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Fossil Energy R&D Returns Significant National Benefit in More Than Three Decades of Achievement

July 27, 2011 - 1:00pm


Washington, DC - Research and development (R&D) activities at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) have helped increase domestic energy supplies and security, lowered costs, improved efficiencies, and enhanced environmental protection over the past 30 years, according to newly released informational materials.

"This newly released information emphatically underscores the historic benefit and future role of FE research in developing and commercially deploying new technologies that provide sustainable benefits to the environment and industry and for U.S. citizens and people everywhere," said Charles D. McConnell, FE’s Chief Operating Officer. "FE’s scientists, engineers and all our employees have an ongoing mission to enable a significant return on investment for the nation’s public funds that support this R&D. It is a legacy and a future of which we can all be proud."

Included among the innovative technologies developed by FE and its National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) since 1977, and resulting significant national benefit, are:

  • Pioneering Enhanced Oil Recovery technologies that today are contributing 13 percent of total U.S. oil production as well as a means for injecting and permanently storing carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, in geologic formations.
  • Producing some 20 innovative technologies - such as low nitrogen oxide burners, flue gas desulfurization (scrubbers) and fluidized bed combustion - through the Clean Coal Technology Development Program (1986-93), many of which are now in the marketplace and benefitting energy production and air quality improvements.
  • Advancing drilling, fracturing and environmental technologies that have helped oil and natural gas production from abundant shale resources increase significantly over the past decade.
  • Developing methane hydrate (molecules of natural gas trapped in ice crystals) research to the point where U.S resources have been identified, exploration models tested and confirmed, and production concepts refined and ready for initial field testing.
  • Amassing extensive expertise and advisory capability in ultra-deepwater resource location, production, safety and environmental protection, helping these energy sources to now account for 32 percent of domestic crude oil production and 13 percent of total dry gas production.
  • Achieving advances in numerous other areas critical to U.S. energy production and environmental protection, including coal bed methane; the recycling and reuse of solid waste materials from coal combustion; proving the readiness of activated carbon injection to meet expected air quality regulatory standards for coal-based mercury emissions; and pioneering advanced turbine technologies.

FE’s R&D contributions over the years have been recognized by a wide range of external experts, stakeholders and organizations. For example, in a 2001 study, the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council said DOE’s fossil energy program "made a significant the well-being of the United States....;" in 2010, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology noted DOE’s reservoir characterization R&D contributed to activities that helped raise coal bed methane production from "essentially nothing to 2 trillion cubic feet of gas" annually, "a very large return on a relatively small RD&D investment;" and in 2000, the U.S. General Accounting Office said FE’s clean coal program served as "an example to other cost-share programs in demonstrating how the government and the private sector can work effectively together to develop and demonstrate new technologies." A 2009 study by Management Information Systems Inc. estimates the clean coal R&D program will return a 13-to-1 cumulative benefit for DOE’s investment by 2020, measured in 2008 dollars.

These and many other highlights are included in the web-based information, featuring a three-panel brochure, "Fossil Energy Research: A Legacy of Benefit"; a series of 10 fact cards summarizing individual technological achievements and their importance; and a timeline from 1977 to the present, which outlines the accomplishments and benefits emanating from FE and NETL.

Continuing a tradition of adapting to meet changing national priorities, the materials note FE’s R&D focus in the 21st century has shifted to meet the challenge of long-term impact from fossil resources on potential climate change while balancing the nation’s growing need for additional energy. As a result, FE is in the forefront of global efforts to develop and demonstrate innovative processes through its Carbon Capture and Storage and Power Systems programs.

View the brochure, fact cards and timeline