The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory — with sites in Anchorage, AK; Albany, OR; Morgantown, WV; and Pittsburgh, PA — that produces technological solutions to America's energy challenges. For more than 100 years, NETL — and its predecessor facilities — has advanced technology to provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy to the American people.

NETL tests and matures sensor and control systems that are operable in coal-fired power plants, that are capable of real-time measurements, and that improve overall plant efficiencies.

In 1999, NETL was designated as a DOE national laboratory with a mission to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation's energy foundation and protect the environment. As the only one of the DOE's 17 national labs that is both government-owned and -operated, NETL accelerates the development of technology solutions through strategic partnerships with academia, industry, and other research organizations.

Core Competencies

Computational Science & Engineering (CES). NETL's CSE Directorate develops science-based simulation models, mathematical methods and algorithms, and software tools required to address the technical barriers to the development of next-generation technologies. CSE works with other NETL directorates to generate information and understanding beyond the reach of experiments alone. Through the integration of experimental information and computational sciences, scientists and engineers can simulate variations more efficiently while saving time, money, and materials.

The CSE Directorate is organized into three research areas: 1) Computational Materials models materials at the atomic, molecular, and microstructural scales, enabling understanding of materials behavior and providing insight into subsequent materials development opportunities. 2) Computational Device Engineering develops multiphase computational fluid dynamics models for predicting the performance of fossil energy devices such as combustion reactors, gasifiers, emissions capture, and carbon dioxide capture units. 3) Data Analytics develops and uses data science methods to gain scientific insight from complex, high-dimensional, high-volume datasets from experiments and simulations conducted in support of energy technology development and is beginning to use machine learning to advance energy technology development.

A NETL group produced a software portfolio of physics-based modeling codes (MFiX Suite) to guide the design, operation, and troubleshooting of multiphase flow devices, with an emphasis on fossil fuel technologies. NETL, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, and the University of Colorado Boulder are conducting a multi-year effort to enable NETL's open-source MFiX code to run on exascale computers.

Joule 2.0 is a 5.62 PFLOP (one quadrillion floating-point operations per second) supercomputer that enables the numerical simulation of complex physical phenomena and provides computational throughput to run high-fidelity modeling tools at various scales ranging from molecules to devices to entire power plants and natural fuel reservoirs.

Computational design combines theory, computational modeling, advanced optimization, experiments, and industrial input to simulate complex advanced energy processes. This research develops accurate and timely computational models of complex reacting flows and components relevant to advanced power systems.

Energy Conversion Engineering. NETL has a long history of developing energy conversion systems for the production of power, fuels, and chemicals from coal, natural gas, and (more recently) integrated fossil fuel and renewable generation. Flexible power systems over a range of sizes will be needed to meet future energy demands as interests such as district heating and cooling, smaller grids, energy storage, and further integration with renewables emerge. NETL's new technologies enable low-carbon power production while optimizing environmental performance, water use, efficiency, and waste minimization.

Geological and Environmental Systems (GES). GES is a focus area of NETL's Research & Innovation Center (RIC) that tackles the challenge of clean energy production from fossil energy sources by focusing on the behavior of natural systems at both the Earth's surface and subsurface, including prediction, control, and monitoring of fluid flow in porous and fractured media. Efforts include the long-term storage of CO2, the environmentally sound production of the nation's conventional and unconventional fossil fuel resources, and the science needed to bring methane hydrates into the domestic natural gas resource base. SEQURE™, a tracer technology, uses non-toxic, chemically inert perfluorocarbon tracers to provide a verifiable way to fingerprint stored CO2, thereby giving an early indicator if CO2 is released from a storage reservoir.

Materials Engineering and Manufacturing. NETL designs, develops, and deploys advanced materials for use in energy applications and extreme service environments. NETL utilizes a suite of computational and experimental methods for translating new material science concepts into practical technologies. This competency is responsible for the development and implementation of a number of commercial technologies:

  • A corrosion-resistant refractory brick used in nearly all slagging gasifiers worldwide;

  • A computational method to optimize heat-treatments of large-scale casting from complex heat-resistant alloys — an enabling technology for manufacturing Advanced Ultra-Super-Critical steam turbines;

  • The BIAS class of regenerable, cross-linked, amine-silica sorbents that has been applied to removing pollutants (CO2) for flue gas stream, removing contaminants (such as lead) from water, and extracting rare earth elements (REEs) from power plant and coal processing by-products;

  • Alloy-based metal catalysts and electrochemical technologies that convert power plant waste streams such as CO2 into valuable fuels and chemicals;

  • Cathode infiltration technologies that increase the service lifetime of commercially available solid oxide fuel cell systems;

  • A radiopaque alloy for medical coronary stents; and

  • A multifunctional sorbent technology for contaminant removal in HVAC systems.

Functional materials development focuses on the design, synthesis, physical characterization, and performance testing of the nanomaterials, polymers, porous sorbents, ionic liquids, and electro-ceramics required for the next generation of carbon capture, gas separation, chemical looping, solid oxide fuel cell, chemical sensing, fuel processing, and carbon materials technologies. NETL also has capabilities for designing, developing, and prototyping magnetic alloys that improve the performance of power converters and the electrical grid.

Methane leak detection technology combines remote sensing and artificial intelligence capabilities in a system that can operate from an aerial platform — an approach that can more effectively help alleviate methane emissions from multiple operations in the natural gas industry.

Structural materials are being developed for use in extreme environments associated with combustion, turbine, gasification, drilling, and other applications. Research focuses on developing cost-effective materials that can withstand a combination of mechanical stress, and corrosive and erosive environments for upwards of 100,000 hours of service life. This is accomplished through improving existing alloys, designing new materials, and reducing manufacturing cost. Research also investigates corrosion, wear, hot-corrosion, oxidation, creep, and fatigue resistance.

Systems Engineering and Analysis. The discovery, design, and operation of energy systems benefit from systematic decision-making techniques for the goals of maximizing profits, minimizing costs, addressing market and policy drivers, and meeting environmental and technical constraints. To accomplish this, NETL researchers develop and use advanced models coupled with optimization and uncertainty quantification to support decision-making. Integration of computational and applied research provides insights to new technology, identifies new energy concepts, and analyzes energy system interaction at plant, regional, national, and global scales.

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the August, 2019 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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