Innovation is essential to West Virginia’s future. New technologies create business and job opportunities that stimulate economic growth. As the state’s economy continues to rebound from recent challenges, innovation will ensure that promising economic indicators continue to improve.

The National Energy Technology, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory, is an international leader in energy and technology innovation, with a strong commitment and rich history in the Morgantown area supported by Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Founded during World War II to develop ways to produce synthesis gas from coal, NETL’s Morgantown site has been dedicated to West Virginia for more than 70 years and continues to bolster the regional economy while advancing energy science and engineering.

In 2017, NETL directly contributed $82 million to the state’s economy — including research grants and awards, professional contracts, cooperative agreements, purchase orders and salaries paid to more than 500 federal employees and site support contractors at the Morgantown facility on Collins Ferry Road. Factoring in spending by employees and businesses who receive funds from NETL, the Lab’s total economic impact for 2017 is estimated at $151 million. Much of that money was spent at retailers, restaurants and more in North Central West Virginia.

NETL is invested in 26 active projects in West Virginia, with a total value of more $30 million. DOE covers the bulk of that cost and collaborates with private businesses, government agencies and universities to conduct vital research. In one project, the Lab worked with West Virginia University and Ohio State University to create the Morgantown-area Marcellus Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory, which aims to improve the safety and efficiency of natural gas exploration. NETL is also working with community and technical colleges, economic development agencies, business incubators and state government agencies to further enhance our partnerships in West Virginia.

The lab’s ongoing work to develop technological solutions for America’s energy challenges offers immeasurable potential to spur future prosperity. As the nation’s only research laboratory devoted to fossil fuels, NETL is innovating cleaner, more efficient ways to take advantage of West Virginia’s plentiful fossil energy reserves — particularly coal. Advances in cutting-edge sensors and controls, novel power cycles and modern computational tools offer efficiency gains for coal-based power that reduce production costs and boost competitiveness. Meanwhile, improved carbon capture, utilization and storage options enhance the economic viability and benefit of fossil technologies.

Changes in the energy sector will play a key role in the Mountain State’s economic future. West Virginia is the largest coal producer east of the Mississippi River, generating 11 percent of the nation’s coal in 2016. The state also generated 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2016, making it the ninth largest producer nationwide. The latest statewide economic outlook from WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research projects a 24 percent increase in energy-sector jobs through 2022.

That rise can be attributed in part to advances in technology launched or supported by NETL. Hydraulic fracturing technology — advanced at NETL, beginning in the 1970s — has led to a boom in the natural gas industry, which is expected to add 3,500 jobs in West Virginia over the next four years.

NETL is also working to find new uses for West Virginia’s home-grown energy resources. The lab recently announced up to $13 million in federal funding for research projects and also two new partnerships — with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Ramaco Carbon — aimed at finding ways to make useful products from coal and coal byproducts. NETL’s newest research program seeks to use coal yet another way — by extracting valuable rare earth elements used in cell phones, hard drives, medical devices and more. In fact, NETL is working with university and industry partners to study the occurrence and extraction of rare earth elements at 139 individual acid mine drainage treatment sample sites in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.

Beyond research, NETL is devoted to inspiring the next generation of researchers, scientists and engineers through an education outreach program. We visit classrooms and host an Earth Day poster contest, among other activities, to serve the community. NETL also teams up with WVU to host the annual West Virginia Regional Science Bowl, which brings hundreds of students from across the state to WVU to test their science knowledge. This year, talented teams from Suncrest Middle School and Morgantown High School took top honors in their respective divisions, earning expense-paid trips to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

NETL’s innovative work drives prosperity for the state of West Virginia and the North Central region. The lab’s projects not only stimulate economic investments that create jobs at West Virginia’s coal mines and natural gas wells, but also contribute to the state’s reputation as an important hub for the energy industry. NETL is proud to continue its tradition of serving the Mountain State as the Lab finds new ways to provide affordable, reliable electricity for all Americans.

Sean Plasynski, Ph.D., is the Acting Director of the Department of Energy’s NETL. He leads NETL’s national programs in fossil energy working with industry, universities, and national laboratories.