NETL Achievements Point to Bright Future For Fossil Energy

By Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

As we look toward autumn and a new fiscal year, we look forward to building on a summer of accomplishment. Throughout the recent months, NETL remained steadfast in our commitment to innovation and developing technology solutions to the nation’s energy challenges. I’d like to share a few of our recent achievements with you.

  • In an NETL-supported project with Wayne State University, researchers used a newly developed sorbent and a process previously developed for nuclear applications to produce an economically viable concentration of rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic coal fly ash, signaling an important step toward commercialization. The project demonstrates that technologies being developed to obtain REEs from coal-based resources can help the nation develop its own REE feedstock.
  • NETL and partners University of Alaska Fairbanks and Hilcorp Alaska LLC working on Alaska’s North Slope reached a major research milestone in the development of technology that could unlock access to significant resources of thick oil trapped in Arctic oil fields. Injection of a benign polymer fluid to produce heavy oil from the Milne Point Field of Prudhoe Bay began in August 2018 as part of an NETL-supported field test. Two years later, the technology has not only demonstrated the ability to extract heavy oil, it also offers a promising solution to address production issues that have challenged energy companies working in the harsh Alaskan environment.
  • Making offshore production safer is a key goal of NETL research, and tools within the Lab’s award-winning Offshore Risk Modeling suite are being used around the world to understand predominant ocean current and wind patterns. Researchers are using this information to improve safety measures in hydrocarbon exploration efforts, as well as to predict and prevent oil spills worldwide.
  • NETL researchers developed a guide for optimized operation of a first-of-its-kind testing facility to develop next-generation power plants. The team outlined process control models and operating strategies for the new Supercritical Transformational Electric Power pilot plan, which is designed to test the use of supercritical carbon dioxide as the working fluid for advanced power generation stations. If successful, testing at this facility will provide a pathway to lower the cost of electricity, shrink the environmental and physical footprint of power generation systems and conserve water.
  • NETL research contributed toward potential new jobs, products and markets in coal. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are using advanced coal-based nanomaterials created by NETL to fabricate an advanced type of computer memory chip with improved energy consumption, processing speeds, durability and reduced manufacturing costs. The partnership is opening new commercialization opportunities for coal in high-tech industries and rapidly accelerating fields like artificial intelligence and big data.
  • An NETL-supported project with Oceanit Laboratories Inc. produced an ultra-thin surface treatment that could significantly improve the reliability of the nation’s extensive energy pipeline network by reducing corrosion and surface friction on pipe walls. The work represents an important step toward ensuring safety as the pipeline network ages and preventing disruptions in the flow of critical energy resources. 
  • With support from NETL, Ohio-based engineering and research firm Tech4Imaging LLC wrapped up two successful projects resulting in the development of a noninvasive, 3D imaging sensor technology for multiphase flows in advanced energy applications. This multi-year partnership highlighted the value of an industry-government collaboration that resulted in commercialization of the sensor technology while enriching the scientific knowledge base, advancing the education of several university students and creating jobs. Tech4Imaging began business as a spin-off from The Ohio State University, and first received funding from DOE to develop this sensor technology in partnership with NETL’s in-house researchers. Subsequent funding came as Tech4Imaging applied for and was financially supported by NETL to conduct research through grants via the Small Business and Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
  • Researchers at NETL developed a new process to create a novel sorbent that combines the benefits of high permeability and high selectivity – two material qualities that are usually mutually exclusive – to more effectively separate CO2 from nitrogen found in power plant flue gas. This first-of-its-kind research could offer a path toward commercially viable carbon capture operations that will enable the continued use of affordable and abundant fossil energy while reducing CO2 emissions. 
  • A groundbreaking NETL study demonstrated that machine learning (ML) and data analytics can be used to design next-generation alloys needed to operate fossil fuel-based power plants with greater efficiency and produce affordable electricity while lowering emissions of greenhouse gas. The study validated the application of ML analysis to enable more rapid and accurate design of high entropy alloys — critical materials for ultra-efficient power generation — and eliminate the trial-and-error method and other less-efficient models to develop these advanced materials.
  • As part of the NETL-managed University Coal Research program, a team led by Carnegie Mellon University completed a project that contributed to the training of several university students and researchers while advancing sensor technology to measure strain in an extreme environment. The team leveraged advanced 3D printing techniques to create new in-situ monitoring sensors capable of measuring the strain, or pull, on an object — even in the high-temperature environments of fossil energy applications. The team’s novel sensors have potential to lead transformative improvements in system performance and efficiency, resulting in more affordable and reliable energy for the nation..
  • NETL collaborated with Our Nation’s Energy (ONE) Future, a coalition of 26 natural gas companies, to calculate the greenhouse gas emission profile and methane emission rates across the group’s complete natural gas value chain. The report, Industry Partnerships & Their Role In Reducing Natural Gas Supply Chain Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Phase 2, leveraged NETL’s world-class life cycle analysis tools to directly compare this data to the emissions profile and emissions rates of the entire U.S. natural gas sector and recommended several methane emission reduction strategies specific to various geographic regions within ONE Future’s natural gas supply chain.

These are just a handful of the advancements our talented team of scientists and engineers are driving every day. We take pride in our service to the nation and in ensuring that the work we do has potential to make a positive impact in lives across the nation.

National Energy Technology Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy) at


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