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NETL Researchers Cut Costs by Enhancing Gasifier Performance
NETL Reaction Engineering team member Jonathan Lekse, Ph.D.

NETL’s work with oxygen carrier technology is making waves in the alternative energy field.

The Lab’s material research is cutting costs while maximizing efficiency and contributing to America’s future in clean energy while working to mitigate environmental impact. Specifically, NETL is exercising its world-class expertise through the investigation of special materials known as metal oxides, which are important due to their unique properties and energy applications. These oxides can serve multiple purposes as oxygen carriers, which provide oxygen during gasification.

Gasification, a process that converts raw materials such as coal into syngas — a fuel gas composed primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen — at high temperatures, is highly valued for its ability to generate power with a low environmental impact. Because the fuel is converted to syngas, there is little to no CO2 emitted by gasification systems. The syngas produced in a gasifier can be easily converted into energy, value-added chemicals, hydrogen or transportation fuels for industry use. This allows a gasification system to provide heat, power or chemicals as needed with low carbon emissions.

Pure oxygen is helpful in maximizing the efficiency of this environmentally friendly technology. However, oxygen is both challenging to make and expensive to purchase. To alleviate this problem, researchers at NETL are working with different types of oxygen carriers that can be used to either produce pure oxygen streams to feed into gasifiers or directly oxygenate coal fuel during gasification. This eliminates the need to obtain oxygen from outside sources while still providing optimal operating conditions for energy production.

To determine the right oxygen carrier for the job, NETL’s researchers applied their expertise to design new oxygen carrier compositions with properties that are specifically tailored to deliver oxygen quickly and efficiently. By increasing the complexity of the chemical composition, NETL researchers can fine-tune specific properties, such as operating temperature and how fast oxygen is delivered. NETL researchers have identified several promising materials belonging to the perovskite family, which are inexpensive to produce and have demonstrated potential not only in gasification systems, but also for use in other energy technologies.

To date, NETL researchers have investigated dozens of unique perovskite compositions and identified several that appear to be the most beneficial in a standalone oxygen production model. To further this work, NETL is currently working with industrial partners to develop this technology for implementation.

“Perovskites are materials with a high degree of compositional flexibility that allows for tunable properties, including oxygen capacity and operating temperature range,” NETL Reaction Engineering team member Jonathan Lekse, Ph.D., said. “This makes them ideal for a wide range of applications. Because of their unique qualities, they can be very beneficial to gasification systems by providing oxygen to enhance the entire energy production process.”

NETL’s investigation into using a relatively inexpensive, multifunctional material that can quickly and efficiently provide oxygen for gasification systems both lowers costs and improves operation by creating optimal gasification conditions. NETL’s innovative solution to this challenge delivers upon the Lab’s mission to discover, integrate and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation.