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NREL's New Science and Technology Facility Will Help to Advance New Energy Alternatives

July 1, 2006

Photo of Congressman Bob Beauprez, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and U.S. Senator Ken Salazar at ribbon cutting.

Congressman Bob Beauprez, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and U.S. Senator Ken Salazar (L to R) officially "cut the ribbon" at the dedication of NREL's new Science and Technology Facility, at a ceremony that underscored NREL's importance in solving the nation's energy challenges.

The Science and Technology Facility (S&TF) is the latest addition to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) state-of-the-art research buildings on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) campus.

The showcase facility is essential to the development and commercialization of promising new renewable energy technologies. Designed to foster strong collaboration between government, industry, and academia, the facility is a critical resource for advancing the energy priorities of the President's Advanced Energy Initiative.

"This beautiful and functional building will give the scientists and engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and their industry partners first-class space and equipment allowing them to more quickly move clean, affordable, domestic energy technologies to the market and into the hands of all Americans," U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at the July 7 dedication for the facility.

Adding Crucial Research Capabilities

The purpose of the S&TF is to accelerate the development and commercialization of promising new energy alternatives — technologies that will cleanly and economically meet future demand for energy while reducing our nation's reliance on imported oil.

The 71,000-square-foot S&TF provides needed laboratory space and expands research capabilities necessary to accomplish DOE's goals in photovoltaics, hydrogen, solar, buildings, solid-state lighting, thin-film coatings and devices, electrochromics and nanotechnologies.

The National Research Council — and the U.S. solar power industry — identified the facility as a critical need for the nation.

Fostering Collaboration

The building is uniquely designed—with flexible and open laboratory areas—to foster collaboration among government, industry and universities. The main feature is an 11,400-square-foot Process Development and Integration Laboratory (PDIL) which will provide space to configure equipment to explore process integration options. Researchers can work side by side with industry to find ways to move promising technologies from concept to first-time manufacturing and commercialization.

The PDIL offers a new class of tools for thin-film photovoltaic deposition, processing, and characterization. Researchers can pass samples between laboratory equipment in a controlled environment, avoiding contamination and speeding the research process. In addition, there are nine distinct laboratories for advanced material synthesis, characterization and general support. These make up a flexible laboratory module, where space can be combined to form smaller and larger labs as needed. There are seven interaction spaces where researchers can share scientific results.

Speeding New Technologies to Market

"What all this means in a practical sense is that the S&TF itself will foster a new level of communication and cooperation among those working within it," said NREL Director Dan Arvizu. "And by doing so it will bring about a more productive research program."

Arvizu noted that these practical features collectively are expected to significantly cut the time it takes to commercialize new technologies. Researchers will employ the laboratory to resolve the complex manufacturing issues confronting the next generation of solar, hydrogen, fuel cell technologies, and support U.S. industry in the fast-expanding and highly competitive international marketplace for renewable energy systems.

Energy Efficiency Features

The S&TF is a model for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. It is designed to be NREL's first Gold-level LEED-certified building, incorporating features that are expected to reduce energy use by 41%, compared to similar new federal buildings. Extensive use of daylighting reduces energy needs for electric lighting, and advanced heating, ventilation, and cooling systems reduce energy consumption by half.

Other strategies include chemical hoods that monitor airflow; energy recovery from exhaust air to temperature-condition fresh air; displacement ventilation for the offices; and high-efficiency pumps, fans, and transformers. A new, shared high-efficiency chiller will save energy for both the S&TF, as well as the adjoining Solar Energy Research Facility.

Environment Is Paramount

The facility is a showcase for land use and architectural integration into the natural landscape. The multi-story design reduces the building footprint, conserving valuable land for open space and future expansion needs. The building incorporates water conservation, sustainable materials and indoor environmental quality principles.

"The S&TF is an example of how DOE and NREL can take the best of the concepts and technologies we've developed over the years and combine them in a world-class facility," Arvizu said, "a facility we will use to develop further breakthroughs in the future."

Building Footprint

The S&TF is a three-level building with a reduced footprint for minimal environmental impact. The ground level houses laboratory and office space, while the second level has general laboratories and the PDIL. The third level is reserved for mechanical support systems. The S&TF connects with the Solar Energy Research Facility via an elevated bridge. About 75 staff will be housed in the facility.

Ground was broken for the $22 million facility in July 2004, and construction, headed by M.A. Mortenson Company, began in February 2005. The architect for the building was SmithGroup of Phoenix, Arizona.

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 DOE by Midwest Research Institute and Battelle.

— Gary Schmitz