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Posted By Graphene Council, Friday, September 25, 2020
Two NETL projects have been named finalists in the prestigious 2020 R&D 100 Awards competition. C2G: NETL’s Low-Cost Coal-to-Graphene Manufacturing Process advanced in the Mechanical/Materials category and NETL’s IDAES PSE Computational Platform project was named a finalist in the Software/Services category.

The contest celebrates the top 100 ground-breaking technologies made in the past year. It will be a short wait for researchers on both NETL teams to learn if their projects will be named winners. The virtual award ceremony for the Mechanical/Materials category will be held Wednesday, Sept. 30, while Software/Services category winners will be announced the following day.

The coal-to-graphene project was submitted by NETL researchers Christopher Matranga, principal investigator, and team members Fan Shi, senior materials scientist, McMahan Gray, physical scientist, and Tuo Ji, research scientist.

Graphene is stronger than steel and possesses a higher electrical and thermal conductivity than copper. However, graphene has not been widely used in consumer products because of challenges and costs associated with producing large volumes of the material.

The NETL team developed a process to manufacture graphene from domestic coal feedstocks, which are substantially less expensive than graphite currently used. The Lab is partnering with industry and research universities to utilize its graphene for multiple purposes, including biosensing materials for detecting disease and materials for next-generation computer memory devices and microelectronics. NETL is evaluating the use of graphene as an additive to improve the strength and corrosion resistance of cement and concrete composites.

NETL’s Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy Systems (IDAES) seeks to be the foremost resource for the identification, synthesis, optimization and analysis of innovative advanced energy systems. Led by NETL’s Senior Fellow for Process Systems Engineering and Analysis, David Miller, IDAES is a collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, West Virginia University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Notre Dame. The IDAES Integrated Platform optimizes the design and operation of complex, interacting technologies and systems by providing rigorous modeling capabilities to increase efficiency, lower costs, increase revenue and improve sustainability.

IDAES provides revolutionary new capabilities for Process Systems Engineering that exceed existing tools and approaches. The IDAES Modeling & Optimization Platform helps energy and process companies, technology developers, academic researchers and the U.S. Department of Energy to design, develop, scale-up and analyze new and potential technologies and processes to accelerate advances and apply them to address the nation’s energy needs.

Now in its 58th year, the 2020 R&D 100 Awards received entries from 19 countries and regions for the 2020 competition. This year, the judging panel grew to include nearly 50 industry professionals across the globe, including new judges from Australia, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

The coronavirus pandemic created some difficulties. “The process of submitting to the awards program is a lengthy one, and with staffs working from home or facilities temporarily closed, we realize how challenging this was. We were delighted to see these scientists and engineers come through, and the number of nominations for this year was almost exactly the same as in 2019,” said Vice President, Editorial Director for R&D World Paul J. Heney, the organizer of the awards competition.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide reliable and affordable solutions to America’s energy challenges. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic and energy security of the United States.

Tags:  Awards  biosensor  Christopher Matranga  composites  David Miller  Electronics  Fan Shi  Graphene  Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy System  McMahan Gray  National Energy Technology Laboratory  Paul J. Heney  R&D World  Tuo Ji 

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Posted By Graphene Council, Wednesday, August 26, 2020
In his long career at NETL, McMahan Gray has experienced more than a few successes.

For example, the award-winning research chemist has made valuable contributions to remove carbon from industrial emissions and extract rare earth elements (REEs) from coal byproducts, wastewater and even acid mine drainage.

Another ground-breaking contribution may be just around the corner. As part of an ongoing research effort, Gray serves on an NETL team that’s writing a new chapter in the long productive history of coal that may revolutionize how the mineral is used in the future.

The team has found that rather than combust coal to produce energy, it can be used in new ways to fuel a transformation in carbon-based, high-tech manufacturing to produce safer cars, faster computers, stronger homes, bridges and highways, and even life-saving biosensors to confirm the presence of disease in the human body.

“We were looking for a rebirth in how coal can be used when we began our project,” said Gray, who has worked at the Lab for 34 years. “I think the rebirth we will see is going to produce sophisticated new uses for coal that have absolutely nothing to do with burning it to produce electricity.”

Gray and his NETL colleagues have developed a patent-pending manufacturing process that converts lignite, bituminous and anthracite ranks of coal into graphene, whose superior strength and optical and electrical conductivity properties make it a game-changing material. (Shi, Fan; Matranga, Christopher; Gray, McMahan; Ji, Tuo., Production of Graphene-structured Products from Coal Using Thermal Molten Salt Process, U.S. Non-provisional Patent No. 16/369,753, 2019).

NETL’s low-cost coal-to-graphene, or C2G, manufacturing process will not only generate a superior material to produce high-value products; it also will create new environmentally friendly uses for one of the nation’s greatest resources — its abundant reserves of coal.

