NREL Research Earns Two Prestigious R&D 100 Awards

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Breakthroughs in silicon solar cells and ultra-efficient supercomputers honored

July 11, 2014

A growth system that can produce thin solar cells quickly and at low cost, and an ultra-efficient supercomputer platform – both developed or advanced by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its partners – have been named among this year’s most significant innovations by R&D Magazine.

“We at NREL are gratified that our innovative work in energy efficiency and renewable energy continues to be honored with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry,” NREL Director Dan Arvizu said. “Investments in energy research and development not only create jobs in America but help advance the goal of a clean energy future.”

“These awards recognize the tremendous value of our National Labs,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “Research and development at the National Labs continues to help our nation address its energy challenges and pursue the scientific and technological innovations necessary to remain globally competitive.”

The two prestigious awards, known in the research and development community as “the Oscars of Innovation,” bring to 57 the number of R&D 100 awards that NREL has won since 1982.

Innovative Growth System Lowers Cost of Monocrystalline Silicon Wafers

NREL worked with the company Crystal Solar to demonstrate the viability of high-efficiency thin monocrystalline silicon (Si) solar cells and modules that are less than 80 microns thick and to show that they can be grown at low-cost through an epitaxial process.

The Direct Monocrystalline Silicon Wafer Growth by High-Throughput Epitaxy Team also showed that the process can grow cells in large quantity at a cost of about 50 cents a watt – an important threshold toward America’s goal of cleaner energy future. The growth system produces cells at half the cost and 100 times the speed of conventional epitaxial reactors, opening the door to rapid commercialization.

NREL performed characterization and reliability measurements on cells fabricated by Crystal Solar and collaborated with the company’s technical team to develop and implement modifications to the measured cells, contributing to improved cell performance and reliability.

Leading the Crystal Solar team was T.S. Ravi, V. Siva and J. Vatus. NREL’s team included Harin Ullal, Bhushan Sopori and Steve Johnson.

High Performance Supercomputing Platform Uses Warm Water to Prevent Heat Build-up

NREL’s other R&D 100 award, in collaboration with HP, was for the HP Apollo 8000 System. This innovative system uses component-level warm-water cooling to dissipate heat generated by the supercomputer, thus eliminating the need for expensive and inefficient chillers in the data center. The energy-saving approach based on warm-water cooling is a key reason that the building in which the supercomputer sits, NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility, was awarded LEED Platinum designation and named 2014 Laboratory of the Year by R&D 100 Magazine.

In addition, the innovative design allows waste heat from the computer to be captured and used to heat office and laboratory space, achieving even higher efficiency levels. High performance computers (HPC) provide the foundation for numerical modeling and simulations, which permit scientists to gain new insights and drive innovations in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. However, as HPC systems scale by orders of magnitude, energy use and cooling these systems becomes more challenging, begging a solution, such as the one provided by HP and NREL.

Leading the initiative were NREL’s Steve Hammond and Nicolas Dube of HP.

“Oscars” of Innovation

Winners of the R&D 100 Awards are selected by an independent judging panel and the editors of R&D Magazine. Since 1963, the R&D 100 Awards have identified revolutionary technologies newly introduced to the market. Many of these have become household names, helping shape everyday life for many Americans. The awards are considered to be the “Oscars” of Innovation.

Winners will be recognized at the R&D 100 Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas on November 7. A list of this year’s winners is available at www.rdmag.com.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

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