engineering applications

Exploration & Discovery

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.

Life Cycle Analysis

NETL uses life cycle analysis (LCA) as a tool and framework for evaluating energy technology and policy options on a common basis. LCA includes the environmental burdens of converting fuel to useful energy, infrastructure construction, extraction and transport of fuel, and transporting the final energy product to the end user. NETL’s LCA method also includes life cycle costing, which applies cost metrics between the same boundaries as these environmental models. NETL has applied LCA to fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy systems that produce electricity and liquid fuels. Products of these modeling efforts include both detailed reports and dynamic software tools.

Risk Assessment & Management

Uncertainties and risks go hand-in-hand with new technology development, and some risks can be severe, as recent experience with the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform illustrates. Accordingly, risk assessment and management have emerged as engineering practices, and NETL is prominently engaged in their development. Two examples are the NETL-led National Risk Assessment Partnership—a multi-national laboratory effort to develop a critical science base and predictive tools that can be applied to risk assessment for long-term storage of carbon dioxide, and Offshore Integrated Assessment Modeling (IAM)—a suite of eight custom tools that model risks involved in oil and gas in the offshore environment.

Operations & Controls

NETL’s unique Hybrid Performance (HyPer) facility enables the study of controls and architecture for hybrid fuel cell/gas turbine systems in a simulated environment. Combining fuel cells and turbines in unified systems can generate power with greater fuel efficiency and less environmental impact than either fuel cells or turbines alone. Controlling the flow of power from both the fuel cell and turbine during load changes is more complicated than in conventional power systems. HyPer couples simulations and physical hardware so that researchers can investigate a fully integrated system, designing components and testing and optimizing control strategies to maximize fuel efficiency and performance.

Technology Design & Optimization

NETL’s wide-ranging simulation capabilities are used for energy technology design across all areas of fossil energy research, from development of materials able to withstand the high temperatures and pressures needed for highly efficient, ultra-supercritical coal power plants and hydrogen-fueled turbines to design of hybrid fuel cell/gas turbine power plants.


High-Performance Computing

NETL hosts several high-performance computing facilities, among them the Morgantown, WV, Simulation-Based Engineering User Center with its 503 teraflops supercomputer, Joule; visualization centers at Albany Oregon; Morgantown, and Pittsburgh sites; and GAIA, the Geoscience Analysis, Interpretation & Assessments multiuser facilities. These facilities provide a range of hardware capabilities on which to build and run computationally intensive simulations.


Comparisons of alternative pathways—including demand, requirements, use, and costs—and what-if analyses support technology optimization on a range of investigations, from simple components to complex systems. For example, forecasting coal use in coming decades, supports planning for longer-term eventualities. Other comparisons underlie prediction of recovery of rare earth elements from coal byproducts and exploration of diverse means to do so.


Exploration of multiple options and forecasting is important in planning and policymaking for both R&D and technology implementation, where technical concerns such as the efficiency of a prospective process join concerns about systems integration, costs, and environmental consequences. NETL’s simulation capabilities for analysis of processes, systems, and markets extend simulation-based engineering to technology development and adoption processes.