Fossil-Fuel Focused NETL: Going Clean?

The forerunner to the National Energy Technology Labratory (NETL) was born in 1910, and it’s an institution that’s always been old school, focused on coal, natural gas and oil technologies. But in its 100th year, this unit of the U.S. Department of Energy is moving to go clean, in part by aligning itself tightly with five major universities in the region around its Pittsburgh home.

Local powerhouse Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and West Virginia University are all part of the new NETL-Regional University Alliance (NETL-RUA). The lab said the goal of the partnership is to “accelerate the development and deployment of innovative energy and environmental technology.”

image via University of Pittsburgh

But what’s that mean for an outfit focused on fossil fuels in an era in which renewables are considered the energy future? In a press release celebrating its 100th birthday, the lab said it’s all a matter of perspective: “we now look forward to managing industrial carbon emissions, modernizing the nation’s electric grid, developing non-traditional fuel resources, and realizing truly sustainable energy use.”

One example the lab gave is some recent work its own researchers did with scientists from the University of Pittsburgh. They used sophisticated techniques to measure the concentrations of gaseous components in natural gas and alternative fuel gases, like those produced from coal gasification. “The innovation,” the lab said, “will allow operators to monitor and control gas mixtures prior to injection for turbines and other advanced systems, thereby maximizing efficiency and minimizing pollutant emissions.”

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