According to Gray, it takes a solid team effort to achieve success. “Teamwork, the leadership of an excellent principal investigation (Matranga) and the outstanding work of my colleagues have enabled us to develop this process so coal can be used in new and innovative ways,” Gray said. 

Discovered in 2004, graphene is only one atomic layer thick, but it’s 100 times stronger than construction steel and 1.6 times more electrically conductive than copper electrical wire. Graphene is a form of carbon. Both graphene and carbon possess the same atoms, but they are arranged in different ways, giving each material its own unique properties. For graphene, those differences produce extraordinary strength.  

However, the high cost of existing supplies of graphene have limited its use. “NETL’s technology reduces the cost of manufacturing graphene by up to tenfold while producing a significantly higher-quality material than what is currently available on the market,” Gray said.

In the future, the team envisions using graphene to build lighter and stronger cars. Gray believes it also can be used to create advanced lightweight body armor for U.S. troops.

Because graphene is one of the lightest, strongest and thinnest materials ever discovered, it makes an ideal additive to improve the mechanical properties and durability of cement and produce battery and electrode materials, 3D printing composites, water- and stain- resistant textiles, catalyst materials and supports, and other items.

NETL also has produced graphene quantum dots — small fluorescent nanoparticles with sheet-like structures — and sent them to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where they are used to fabricate an advanced type of computer memory chip called a memristor. Recent testing has shown that memristors made with NETL graphene have outperformed those made with conventional materials.

In addition, the project team is collaborating with Ramaco Carbon, a Wyoming-based coal technology company, to take advantage of graphene’s superb electrical conductivity to develop new biosensor products that can quickly confirm the presence of Lyme disease, Zika virus or the amount of medication in a blood sample.

Gray is no stranger to advancing ground-breaking projects.

He led NETL researchers who developed the basic immobilized amine sorbent (BIAS) process to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-burning power plants. Recognizing that the BIAS approach could do more than capture CO2 from coal combustion, Gray has worked to adapt the technology of sorbents, which are designed to absorb targeted chemical compounds, to remove heavy metals, including lead, from public water supplies and recover valuable rare earth elements (REEs) from acid mine discharges and other sources.

REEs, which are needed to produce high-performance optics and lasers, as well as powerful magnets, superconductors, solar panels and valuable consumers products such as smart phones and computer hard drives, are abundant in nature but are often found in low concentrations and are challenging to extract.

Recently, while working on the coal-to-graphene project, Gray made another exciting discovery that directly benefits his efforts in REE extraction. Gray has found that the water used in the coal-to-graphene process contains REEs in the range of 600 parts per million. “In the field of REE research, that’s a very high extraction rate,” Gray said.

“I call it a ‘double hit,’ which sometimes happens when research on one project produces a positive finding to benefit another project,” said Gray, who received a prestigious R&D 100 award in 2012 for the BIAS technology’s carbon capture application.

Gray is listed as the primary or secondary inventor on 21 patents, and his work has been cited in more than 120 scholarly papers. His other notable honors include the Federal Laboratory Consortium Mid-Atlantic Region Award for Technology Transfer and the Federal Laboratory Consortium National Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer.

He has also received the Hugh Guthrie Award for Innovation as one of NETL’s leading scientists. In 2018, he was awarded a Gold Medal for “Outstanding Contribution to Science (Non-Medical)” from the Federal Executive Board for Excellence in the Government.

The Chemistry Department at the University of Pittsburgh has announced it will present Gray with its 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for his work advancing innovative technologies while serving as a mentor who has inspired hundreds of students and colleagues.

For Gray, NETL’s revolutionary graphene project rejuvenates coal for high-value uses. “Coal gets a bad rap,” said Gray, who also serves as pastor of Second Baptist Church of Penn Hills near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“The molecular structure behind coal is amazing. There’s really so much more we can do with coal,” he added.

Tags:  Battery  Biosensor  composites  Energy  Graphene  National Energy Technology Laboratory 

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Kentucky, and Penn State University Receive $10M to Develop Coal-Derived Carbon Products

Posted By Graphene Council, Friday, August 21, 2020
Two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), are working with the University of Kentucky and the Pennsylvania State University to further the research and development of coal-derived carbon fibers.

This research, valued at $10 million, will investigate all aspects of coal-derived carbon fiber production—from computational chemistry and pitch processing to the final spinning and heat treatment process of the fibers. The aim is to produce fibers with superior properties at a lower cost than currently available.

Through this effort, ORNL researchers will work to understand the chemistry and processing conditions required to produce different grades of coal-derived carbon fiber. NETL, ORNL, and the university teams will work closely to diversify U.S. coal use in domestic manufacturing, while making coal and coal-based products more attractive for export.

