Our R&D 100 Awards Show the Expanse of Our Mission
By Martin Keller, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Director
For many of us in the national laboratory system, fall is a time we eagerly await the announcements of the “Oscars” of technology innovations: the R&D 100 Awards from R&D World magazine.
Each year, an independent panel of judges picks the 100 most innovative technologies from national laboratories, academia, and industry. The competition is intense. Last week, we learned that the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) won two more R&D 100 Awards, bringing our total to 71 since 1982.
NREL’s winners were:
• The Wave Energy Converter Simulator (WEC-Sim). This is the first open-source code allowing wave energy developers to simulate WEC dynamics and performance — dramatically reducing the uncertainty around how WECs will perform in real-world marine environments — which lowers costs and reduces R&D cycle time in this pivotal and growing field.
NASA researchers are using WEC-Sim in conjunction with NREL wave energy experts to help ensure the safety of Orion’s future crew between splashdown and recovery.
• dGenTM is an open-source software that simulates customer adoption of distributed energy resources (DERs) through 2050 by government and grid-planning organizations to predict future energy systems at high spatial resolution and under diverse scenarios. dGen is an engine for equitably and cost-effectively integrating more DERs — something that will help broaden a clean energy future.
In keeping with the breadth of NREL’s capabilities, last year we earned four awards and two special recognitions in entirely different fields: solar research, the power sector, wind blade manufacturing, and bioproducts. Last year’s winners included:
- Dimethylammonium-Containing Wide-Bandgap Perovskites, which form high-performance tandem solar cells that could allow vehicles to be powered directly by photovoltaics (PV).
- Dynamic Hydride Vapor Phase Epitaxy (D-HVPE) for Low-Cost III-V PV Devices, which provides a means to bring high-priced, high-efficiency solar technology now used in the space program down to Earth at a reasonable cost.
- The Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) 2.0. ReEDS is a free, open-access tool that empowers users to explore least-cost pathways for large-scale power sector transformation.
- The Process for Mitigating Hydrogen Build-up in CSP Parabolic Trough Power Plants and Increasing Plant Electricity Output offers a solution to a problem that occurs as concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) plants age.
And in 2020, the judges honored two other NREL technologies with Special Recognition Awards for being “market disruptors”:
- Thermoplastic Resin System for Wind Turbine Blades, which will disrupt the wind and water power industry’s current turbine manufacturing process, enabling the production of recyclable blades that are stronger, longer, and less expensive to manufacture.
- Fully Renewable Polyurethane Polymers from Bioderived Oils and Amino Acids is a technology that offers a product with a variety of potential uses including as a coating for tents and backpacks.
These honors are worth noting, not to toot our own horn, but to illustrate how diverse our capabilities are at NREL.
Our mission — to further renewable energy and energy efficiency from basic research to market acceptance — has never been more crucial to the United States and the world. Next year marks the laboratory’s 45th anniversary. We take our charge seriously and, along with our many partners, are pushing the boundaries of innovation.
It is gratifying to get validation during the R&D 100 celebration. But it is also reassuring to know that there are so many outstanding researchers across the country and the globe who are pursuing the same goals.
We’ll pause for a brief celebration and then get back to the job of ensuring a sustainable future during a time of increasing climate change. Awards are appreciated, but our work is far from over. I among many others will be looking forward to next year’s R&D 100s, as well as other celebrations of the efforts NREL researchers and colleagues are making on all our behalf.