National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)

Advanced research projects selected to support development of next-generation power plants


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected four new research projects aimed at improving the efficiency, reliability, and environmental performance of power-generation systems that use coal, our Nation’s most abundant energy resource. The selected projects will address the central challenge of advanced near-zero emission energy systems: producing power in an efficient and environmentally benign manner while reigning in costs for power providers and consumers.

Following negotiation and awards, the projects will be added to the research portfolio of the Office of Fossil Energy’s Coal Utilization Science (CUS) Program, a part of the Advanced Research Program. The goal of the larger program is to support coal and power systems development through breakthroughs in materials and processes, coal utilization science, sensors and controls, and computational energy science. The program is implemented and managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).

Within the Advanced Research Program, CUS performs a crosscutting function, serving as a bridge between science and engineering of new technologies by identifying critical research needs and barriers, gaining a thorough understanding of the underlying chemical and physical processes involved, and developing the tools required to overcome those barriers. Program participants use state-of-the-art methods to explore novel concepts, perform theoretical investigations, examine critical processes and mechanisms, and generate high-quality data.

Current research within CUS targets the development of critical and enabling technologies that contribute to the design and operation of advanced power systems. These systems include commercial-scale integrated gasification combined cycle or other clean coal-fired power plants that employ cutting-edge carbon capture and storage technology.

The newly selected projects will be focused in the areas of sensors and controls, as well as computational system dynamics—areas that address the more complex operation requirements of advanced coal-fired power plants. Descriptions of these focus areas and the new projects follow:

AREA OF INTEREST: Sensors and Controls

Novel sensors and advanced process control are key enabling technologies for advanced near-zero emission power systems. As research and development enhances the understanding of these evolving advanced power systems, new, robust sensing approaches, including durable materials and highly automated process controls, are needed to optimize their operation and performance. CUS is leading the effort to develop sensing and control technologies and methods to achieve seamless, integrated, automated, optimized, and intelligent power systems.

  • Siemens Power Generation Inc. (Orlando, Fla.)—This project will focus on the development of an integrated condition monitoring system for gas turbine combustion components. Partnering with innovative small companies K-Sciences and JENTEK Sensors Inc., Siemens Power Generation will develop direct measurement systems to monitor part wear and crack formation at temperatures ranging from 1,000 to 1,300 degrees centigrade. Although the demonstration will be targeted to improve availability and reliability of combustion parts—the parts with the most frequent repair and inspection intervals in the turbine—the technologies developed will also be applicable for monitoring other hot parts in the turbine. This project will provide fundamental sensor development information that would allow future application of these types of sensors on advanced hydrogen and oxy-fueled turbine systems independent of fuel type. (DOE share: $854,795; recipient share: $750,560; duration: 36 months)
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Va.)—In this project, Virginia Tech will partner with ALSTOM Power Inc. to develop distributed sensor networks for steam tube and piping conditions associated with ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants. In these next-generation high-efficiency coal-fired boilers, temperatures can reach 700 degrees centigrade and pressures can reach up to 5,000 pounds per square inch. The proposed fiber optical sensors will be made of silica, and a large number of sensors will be multiplexed into a single fiber to form a sensing network. This technology will be able to operate in harsh environments and can be deployed as a distributed sensor network to provide a level of component monitoring which cannot be achieved by traditional point measurement sensors. (DOE share: $852,155; recipient share: $213,557; duration: 24 months)

AREA OF INTEREST: Computational System Dynamics

Simulating the complex processes that occur inside a coal gasifier, or across an entire chemical or power plant, is a powerful tool made possible by today’s supercomputers and advanced simulation software. Projects in this research area will focus on providing such simulations. The goal is to help scientists and engineers better understand the fundamental steps in a complex process so they can optimize the design of the equipment needed to run it. This approach is less costly than performing a long series of experiments under varying conditions to try to isolate important variables, yields more information than such experiments can provide, and helps to avoid some of the scale-up steps traditionally required enroute to full-scale commercialization.

  • Tech4Imaging LLC (Columbus, Ohio)—Electrical capacitance tomography has attracted increased attention in recent years as an imaging tool for multiphase flow systems, which are commonly encountered in industrial operations for applications such as coal gasifiers, carbon capture processes, and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. The objective of this project is to develop a three-dimensional high-speed capacitance tomography system and use it to image large-scale, cold-flow circulating fluidized beds.  Tech4Imaging will collaborate with The Ohio State University for this research. (DOE share: $899,708; recipient share, $258,592; duration, 36 months)
  • Alstom Power Inc., Windsor, Conn.—Alstom proposes to advance and develop further NETL’s Advanced Process Engineering Co-Simulator (APECS) tool kit. Winner of a 2004 R&D 100 award, the tool kit consists principally of a steady-state simulator for advanced power plants, which allows the systematic evaluation of various power plant concepts. The simulator links a hierarchy of plant- and equipment-level models that have varying levels of fidelity and computational speed suitable for either preliminary conceptual design or detailed final design. The overall objectives of the project are to develop a reduced-order model and to demonstrate commercial-scale circulating fluidized bed and chemical looping combustion co-simulations using this model and the APECS tool kit. (DOE share: $797,760; recipient share: $199,440; duration: 36 months)

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