NETL Impact Magazine


Imagine being able to design and optimize an entire fossil-fuel power plant, from fuel processing, through energy conversion, to power distribution, and to include the integration of pollution control devices to assure near-zero emissions, without leaving your desk. At NETL, high-performance computing is bringing once-impossible opportunities and achievements to energy R&D.


Welcome to the first Impact, a new publication that introduces readers to some of the most vital and robust energy research and development focused on improving the lives of Americans through innovation.


Physical experimentation must focus on the specifics of implementation, but computer models enable discovery into an extended range of phenomena. NETL’s modeling capabilities are crucial to its work in areas like subsurface exploration, in which disparate data types must be integrated to provide insight and reduce uncertainties. NETL develops and uses models for enhanced recovery of resources such as oil and gas in shale formations, and geologic storage of substances including carbon dioxide, natural gas, and waste water.


The ability to adapt technology design early in the development process is critical to controlling costs and reducing risks. Innovative energy technologies face a lengthy journey from the laboratory bench through commercial deployment that could take up to 15 years for pre-deployment and another 20 to 30 years for widespread industrial-scale deployment. Additionally, it’s estimated that 75 percent of the cost of manufacturing occurs at the conceptual design stage. Computational modeling is the key to controlling costs and risks in a timely fashion.


Computational materials science enables researchers to predict the behavior of materials, and reduce the difficulty, time and expense of experimentation. Using advanced computing power and software, researchers are able to design, study, test, and optimize materials in a virtual setting. For NETL researchers, computational materials modeling is a powerful tool.


We may not always be aware of it, but uncertainty is a constant part of our lives. It figures into decisions as major as where to invest our retirement portfolios and as minor as if we should grab an umbrella on our way out the door.


Forging productive new partnerships involving academia, private industry and other federal research facilities that lead to new technologies for improving efficiencies in energy production is a specialty of NETL. The Laboratory’s Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CCSI) stands as a prime example. Through cooperative partnerships, CCSI and its next generation, CCSI2, produced a sophisticated toolset designed to disseminate computer simulation data for more efficient and cleaner fossil energy systems.


More affordable carbon capture technologies may be on the horizon, according to a recently published article in Chemical Engineering Research and Design. The article presents NETL’s design and development of a test unit that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) using amine-based solid sorbents rather than traditional liquid solvents.


The R&D 100 Awards are often referred to as the “Oscars of innovation.” For over 50 years, R&D Magazine, a publication dedicated to research and development efforts across the globe, has been recognizing excellence in technological innovations—honoring the efforts put forth by scientists and engineers and bolstering the success of new, ground-breaking technology. In 2016, NETL was the recipient of three individual R&D 100 Awards for innovations it discovered and developed that were judged by an independent panel to be among the most significant game-changing technologies of the year. These three award-winning innovations are just a few of the Laboratory’s initiatives, which seek to discover, integrate, and mature technologies that enhance the nation’s energy security and protect the environment for future generations.


Throughout history, people have yearned to know the future, and the reason is clear. Just as a farmer could greatly benefit from knowing which grains will grow and which will fail, an energy research laboratory like NETL could strategically plan its efforts based on an accurate forecast of which technologies may have the greatest impact on the future energy market.


Magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) power generation or direct power extraction (DPE) is a process to generate electrical energy directly from the products of fuel combustion without an intermediate mechanical device (dynamo). The electric power is produced from the interaction of the ionized fluid with an applied external magnetic field. MHD power generation systems could be more efficient than traditional fossil power systems, especially when a carbon capture system is integrated. Work will continue to improve accuracy and include the use of laser induced photoionization to increase the conductivity of the gas within a generator channel. The model developed at NETL will help engineers to predict and understand the behavior of such systems.


NETL’s research teams rely on the advanced capabilities presented by its world-class laboratory facilities. The Multiphase Flow Analysis Laboratory (MFAL) offers researchers unique opportunities for understanding complex multiphase flows encountered in energy applications.


When an advanced manufacturing (AM) process is considered for application to produce a part or subsystem, it typically is evaluated for performance and cost. For example, can the AM process produce the part at a lower cost, with better performance, and be delivered on schedule? Will the new part fit seamlessly into the existing supply chain or assembly process? Cost, performance, schedule and assembly are the criteria that must be considered when a “traditionally” manufactured part is replaced by a new part from an AM process. The magnitude of the criteria, and the trade-offs between them, must be established to evaluate the efficacy of the overall AM process. If the AM process improves all of those factors, then the decision is clear.


NETL wished a fond farewell to Dr. Cynthia Powell, long time director of the Lab’s research and development work. Dr. Powell retired as Executive Director of NETL’s Research & Innovation Center, with nearly 25 years of federal service, to take a leadership position with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. During her tenure at NETL, Dr. Powell served as the Lab’s first Deputy Director and Chief Technology Officer and created a robust environment for scientific and technical achievement benefitting the nation. Dr. Powell received a Secretary’s Appreciation Award for her efforts and is well regarded for imbuing the laboratory with her passion for collaborative technology discovery, development, and delivery. Dr. Powell received a B.S. and M.S. in ceramic sciences and engineering from Clemson University and earned her Ph.D. from Case Western University.


Each year, NETL hosts regional science bowl competitions in West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania to determine each state’s champion teams. Science Bowl is just one of many NETL educational outreach activities, but it draws numerous enthusiastic volunteers from across the sites. For 2017, competitions were held in conjunction with West Virginia University and the Community College of Allegheny County. Four teams were crowned victorious: Suncrest Middle School and Morgantown High School from West Virginia, and Winchester Thurston School and North Allegheny Intermediate High School from Pennsylvania. The teams earned an all-expenses paid trip to represent their states at the National Science Bowl in Washington D.C.