Research Areas

Coal Beneficiation. The U.S. coal value chain can be extended by manufacturing carbon products directly from coal instead of using petrochemical or biomass feedstocks or by expanding markets for existing coal products. Coal beneficiation at NETL focuses on both enhancing the value of coal as a feedstock and developing new high-value products derived from coal. Coal can be used to manufacture high-value carbon products including carbon fiber, carbon additives for cements and structural composites, battery and electrode materials, carbon nanomaterials and composites, plastic composites, critical materials, coking process byproducts, and 3D printing materials.

High-Performance Materials. The high-performance materials program drives to characterize, produce, and certify cost-effective alloys and high-performance materials suitable for extreme environments found in fossil-based power-generation systems. NETL supports and catalyzes a domestic materials supply chain that prepares materials for Advanced Ultra-Supercritical Steam Cycles (AUSC) and spinoff applications. The Crosscutting Materials program works to accelerate the development of improved steels, superalloys, and other advanced alloys to address challenges of both the existing fleet and future power systems. Materials of interest include those that enable components and equipment to perform in the high-temperature, high-pressure, corrosive environments of an advanced energy system with specific emphasis on durability, availability, and cost both within and across the areas of computational materials design, advanced structural materials, functional materials for process performance, and advanced manufacturing.

A NETL-managed project with Colorado-based Sporian Microsystems produced smart temperature sensors that can operate up to 1800 °C as well as pressure sensors that operate at temperatures up to 1600 °C for improved performance in monitoring gas turbines, combustion systems, and more.

Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis. Simulation-based engineering focuses on developing and applying advanced computational tools at multiple scales: atomistic, device, process, grid, and market scales to accelerate development and deployment of fossil fuel technologies. Research provides the basis for the simulation of engineered devices and systems to better predict and optimize the performance of fossil fuel power-generating systems.

Computational design methods and concepts are required to significantly improve performance, reduce the costs of existing fossil energy power systems, and to enable the development of new system and capabilities such as advanced ultra-supercritical combustion and hydrogen turbines. This effort combines theory, computational modeling, advanced optimization, experiments, and industrial input to simulate complex advanced energy processes, resulting in virtual prototyping. This research develops accurate and timely computational models of complex reacting flows and components relevant to advanced power systems. Model development and refinement is achieved through in-house research and partnerships.

Sensors and Controls. Sensors and controls research improves fossil energy power generation with sensors, distributed intelligent control systems, and increased security. Advanced sensors and controls provide insights into optimizing plant performance and increasing plant reliability and availability. 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. This research area explores advances within, and the integration of technologies across harsh-environment sensors, robotic inspection, controls, and cyber-physical systems.

Sensor research investigates a range of advanced manufacturing techniques to determine the feasibility of embedding sensors with condition-based monitoring algorithms and the capability of operating in extreme environments into turbine blades, piping, and tubing to predict component failure, anticipate maintenance needs, and reduce plant downtime. Sensors and controls lead to improved infrastructure while reducing operations and maintenance costs. Research is helping determine optimal sensor placement, allowing for characteristic readings such as temperature, pressure, fluid composition, and the state of materials. The information informs operators of plant health and performance in real time.

Robotic technology is used in the power sector to improve offline inspections. Robots, ranging from drones to crawlers, have transformed the inspection and repair of plant equipment. These advances help prevent unplanned power outages, enabling lower costs and more frequent inspections, and improving performance and reliability for a renewed energy infrastructure.

Controls research advances the accuracy of physics-based and data analytics-driven distributed intelligence systems for process control and automation. Cyber-physical approaches are used at NETL to explore interactions of power-generation subsystems as well as to improve control of plant components.

Fuel Cells. Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) are electrochemical devices that convert chemical energy of a fuel and oxidant directly into electrical energy. Since SOFCs produce electricity through an electrochemical reaction and not through a combustion process, they are much more efficient and environmentally benign than conventional electric power generation processes. Their inherent characteristics make them uniquely suitable to address the environmental, climate change, and water concerns associated with fossil fuel based electric power generation.

Research is focused on the cell-related technologies critical to commercializing SOFC technology. The components of the SOFC — the anode, cathode, and electrolyte — are the primary research emphasis of this technology. Additional research projects include evaluation of contaminants, advanced materials, materials characterization, advanced manufacturing, and failure analysis. Other projects focus on interconnects and seals, identify and mitigate stack-related degradation, develop computational tools and models, and conduct laboratory- and bench-scale testing.

Water Management. This focus addresses water needs and challenges through models and analyses that are essential in informing and deciding priority technology R&D initiatives. Research covers increasing water efficiency and reuse, treatment of alternative sources of water, and energy-water analysis.

Using an array of high-tech microscopy and x-ray diffraction capabilities, NETL researchers are discovering, developing, and commercializing technologies that allow the rearrangement of carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules — processes that can help protect the environment by reducing CO2 emissions.


NETL's Raman Gas Analyzer provides real-time control of turbine machinery based on fuel composition. A cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Solar Turbines provided testing to help advance this technology toward commercialization. Its eventual implementation will enable more flexible operation of gas-fired power plants, creating clean, affordable power from domestic fuel sources.

Working in collaboration with partners at Carnegie Mellon University, NETL researchers have developed ionic liquids and polymers that provide a more efficient and economical process for CO2 capture. An ionic liquid solvent for aluminum electroplating process electrodeposits aluminum using standard equipment available in most electroplating shops. The process replaces coatings based on heavy metals, such as cadmium and chromium, which are expensive and toxic.

Jointly developed by NETL and Boston Scientific Corporation, a platinum/chromium alloy is the first austenitic stainless steel formulation to be produced for the coronary stent industry. With a significant concentration of platinum with high radiopacity, the alloy enables high visibility with x-ray scanning. Better visibility means greater ease and precision in placement of the stent inside the patient's blood vessel. In addition, the greater yield strength of the alloy allowed the stent's designers to make a thinner, more flexible stent that is more easily threaded through the winding path of the artery without doing damage along the way.

NETL developed a cost-effective method to make high-quality graphene from domestic coal feedstocks. The method makes graphene directly from domestic coal with the co-production of rare earth elements and distilled crude oil liquid.

A system and method were developed for detecting corrosion in natural gas pipelines using an optical platform or a wireless platform. A fiber-optic sensor network is capable of monitoring internal corrosion in the pipelines by realizing precise, localized, multi-parameter measurements of condensed water properties. Wireless sensors can also be used and provide low-cost, distributed point measurements. The wireless sensors can be placed at an arbitrary number of locations to best acquire information about the system being monitored.

Sensors for use in early detection and quantification of corrosion degradation eliminate concerns over use in environments with intense pressures, temperatures, and corrosive potential. The new sensing methods offer safety advantages and compatibility with scalable semiconductor-based manufacturing techniques. Additionally, the sensor platforms are capable of wireless and distributed early corrosion detection.

Optical sensors integrated with advanced sensing materials were developed for high-temperature embedded gas sensing applications. Optical sensor materials address process monitoring in harsh environments and at temperatures approaching 1,000 °C.

Technology Transfer

Technology transfer at NETL connects entrepreneurs, companies, universities, and others to move lab-developed technologies to commercialization. A number of current technologies are available for licensing.

For inquiries regarding licensing of available technologies or other tech transfer questions, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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