Because of competition from low-priced natural gas and incentivized renewable energy, the market for coal in the electric power generation sector is decreasing. However, coal-to-products opportunities can develop new markets for coal, which have the potential to offset this decrease.

For example, the market for carbon fibers is estimated to see an annual growth rate of 12 percent through 2024, driven largely by increased use in aerospace and defense applications and in light-weighting of vehicle structures. Additional market growth is also possible in other high-volume applications, such as thermal insulation for buildings and materials for construction and infrastructure.

“NETL’s demonstration of coal-based graphene to reinforce concrete and engineered plastics, along with other examples from the Advanced Coal Processing Program, shows that coal has a major role in the future, beyond electricity generation,” said NETL’s Technology Manager Joseph Stoffa. “We welcome the contributions of ORNL in this endeavor and look forward to the projects these Congressional appropriations will fund.”

The $10 million that ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility will receive comes as a part of $30 million in fiscal year 2020 Congressional appropriations to support DOE’s Advanced Coal Processing Program. This program supports the development of technologies that can utilize coal for purposes outside the traditional thermal and metallurgical markets.

Of the $10 million funding, $4.5 million will support University of Kentucky research to determine how coal tar pitch, the carbon fiber precursor, can be tailored and optimized for the specific type of desired fiber. Additionally, $80,000 will go to the Pennsylvania State University for material characterization.

Tags:  carbon fiber  Energy  Graphene  Joseph Stoffa  National Energy Technology Laboratory  Oak Ridge National Laboratory  Pennsylvania State University  University of Kentucky 

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Posted By Graphene Council, Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Ongoing NETL research into advanced concrete additives could one day revolutionize the construction of bridges and other infrastructure, saving communities money and time while also spurring economic demand for one of the nation’s most abundant and historic resources: coal.

Due to its low cost, versatility, and malleability concrete remains the most popular construction material in the world. However, concrete, at least in its conventional cement paste composition, has several limitations.

These include susceptibility to chemical corrosion from the salts used for deicing roads and deterioration from the freeze-thaw cycles that occur when water penetrates cracks during winter months. Traditional concrete also suffers from lower tensile strength, which is the maximum stress that a material can withstand while being stretched or pulled before breaking. These drawbacks lead to lengthy and costly inspection periods and repairs, often disrupting the flow of traffic and public life in general in the process.

However, a concrete additive containing a carbon nanomaterial called graphene can counter some of these drawbacks due to its excellent mechanical and physical properties. For example, graphene nanomaterials could fill the smallest of cracks within the cement structure as it hardens, increasing the durability and longevity of the structure by preventing salt and water from penetrating the concrete and causing damage.

Over the past three years, NETL has developed the idea of producing graphene materials from coal, marking a significant development because graphene is traditionally sourced from graphite, which is a far more expensive feedstock.

Graphene is an allotrope of the element carbon. This means it possesses the same atoms, but arranged in a different way, giving the material different properties like how diamonds and graphite are both made of carbon but with very different properties. Lightweight, flexible, and thinner than human hair while being several times stronger than steel, graphene possesses tremendous potential for replacing certain materials while enhancing others already in common use such as concrete.

“We have found that coal-based nanomaterials could improve the mechanical properties of cement composite by 20-25 percent and increase resistance to water damage by two orders of magnitude,” explained Yuan Gao, a research scientist leading NETL’s work on graphene enhanced concrete. “We can reach similar levels of improvement regarding concrete’s strength and durability via graphene, but at reduced expense.”

The cost of making graphene concrete additives sourced from graphite remains one of the biggest impediments to widespread commercial use of the material. However, if it could become a mainstay, Gao said this could create more economic activity downstream because coal is more abundant and cheaper to extract.

“Concrete is the most widely used construction material, with 10 billion tons of it produced every year around the world,” she said. “Large-scale application of coal-based carbon nanomaterials in concrete could greatly promote the consumption of domestic coal.”

NETL’s work in graphene-enhanced concrete material is currently at lab scale. NETL’s Christopher Matranga, with the Lab’s Functional Materials Team, said the next step in this leading-edge research is seeking out industry partners for collaboration that can put these materials to the test on a large scale.

“All research we do at NETL is to discover and innovate and then transfer that knowledge and technology to the public by partnering with industrial partners who can develop the technology further and commercialize it,” he said. “Right now, we’re trying to find external partners that would be interested in developing this technology or licensing it. Those are the first big steps in moving toward commercialization.”

Going further into the future, Gao said the Lab also plans to examine the electrical and thermal properties of its composite materials, such as self-sensing and heat management capabilities, which could not only lengthen the lifespan of concrete infrastructure but help engineers more accurately detect damages and stresses. She said NETL plans to explore the use of graphene in other constructional materials, such as asphalt.

Tags:  carbon nanomaterial  Christopher Matranga  Graphene  graphite  National Energy Technology Laboratory  Yuan Gao 

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