NETL is involved in more than 50 carbon storage research projects across the U.S.

Additionally, NETL also manages the National Carbon Sequestration Database and Geographic Information System (NATCARB). NATCARB is a geographic information tool developed to organize and enhance critical information about CO2 sources and develop the technology needed to access, query and model, analyze, display, and distribute CO2 storage resource data.

The Advanced Energy Systems program is focused on the development of the next generation of clean fossil fuel-based power systems. This new generation of technologies will overcome potential environmental barriers and meet projected environmental emission standards.

The Advanced Energy Systems program is composed of four technology areas. Gasification Systems research is focused on the conversion of coal into clean high-hydrogen synthesis gas (syngas) that can, in-turn, be converted into electricity with over 90 percent CCS. Advanced Combustion Systems research is focused on developing new high-temperature materials and the continued development of oxy-combustion technologies. Advanced Turbines research is focused on devel­oping advanced technology for the integral elec­tricity-generating components for both gasification and advanced combustion-based coal-fueled clean energy plants by providing advanced hydrogen-fueled turbines, supercriti­cal CO2-based power cycles and advanced steam turbines. And Solid Oxide Fuel Cells research is focused on developing low-cost, highly efficient solid oxide fuel cell power systems that are capable of simultaneously producing electric power from coal with carbon capture when integrated with coal gasification.

These three programs are united through NETL’s Crosscutting Technology Research program, which serves as a bridge between basic and applied research. The Crosscutting effort fosters research and development of instrumentation, sensors and controls, and high-performance materials targeted at enhancing the availability and reducing the cost of advanced power systems. This program also develops computation, simulation, and modeling tools focused on optimizing plant design and shortening developmental timelines, and addresses other crosscutting issues like plant optimization, environ­mental and technical/economic analysis, coal technology export, and integrated program support.

In addition to these programs, NETL also maintains a leadership role in two important CCS collaborations: the Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CCSI) and the National Risk Assessment Partnership (NRAP). Both of these partnerships unite the expertise of DOE’s national labs with industry, academia, and other government organizations. Led by NETL, CCSI is developing and deploying an advanced set of computational modeling and simulation tools geared toward accelerating the commercialization of carbon capture technologies. Many of these tools are already licensed to industry. NRAP is a DOE initiative that harnesses core capabilities developed across the National Laboratory complex in the science-based prediction of the critical behavior of engineered-natural systems. This NETL-led partnership is developing the tools and generating the science base needed to quantify and assess potential risks associated with various geologic carbon storage sites, while providing financiers and regulators information they need to more confidently invest in and approve full-scale CCS projects. Under NETL’s competent leadership, both of these collaborations have been tremendously successful.

NETL and the World

Because climate change is a global problem, it demands a global response.  That is why DOE participates in international efforts, bi-laterally and multi-laterally, to share CCS advancements and develop global climate abatement strategies. One such effort is the U.S.-China Fossil Energy Protocol.

The Protocol is designed to promote scientific and technological cooperation between the United States and China in the field of fossil energy. Through the Protocol, NETL’s Office of Research and Development has engaged in collaborative research with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to promote scientific and technological cooperation in the area of advanced coal-based energy systems. Much of the effort has focused on activities related to research and development, simulation, and technology transfer between the two countries.

CCS has a vital role to play in addressing climate change, and cooperative international partnerships are intrinsic to the rapid development and deployment of effective CCS technologies.