2nd Quarter 2014 Volume 12 no. 2

Sharing Expertise Through an Energy Data “eXchange”

In the digital age, people are more connected than ever before, and scientists and researchers are able to extend their expertise to projects outside of their organization to engage in global cooperation. However, sharing data often becomes a problem because of large file sizes or inefficient options for working collaboratively on documents and projects. At the same time, ensuring enduring access to data to support future studies has become a top priority among researchers. The National Energy Technology Laboratory recently launched a solution to these issues that also offers advanced tools valuable for fossil energy research. It’s called the Energy Data eXchange, or EDX, and it’s opening new avenues for developing, accessing, sharing and publishing data and data-driven products.
Launched in 2013, EDX is an online system for accessing information and data relevant to NETL’s research portfolios. The laboratory recognized a need for better coordination among its own research teams, as well as its outside collaborators, especially since NETL’s research crosscuts multiple areas associated with fossil energy R&D, such as subsurface engineered natural systems (like CO2 storage in geologic reservoirs, or the study of unconventional hydrocarbon systems), environmental impact studies and computational-based predictive modeling.  EDX was designed to dynamically align and share fossil energy-related data across the organization. Knowledge management and efficient information transfer are strategic priorities for NETL’s wide range of fossil energy research projects. EDX fits this bill by offering a secure, adaptive environment for storing primary datasets (both structured and unstructured) and facilitating connections with other publicly available resources key to the lab’s R&D.
The primary datasets in EDX contain results from an ever-growing number of fossil energy research projects, both current and historic. In addition to being a useful research tool, EDX’s primary datasets also provide transparency to NETL programs and inform federal, state and local energy policy. Because EDX ensures reliable access to these data, they can be reused and leveraged for benefits beyond their original purpose. EDX makes this information instantly accessible, which increases the speed and reduces the cost of ongoing research.
In addition to its primary datasets, EDX links users with other publicly available, authoritative data from outside sources, such as data.gov and web services from various sources. Anyone who’s ever googled an energy-related term knows that this type of broad query quickly becomes an exercise in frustration, returning millions of unsorted results. EDX is a much more efficient tool because it helps focus search results to resources relevant for NETL’s ongoing research and development. By narrowing the search, EDX ensures focus on NETL mission space, ultimately resulting in improved efficiency and more effective research.

A key advantage of EDX is its security. The system provides three tiers of access to ensure that information is only shared when it’s meant to be. Open-access data is available to the public for download and represents the knowledge-transfer portion of EDX. Restricted data is available only to appropriate, registered users. Collaborative working data is proprietary and securely shared among designated members of identified teams. Experts review open-access and restricted data for quality before it’s made available; the data are then subject to continuous monitoring by all users.
The secure environment within EDX has encouraged collaboration among its users, as evidenced by the popularity of its collaborative workspaces feature. New users are requesting accounts daily. With collaborative workspaces, NETL-affiliated researchers from around the world can share information quickly and cost-effectively. EDX offers terabytes of storage space to accommodate the large files associated with advanced research projects. Handling this amount of information is often cost-prohibitive or impossible on competing technologies. And the collaborative workspaces are much more than a repository for document access. Multi-organizational search capabilities within the EDX workspace allow users to search information hosted on external sites and link to publicly available energy-related data. The collaborative workspaces help keep researchers connected, which fosters productive relationships to efficiently solve today’s energy challenges.

EDX’s public-private duality is unique among data sharing networks and offers several benefits.  The public facing angle increases data exposure and reaches a wide audience for knowledge transfer, while the secure private side enables efficient data management. EDX developers at NETL drew on their experience as both project managers and researchers. They recognized that it’s critical not only to convey results but also to foster the development of the research. This process must be ongoing throughout the project—private during the development stages so that researchers have a chance to publish and patent their work, and public as the project nears completion and data is ready to be shared.
The research community is rife with examples of data being lost after a project closes. Capturing information during the research stages prevents valuable information from becoming stranded on a hard drive or lost in a file cabinet. EDX gives researchers the unprecedented opportunity to securely upload their data as it becomes available so that it can be held in trust and conserved for future use, when the data producer is ready to make it public. 
EDX is not just a data clearinghouse. It also uses the data stored within and includes tools and resources to help facilitate online analysis of data and research. In addition to the collaborative workspaces, features such as EDX Groups, EDX Portfolios, and EDX Tools promote more efficient and meaningful knowledge sharing, technology development and knowledge and technology transfer. With EDX Groups, users can organize datasets by theme. For example, a researcher studying Marcellus shale would find a wealth of information collected in the Appalachian Basin Data Group. EDX Portfolios offer an overview of key NETL research and development programs, such as CO2 storage. EDX Portfolios also highlight data-driven products resulting from these efforts. Data are put to use in EDX Tools—a suite of applications driven by data and information related to and resulting from NETL projects.

Highlights of the EDX toolbox include Geocube, geoWELL, and MFiX. These applications leverage the results of NETL research and help transfer energy knowledge to researchers, policy makers, regulators, and the general public.
With Geocube, users can create custom maps that integrate standard geographic data with elements such as oil and gas wells, power stations, and recreational and commercial facilities. Currently, Geocube is focused on the Gulf of Mexico to support NETL research related to preventing offshore oil and natural gas spills. NETL continues to add datasets from other regions (the Appalachian Basin is next on the list). In addition to the data pre-populated into Geocube, users can upload information from any location worldwide to support their specific research. 
GeoWELL is designed to help NETL researchers and analysts find information important for studying the resources, risks, and impacts associated with fossil energy production. The application is easily navigable through its map-based interface and links users to information on subsurface geology, gas wells, CO2 injection, and other underground injection and production sites. In addition, geoWELL’s links to federal, state, and tribal agencies help users quickly find primary sources of information for selected geographical areas.
MFiX (Multiphase Flow with Interphase Exchanges) is an NETL-developed open-source computer code capable of describing systems in which solids and liquids interact under complex conditions. Existing previously as a standalone system, MFiX was added to the EDX toolbox in 2013. MFiX reduces the time and cost of advanced energy technology development by evaluating innovations in systems design using science-based simulations. NETL continues to broaden EDX with new tools and applications. An evolving platform, EDX is expanding in response to the needs of its users and NETL’s knowledge transfer goals. This approach keeps EDX relevant, improves its content and capabilities and ensures its value and service to the energy research community. Researchers can visit EDX at www.edx.netl.doe.gov to explore, join the system, and participate in its evolution.

Jenny Bowman is a technical writer at Smart Data Solutions, a contractor for the National Energy Technology Laboratory.