The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, one of more than a dozen national laboratories vested in renewable energy research under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), recently won three awards for research and development from R&D Magazine.
The R&D 100, first published in 1963, annually recognizes leaders in the field of technology development and commercialization. This year’s 100 are a prestigious list of developers who routinely make a name for themselves developing future products ranging from nanofiber systems production to electronic instrumentation.
With renewable energy such a hot target lately, given the rising cost of oil and the uncertainty inherent in Mideast oil resources, it’s no surprise that NREL, heavily vested in renewable energy and energy efficiency research, is a big winner.
This year’s winners – a more rapid way to assess solar cell efficiency, a hotter and more efficient furnace for “cooking” solar cells, and a silicon-based ink – are a prime example of how NREL in particular (and DOE labs in general) aids technology transfer from the test tube to the showroom floor.
The ability to measure solar cell efficiency before the cells are incorporated in panels, for example, is an invaluable tool to improve solar energy’s cost/benefit ratio, and the tool that Tau Science Corporation has developed, thanks to NREL research, allows cells to be analyzed in a second rather than the 20 minutes it used to require.
The Optical Cavity Furnace uses photons to uniformly “cook” crystalline solar cells, and this uniformity leads to more reliable and better-performing solar cells and semiconductor materials (like gallium arsenide, which improves on silicon’s electron transfer by sixfold).
Silicon ink, a tech transfer to Innovalight, Inc., has resulted in silicon available to the solar energy marketplace as a liquid, with an immediate correlation in solar cell efficiency (of about 6 percent) as a result of lighter “doping”, or cell printing. This ink also boosts production in a typical manufacturing facility by 20 percent – a cost reduction that can translate into cheaper solar panels for consumers.
NREL has won a total of 50 R&D 100 awards since 1982, but it isn’t the only winner. As Energy Secretary Steven Chu noted, more than 36 of the 100 went to DOE labs or other facilities. These include:
Argonne National Laboratory, for ceramic film capacitors, renewable methane production and an integrated RF MEMS switch (radio-frequency microelectromechanical systems).
Brookhaven National Laboratory, or BNL, for more rapid X-ray imaging technology (about 1,000 times faster, in fact) and a more comprehensive optical nanoprobe.
Idaho National Laboratory, for an improved impedance measurement tool and a 99-percent effective chemical foam-clay decontamination process.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for super-fast light deflection recording, and a rapid debugging tool for computer code.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, or LANL, for offshore oil-well spacer fluid (alas, too late for BP), as well as safe thorium and nanocluster probes for detecting cancer, for example.
The National Energy Technology Laboratory (or NETL, originally founded in 1910 as the Pittsburgh Experiment Station and repurposed in 1999), won three awards, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) won seven, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory won two, and Sandia National Laboratories won four.
In fact, even the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) won for its development of glass microspheres for safer storage and handling of hazardous materials. And the Y12 National Security Complex, the DOE’s manufacturing arm, whipped up RonJohn, an environmentally friendly solvent.
Any opinion contained in this article is solely that of the writers, and does not necessarily shape or reflect the editorial opinions of Energy Boom. Energy Boom content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be advice regarding the investment merits of, or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of, any security identified on, or linked through, this site.