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NETL's High-Speed Imaging System Successfully Applied in Medicine, Broad Spectrum of Industry

November 15, 2010 - 12:00pm


Washington, DC - A groundbreaking Department of Energy-developed imaging system originally designed to help create cleaner fossil energy processes is finding successful applications in a wide range of medical, chemical processing, energy, and other industries.

Developed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), the high-speed imaging technology known as "particle imaging velocimetry" (PIV) is being put to use by a research consortium of more than 25 major chemical and energy companies and may soon have other uses as well.

Underscoring its versatility, the high-speed PIV system is finding application in the development of medical devices that handle blood. It is aiding the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine in studying blood flow in a piece of equipment that functions as an artificial lung.

And earlier this year a version of the PIV software was used to help estimate the amount of oil leaking from the damaged Macando well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Imaging systems allow researchers to study in detail how particles move inside high concentration flow fields, such as coal particles during the gasification process. Particle motion or dynamics are of critical importance in determining the reaction rate, efficiency and reliability of various energy systems. The use of imaging systems to study particle behavior in gasses and liquids commonly uses the most advanced high speed, high resolution digital camera technology. NETL’s high-speed PIV system is now providing the first observations and detailed measurements of particle motion in these environments.

The brain that makes the system work is its software, which simultaneously tracks the motion of thousands of microscopic particles. It is nearly impossible for the human eye to follow a moving particle smaller than a grain of salt. However, the high-speed PIV’s software can follow thousands of particles at the same time while they are moving among billions of particles at high speed.

NETL researchers first used the high-speed PIV system to study flow fields in NETL’s cold flow circulating fluidized bed unit, a large cold-flow gasification experiment conducted at the laboratory’s site in Morgantown, W.Va. With the aid of the high-speed PIV system, researchers viewed, recorded, and measured the precise motion of microscopic particles that simulate the motion of coal particles in a gasification chamber. 

The PIV system is also being put to work in the labs of Chicago-based research consortium Particulate Solids Research Inc. to provide new insight into an important phenomenon called "particle clustering." This process can affect the design and operation of systems that rely on particle flow fields.

NETL has applied for a patent for this technology and is expanding application of the PIV system to other labs and other particle-flow applications, such as the rapid formation of methane hydrate particles, jet injection of catalysts into particle systems, and visualization of drill tip behavior during experiments conducted in NETL’s ultra-deep single cutter drilling simulator.

Learn more about the high-speed PIV system

More information about the application of high-speed PIV for coal gasification