27-Year R&amnp;D 100 Awards Winning Streak

27-Year R&D 100 Awards Winning Streak

NREL secures three more R&D 100 Awards in 2011

NREL-developed solar technologies earned the three R&D 100 Awards—awards that underscore the lab's leadership among national laboratories in renewable energy and energy efficiency research. Since 1984, NREL has earned 50 of these prestigious prizes.

R&D 100 Awards are considered "the Oscars of Innovation." Each year since 1963, R&D Magazine has identified and recognized revolutionary technologies newly introduced to the market. R&D Magazine editors and a panel of technical consultants, university faculty, and industrial researchers evaluate numerous nominated technologies to select the top 100 technologies based on their potential impact. Past award winners have included the flashcube (1965), halogen lamp (1974), liquid-crystal display (1980), anticancer drug Taxol (1993), and HDTV (1998).

In 2011, NREL and its corporate partners won R&D 100 Awards for the following three technologies.

"Flash" Quantum Efficiency System for Solar Cells

Foreground:  silver machine with a box frame within which is a large horizontal disc, below which is small circle of red lights.  Background:  three men in safety glasses, seen from the waist up, facing center, talking to each other. Enlarge image

Pauls Stradins, Brian Egaas, and David Young confer behind a prototype of the real-time quantum efficiency system.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL/PIX 19542

Problem: Solar cell manufacturers want to measure the quantum efficiency (QE) of every cell on a production line. Measurement times, however, have been too slow to evaluate more than a very small sampling.

Solution: NREL's technique, commercialized by Tau Science Corporation, uses a solid-state light source, synchronized electronics, and advanced mathematical analysis to parallel-process QE data in just one second—a rate that is more than 1,000 times faster than the current method.

Impact: At this speed, every cell's QE can be measured on the production line. The results:

  • There is real-time quality control of the entire manufacturing process
  • QE cells are sorted for optimized power production in modules
  • New research and development capabilities now exist, such as mapping QE across an entire cell to help researchers better understand performance).

For more information about this technology, see "Better Solar Cells and Manufacturing Processes Using NREL's Ultrafast Quantum Efficiency Method."

Optical Cavity Furnace

Three men face forward, standing in front of a computer keyboard and a large computer-type monitor. Laboratory equipment in background. Enlarge image

Bhushan Sopori, Vishal Mehta, and Peter Rupnowski at the controls of the Optical Cavity Furnace.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL/PIX 19518

Problem: Much of the heat generated in industrial furnaces that process solar cells is wasted because it is not focused directly on the cell. Also, the heat is not distributed uniformly across the cell, which leads to sub-par cell performance.

Solution: NREL, working with AOS Solar, Inc., developed an optical cavity design that focuses heat almost entirely on the cell, which tightly controls the heat flux for excellent uniformity across the cell. The light sources for heating have also been designed to allow use of beneficial photonic effects during processing.

Impact: By processing solar cells in the Optical Cavity Furnace, the cells have higher conversion efficiencies than those processed in conventional rapid thermal processing furnaces, and this improved performance occurs at a lower cost.

For more information, see "NREL's Optical Cavity Furnace Brings Together a Myriad of Advances for Processing Solar Cells."

Silicon Ink for High-Efficiency Solar Cells

Man sits at counter holding small metal box-like instrument that is attached with cables to a wall-mounted base. Computer screens in background. Enlarge image

NREL senior scientist, Helio Moutinho, uses a scanning capacitance microscopy technique to detect signals in solar cells used with Innovalight's Silicon Ink.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL/PIX 19556

Problem: For the solar cell industry to remain competitive, it needs to reduce the cost of crystalline silicon solar cells, but the standard routes for doing this have been exhausted. To accomplish this kind of cost reduction now calls for an entirely different approach.

Solution: Innovalight, a start-up company, invented a liquid form of silicon and came to NREL for expert guidance on optimizing it for use with solar cells. This partnership was a great success, and their work on the technology has resulted in a 1% absolute and 6% relative increase in cell efficiency.

Impact: Five of the world's leading solar companies have signed licenses to use Silicon Ink in their production lines. The ink can transform a 35-megawatt (MW) production line into a 37-MW line, which generates additional revenue for cell manufacturers. Given that the technology solution comes at a very low marginal cost, cell manufacturers can boost profitability by as much as 20%.

For more information, see "Silicon Ink for High-Efficiency Solar Cells Captures a Share of the Market."

—Karen Atkison

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