Features - November 2016

Fulfilling Our Promise: NETL’s Technology Transfer Efforts



At the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), research and development of energy technology is our bread and butter. Every day, our scientists, engineers, and researchers are at work, developing modern means of producing, transmitting, delivering, and using energy. From CO2-emission reductions to next-generation efficiency improvements, the scope of energy advancements we pursue is dizzying—and all in service of tackling one of the greatest challenges facing our modern world: making clean, abundant, affordable power supplies available to all people, worldwide.

Of the 17 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, NETL is one of three that address specific energy issues through applied R&D and the only DOE lab focused on fossil fuels. Our researchers conduct problem-based experimental and computational research, manage bench-through demonstration-scale technology development projects, and conduct system, technology, and trend analyses at all levels.

However, while NETL excels at creating innovative solutions to difficult problems, until our research is brought out of the laboratory, it cannot fulfill its promise. Technology transfer is the process of taking new technologies off the research bench and propelling them into the marketplace—so an invention may benefit the greatest number of people as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s why NETL’s technology transfer is so important.

On the organizational level, NETL’s inventions and expertise help businesses grow through new or improved product offerings, increased system efficiencies, cost savings, and enhanced research. On a national scale, technology transfer helps speed the commercial adoption of DOE-funded research to solve energy and environmental issues, and sometimes issues faced outside the energy industry. Internationally, the transfer of our work is helping address the environmental impacts of using fossil fuels without raising costs or limiting supplies, particularly in developing nations.

Recently, NETL had the privilege of participating in the 5th Annual TransTech Energy Business Development Conference. Because energy technologies are constantly in flux as researchers around the world work to improve them—striving to balance the demand for energy with the limits of efficiency and sustainability—fostering transfer is a vital step in driving progress and innovation. The goal of the TransTech Energy Business Development Conference was to promote investment in new companies and commercializable projects that can provide solutions to energy, environmental, and economic development challenges.
NETL was able to highlight some of our exciting technologies that are ripe for licensing and collaborative partnership (from research and development to implementation in industry):

  • Chemical looping combustion (CLC) is a promising technique for coal-derived energy production, notable for producing a highly concentrated stream of carbon dioxide (CO2)—a trait that streamlines carbon capture efforts. However, to work properly CLC depends on efficient oxygen carriers. To meet this challenge, researchers at NETL developed a cost effective method to produce robust, metal-based oxygen carriers that perform better than traditional carriers. This technology is available for licensing from and/or further collaborative research with NETL.
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    NETL has developed a unique laser system for environmental monitoring.
    While exploring the extent of our natural, domestic oil and gas resources, it is vital to perform detailed environmental monitoring. Most monitoring technology is expensive and onerous to use—often unable to withstand harsh environmental conditions. Researchers at NETL have developed a unique laser system capable of operating under extreme temperatures and pressures, making it ideal for monitoring carbon dioxide storage, oil and gas exploration, and even municipal water treatment facilities. This technology is available for licensing from and/or further collaborative research with NETL.
  • BIAS sorbents demonstrate high CO2 capture capacity and are thermally stable making them ideal for capturing CO2 from power plants that use fossil fuels. The new sorbent will play a key role in reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, which are associated with global warming. However, to fully realize BIAS’s potential, the sorbent needs to be in a more usable form for large scale commercial use. Meeting this challenge, researchers at NETL have developed a low cost process to pelletized BIAS sorbents. The novel process results in a sorbent that is mechanical strong, stable, and has a high capacity for capturing CO2. This technology is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research from NETL.
  • Kicks provide the first indication that a well is becoming unstable. A kick arises from changes in the intra-borehole environment related to the influx of fluids, water, gas, or oil. If not properly monitored and adjusted for, they can cause the well to become underbalanced. Failure to regain control of the drilling process, can result in a well blowout leading to sever environmental damage. Harvesting natural gas and oil in an environmentally responsible manner led NETL researchers to develop a new monitoring system that will provide drilling operations with an early warning system to rapidly identify kicks. Use of the system will result in improved safety, reduced operational costs, and lessen the likelihood of a well blowout during drilling operations. This technology is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research from NETL.
  • REEs are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs have become essential components of many technologies that we use in our everyday lives, like your smart phone! The demand for REEs continues to grow, creating a need for economically feasible approaches for REE recovery from nontraditional sources. NETL’s new, portable fiber optic-based sensor provides rapid, accurate, and highly sensitive detection of REEs in coal and coal by-products. Compared to conventionally used technology, the novel sensor represents a more affordable and field ready option for REE detection. This technology is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research from NETL.