The Times West Virginian

July 21, 2013

R&D 100 Awards showcase importance of NETL research

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The National Energy Technology Laboratory views its 2013 R&D 100 Awards as an indication of the importance of its research.

NETL, within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy, has three research sites — in Morgantown, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Albany, Ore. Cynthia Powell, director of NETL’s Office of Research and Development, is responsible for all the research staff at those locations.

NETL was recently notified that its Arc Position Sensing and BlackGold Nanocoating technologies had been selected by R&D Magazine as two of the top 100 developed technologies to reach some level of commercialization during the past year. An awards banquet for all the winners, selected by a panel of technical experts, will be held Nov. 7 in Orlando, Fla.

R&D Magazine, a publication that showcases successes in research and development as well as commercialization, has been presenting the annual, global R&D 100 Awards for 51 years. These awards, known as the “Oscars of Invention,” are very competitive and prestigious.

Every year since 1963, R&D Magazine has solicited award nominations from research organizations, universities, national laboratories and entities in the private sector. Quite a wide range of people are interested in competing for the awards, Powell said.

She said the honors recognize technology innovations — in medical, energy, information technology and other fields — that are being used in the marketplace and could have significant impacts on society. Winning these awards shows the quality of the technologies NETL has developed.

Over the past five years, NETL has received 12 R&D 100 Awards, including one last year. NETL is very successful for a laboratory of its size, Powell said.

NETL always gets excited and a little nervous this time of year when the award winners are announced, she said. The laboratory submitted four applications for 2013, and feels good that two of those technologies were selected for R&D 100 Awards.

“We’re very pleased and proud to be winning two awards,” Powell said. “We have a pretty good history and pretty good track record with R&D 100 Awards.”

NETL is the inventor on the Arc Position Sensing technology, which is a sensor that will support the metals manufacturing industry, she said.

Powell explained that one method of making metal is called vacuum arc remelting, which is a necessary process to make very pure alloys for energy, airplane or other transportation applications. It’s important that the metals be produced with a known composition and structure.

This sensing technology allows the metal-maker to more effectively create the metals with fewer defects and a better chemistry, and has tremendous potential to revolutionize the metal-making industry, she said.

Powell said the NETL developed Arc Position Sensing with metal manufacturer Allegheny Technologies Inc. in Albany. Allegheny Technologies allowed NETL to build and test the sensors at its facility.

The technology began as a Ph.D. thesis for a NETL student researcher, who spent a couple years in collaboration with scientists on the development, she said. The Specialty Metals Processing Consortium was also involved in helping develop the tool.

MDS Coating Technologies Corp. developed the second award-winning technology, BlackGold Nanocoating, in collaboration with NETL, Powell said.

The purpose of this coating is to improve wear resistance for whatever it is covering, she said. The partners are designing the structure of this coating for maximum performance at the nano scale. It can easily be applied to complex shapes such as compressor airfoils on airplanes.

MDS and NETL worked with Delta Air Lines to deploy the erosion-resistant nanocoating in the airline industry, and the R&D 100 Award was for this application. A number of Delta’s 737 planes use the coating to reduce the wear on the airfoils, which also improves fuel efficiency and provides a longer life for the gas turbine engines, Powell said.

She said Federal Aviation Administration approval was required before the technology could be demonstrated with Delta. MDS and NETL expect the coating to next spread to other airlines.

BlackGold Nanocoating has the potential to save 100 million gallons of fuel annually, which equates to more than $300 million per year. The reduction in fuel costs could lead to cheaper plane tickets for consumers.

This technology has advantages related to reduced environmental impacts as well, Powell said. In addition, testing is under way to use the coating in land-based turbines to allow them to produce power more efficiently.

Powell said most of NETL’s efforts on the technology, which began about five years ago, were focused at its Albany site, with some collaboration from the Morgantown and Pittsburgh locations.

A couple people from NETL will attend the R&D 100 Awards ceremony in November.

“We’re very proud of these awards, and we definitely want to celebrate the people who were involved with them,” Powell said.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.