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During his career with NETL, U.S. Army veteran Jimmy Thornton has worked tirelessly to advance new technology development for Fossil Energy (FE), and that remains true today with current efforts to investigate uses for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for FE technology development.
Born in Kentucky and growing up in Campbells Creek, Thornton joined the U.S. Army at the encouragement of his high school baseball coach who was an Army Reserve drill instructor. Trained as an infantryman and entering service in early 1983, Thornton was stationed in Germany, where he completed French Commando School in Givet, France.
Leaving active service in 1987, Thornton joined the Kentucky National Guard while studying at Eastern Kentucky University, and he later transferred to the West Virginia National Guard after accepting a professional internship with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Morgantown in 1988. Commissioned as an officer in 1992, he served with the 201st Field Artillery and was deployed to Iraq in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Achieving the rank of major, Thornton retired in 2010 with more than 27 years of service and continues to serve the 201st as an active member of the 201st Association. He said many of the skills and life lessons the army taught him continue to guide him at NETL, where he started working in 1991 when it was known as the Morgantown Energy Technology Center.
Thornton’s work at the Lab as associate director for the Computational Science and Engineering directorate includes advances in applied artificial intelligence, and machine learning, which he said have great potential to benefit the country’s energy industries, especially the existing fleet of coal-fired power plants and the subsurface. He noted that increased data availability and the use of supercomputers can speed up the development cycle of new tools for decision making because machine learning techniques can provide insights beyond our current understanding.