Meet Dr. Brian Anderson – NETL’s New Director
By T.L. Headley, American Coal Council
Brian Anderson, Ph.D., was recently named the new director of the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg made the announcement of Anderson’s appointment November 11, 2018.
Anderson’s move was only a mile-and-a-half down the street. He comes to NETL from West Virginia University (WVU), where he served as director of the university’s Energy Institute.
“Dr. Anderson’s extensive experience and knowledge in engineering and science is extraordinary. As the only national laboratory that is fully owned and operated by the Department of Energy, I am confident the National Energy Technology Laboratory will continue to make strides in advancing coal, natural gas, oil and other energy technologies under his leadership,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
As a world-class researcher, Anderson has traveled around the globe to participate in international collaborations addressing energy-related challenges. However, his research career is firmly founded in his home state of West Virginia. Anderson graduated summa cum laude from WVU in 2000 with a B.S. degree in chemical engineering. In 2004 and 2005, he earned his master’s and doctorate in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Anderson began his career as an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biomedical engineering at WVU. Throughout his tenure, he became a recognized expert in natural gas hydrates, unconventional oil and gas development, and clean coal technologies.
He had a job offer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, but declined it. Instead, he stayed at WVU, where in 2014, he founded the WVU Energy Institute, which is the largest energy collaborative research organization at the university. It is focused on advancing technology through research, development and demonstration within the energy industry.
“I was offered a golden ticket to go there [to ETH], but when I looked at what I was going to do with my career, the impact I could make would be minimized,” Anderson said. “We founded the WVU Energy Institute and that kept me from moving to Switzerland. I’ll continue that mind-set at NETL. We are a big team with a big focus. Everything we do involves trying to take the resources we have in the United States, and here in our region, and be able to use those natural resources in the most efficient and economical way, with responsible stewardship of the environment. Ultimately, we hope to have a positive impact on people’s lives both here and across the country, while we contribute toward the nation’s technological advantage and safeguard the environment.”
At WVU, Anderson built successful relationships and partnerships across academic institutions, federal agencies and the energy industry, as well as paved the way for an $83-billion partnership between the state of West Virginia and China.
Anderson has focused his work at WVU and DOE on advancing energy technologies. For his work in natural gas hydrates and CO2 sequestration, he received the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineers, and he received the Department of Energy Secretary Honor Award for his work in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Anderson said he sees the same opportunities for revolutionary changes in the coal industry that the natural gas industry has experienced over the past couple of decades.
“We are building on the technology breakthroughs made under our previous leadership. For example, revolutions in natural gas production that are traced directly to previous NETL technology development have presented the U.S. with additional opportunities that are complementary and additive to those in front of us with advanced, clean coal technologies,” Anderson said. “The future of the coal sector depends on the advancement of cutting-edge clean coal-related research, for technologies that will stimulate our economy, ensure our security and protect our health
– and this is also true for the global energy sector. The United States must maintain its global leadership in research and development in these critical technologies, and I believe that all starts with the work being done at NETL.”
Anderson said much of the recent effort has focused on a few important technologies, such as gasification, fuel cells and carbon capture, use and storage.
“I would like to add a few more examples of the cutting-edge coal-related technologies for which NETL continues to lead development,” he said. “These include our work in coal beneficiation including coal to high-value materials, rare-earth elements from coal and coal byproducts, advanced turbine research, materials for extreme environments, technologies for improving the existing fleet and technologies for the coal plants of the future.”
One thing Anderson hopes to do is to improve the commercialization of the technologies developed at NETL.
“Pathways to commercialization will always be a challenge, but for good reason. The gauntlet that a new technology must run leads us to the best outcome. Recall Thomas Edison who said, ‘I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work’,” Anderson said. “Also, recall that because of the inherent inertia built into our energy sector, it can easily take decades to see new technology in full deployment mode. It took more than 30 years for the NETL unconventional gas technologies to create the shale gas revolution we have seen. That said, identifying the most efficient ways for technologies created by NETL and its partners to enter the market is one of my highest priorities.”
“We are working on identifying the gaps existing in the energy ecosystem and to parse out where the rate-limiting steps have evolved,” he said. “I firmly believe that it is our role at NETL to ensure that a clear pathway exists from idea to market and to play a pivotal role in the energy innovation ecosystem. We will achieve this through regional and national partnerships across the government, industrial and academic sectors.”
Anderson urged the nation’s coal industry to work closely with NETL in developing those partnerships and pathways to the future.
“At NETL, we are continuously engaging our industry stakeholders to ensure that the technologies that we are pursuing will have a demand-side pull once matured,” he said. “I would ask the energy industry to continue to engage with us so that we may best align our resources and identify technology and market constraints.”