As the nation’s energy sector moves toward an emissions-free future, fuel flexibility and successful integration of renewable resources will be more important than ever in designing the next generation of power plants. NETL research in energy conversion engineering (ECE) is enabling researchers to understand what will comprise the advanced energy systems of tomorrow, pioneering innovation in low-carbon power production to meet the Biden Administration’s goals of a net-zero emissions power sector by 2035 and broader economy by 2050.
Throughout 2021, the Lab’s ECE researchers saw success in using microwaves to unearth the potential of several materials of interest. These efforts will continue to benefit the nation’s energy landscape in the new year.
A microwave ammonia synthesis (MAS) process developed by NETL in partnership with West Virginia University and Malachite Technologies was nominated for a prestigious R&D 100 Award, which recognizes the top 100 revolutionary ideas in science and technology each year. The novel MAS process is highly efficient in producing ammonia, which is widely used in the fertilizer market. The process is not dependent on a continuous supply of power and is able to run solely off renewable sources, which allows for increased flexibility for ammonia producers. The highly successful technology was the recipient of an IChemE Global Award in the Research Project category in 2020.
Additionally, Lab experts used microwaves to advance the gasification of carbon materials to produce syngas and other valuable products. Microwaves are beneficial because they are able to heat only selected areas of a material to a desired temperature, which minimizes startup and shutdown times and reduces overall energy consumption. In their research, NETL scientists learned that microwave gasification produced significantly more syngas than conventional thermal gasification while reducing overall energy consumption. This breakthrough significantly cuts costs and reduces energy requirements while achieving higher yields.
Looking ahead, NETL has established microwave (mWave) technology as a key lab initiative. The Lab continues to conduct studies surrounding microwave reaction chemistry to better understand this technology and predictably model it for commercial uses. These efforts will significantly improve the energy efficiency of industrial processes, which contributes to a less carbon-dependent future.
NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.