Alternative Energy Technologies
INL’s Alternative Energy Technologies conducts innovative science-based research and development of new fossil energy technologies. Collaborations include industry partners, universities, government agencies, and other national laboratories, focusing on research projects that meet recognized industry needs. Research is funded partly by the DOE and other sources, including cooperative research and development agreements with private sector investors. Research areas include:
- Exploration & Production - We are providing solutions to a number of industry-identified problems that range from downhole instrumentation to pipeline production and transportation. Projects include research on a downhole seismic source for look-ahead prediction, a high void fraction multiphase meter, a large downhole seismic sensor array, locating geopressured hydrocarbon reservoirs, oil and gas production sensors and controls, single well seismic imaging, and transportation of hydrocarbon indicators in the Four Corners region.
- Hydrogen Fuels - Our hydrogen research draws upon core competence in several engineering and technology areas, including systems engineering, safety and risk assessment, chemical and mechanical engineering, manufacturing and materials, sensors and controls, plasma processing, fuel cell technology, biotechnology engineering, and alternative fuel vehicle fueling infrastructure development. We are pursuing development and commercialization of technologies related to production, infrastructure, and utilization of hydrogen fuel.
- Natural Gas Technologies - The Alternative Fuels Program focuses on liquefied natural gas and compressed natural gas as alternatives to conventional gasoline and diesel fuels for powering heavy-duty and light-duty vehicles. There are four main thrusts, all designed to implement DOE's initiatives:
- Vehicle conversions and demonstrations
- Technical outreach
- Research projects
- Oil Reservoir & Environmental Technologies - Our environmental technology strengths not only relate to the DOE complex, but also to those in the fossil energy community. For example, we evaluate possible health risks relating to naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) that are commonly encountered in oil production facilities. We are developing technologies to treat such environmental problems as vadose zone accumulations of benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene (BTEX). In another project, we are using the natural accumulation of selenium in plant materials to design wetlands for treating discharge waters. Simple low-cost bioreactors are being developed for treating produced water and gas in oil field and offshore platform environments for removal of sulfides.
- Refining & Processing - The refining and processing of hydrocarbons into more desirable and usable end products is a major segment of the fossil fuel community. Commonly referred to as "downstream" by the major oil and gas companies, this large infrastructure represents a major capital investment by industry. A number of operational problems and new opportunities shared by this industry have yielded areas where we are building major technology niches. Because of the decreasing quality of crude oil being produced worldwide, we explore novel approaches for treating heavy, high-sulfur petroleum to make refineries more able to process these lower-grade materials, with reduced energy costs and environmental liabilities.
Our major research effort examines the possibility of converting natural gas to a liquid fuel, which could open many doors to the use of natural gas in remote areas where gas pipelines are nonexistent. We are developing a revolutionary alkylation process, which would replace hazardous liquid acid catalysts with an energy-saving solid catalyst process and eliminate a major environmental issue. As a result of skills gained in supporting the nuclear industry, our research is aimed at extending the lifetime of aging refinery systems. All of the project areas described above are tightly coupled with industry partners. Most of the funding in this area has come from direct industry and some DOE Fossil Energy Program funding.