National Energy Technology Laboratory comments on pressing topics.
Q: What are the core research areas at your laboratory? What are the prospects for federal funding for these areas through FY 2012? Describe any opportunities for collaborations or partnerships with other government labs, academia, or industry to advance this research.
Dr. Anthony Cugini, Director, National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL): NETL is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) leading fossil energy research, development, and demonstration laboratory. We advance energy options to fuel our regional and national economies, strengthen national energy security, and preserve our environment.
NETL partners with business, universities, and governmental organizations across the country to implement research programs for DOE’s Offices of Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
We also have strong regional programs, including the NETL Regional University Alliance (RUA) for Energy Technology Innovation, which currently includes Carnegie Mellon Univ., Penn State, the Univ. of Pittsburgh, West Virginia Univ., and Virginia Tech. This next generation of engineers and scientists will build the knowledge base through which new innovative strategies and energy technologies can emerge. Also, deployment of new technologies stemming from this Alliance will stimulate economic development in our region and promote new national initiatives.
Q: Describe your laboratory’s research goals for the next two years. Will the lab add or expand programs? Consolidate or shut down research programs? Shift research focus into other areas with more funding opportunities?
For the foreseeable future, we will continue to work primarily in the fossil-fuel vein, looking at innovative ways to approach the problems facing these energy resources.
Some areas we expect to focus on include identifying geographic regions that look promising for methane hydrate recovery, further improving computational research tools for energy technology development, and pursuing advanced power systems.
Currently, our largest program is carbon constraint. By the early 2020s, we expect to have carbon capture and storage technologies ready for deployment. An interesting national initiative we are undertaking is the Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CCSI), which is focused on applying computational technology to this grand engineering problem. We’re pioneering computational techniques to develop innovation with greater speed and less cost. We believe the results from the CCSI program will help carbon management innovations penetrate the commercial sector much more rapidly.
Q: How do you communicate your organization’s scientific and technology contributions to voters and elected officials who determine funding levels?
Because we are a government-owned, government-operated facility, we have less flexibility than other national laboratories in touting our accomplishments. However, we do engage in a wide variety of educational outreach programs that inform the public and their representatives about our activities.
Our Web site is one of our most widely used sources of this information. On it we post feature articles about various areas of technology development, notes on our laboratory activities, detailed information on our programs, and hundreds of publications written by our engineers, scientists, and analysts.
We produce an annual accomplishments report that is posted to our Web site and distributed to several hundred stakeholders each year. Our researchers also present at dozens of conferences per year, and they are available for interviews about our programs and results.
Q: What is the greatest research/science challenge your organization faces (not related to funding or budget issues)?
Developing energy technologies that address America’s need for improved economic and environmental performance related to energy production is the major motivator of NETL’s research. Our primary mission is to improve performance of fossil fuel utilization by creating affordable technology options that eliminate emissions, increase power plant efficiencies, conserve water, and make beneficial use of combustion by-products. As NETL works to minimize the environmental impact of fossil fuel use, we also strive to ensure that new energy solutions are accessible and affordable.
We are leading the country’s research in carbon capture and storage (CCS) by developing advanced methods to reduce and capture greenhouse gases from fossil-based energy systems and safely and permanently store them in deep geologic formations, as well as enhancing above-ground capture and storage in vegetation. Yet many technical and economic challenges still remain before we can demonstrate the economic integration of CCS with power plants at commercial scale.
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