NREL Technologies Win National Awards

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Golden, Colo., September 17, 1997—Technologies developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have been selected to receive two 1997 R&D 100 Awards by Research and Development Magazine. The annual awards recognize the years 100 most important, unique and useful innovations.

The magazine recognized PV Optics as one of the most important technological advances of 1997. PV Optics is the first computer program capable of accurately analyzing light trapping (enhanced light absorption) in any type of solar cell or module. The easy-to-use program aids in designing solar cells for the maximum efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity.

Developed by NREL's Bhushan Sopori, Jamal Madjdpour, Todd Marshall and Chris Gaylord, the program determines not just how much light will be absorbed, but what wavelengths—and for the first time—where in the cell. This information is crucial for optimizing cell design. PV Optics overcomes problems associated with other programs by accurately analyzing solar cells or modules with reflective metal backings and thin layers such as thin-film semiconductor or anti-reflective coatings.

I found the program to be very powerful in providing the information necessary to maximize light trapping in solar cells, said Ajeet Rohatgi, director of Georgia Techs University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaics Research and Education. Programs like these can revolutionize the development of low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells.

NREL also earned 1997 R&D 100 honors in a multi-laboratory effort that combined the expertise and experience of four DOE laboratories in support of an industry partner. NREL, Argonne National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory worked together to help Applied CarboChemicals Inc. of Pittsburg, Pa. demonstrate an integrated process for chemical manufacturing.

The hybrid biological/chemical process uses corn syrup as the feedstock to make succinic acid. The acid can then be converted into a wide assortment of products used to make clothing fibers, paints, inks, food additives, plastics and polymers. Succinic acid is traditionally made from petroleum.

This novel consortium developed a proprietary strain of bacteria to produce the succinic acid biologically, developed advanced separation technologies to isolate the products and adapted chemical catalytic processes to convert the succinic acid into useful manufacturing chemicals. The process is cost-competitive with existing chemical processes.

NREL's awards are two of 36 won by DOE laboratories this year, bringing DOE's cumulative total to 453.

These awards are proof of the excellent science and technology going on all the time at DOE laboratories, Secretary of Energy Federico Peña said. This science is making a positive difference in peoples lives. The variety of these innovations reflects the breadth of resources that the labs are using to solve practical problems.

A panel of experts from a variety of fields chose the R&D 100 winners from entries submitted by private industry, government laboratories and academic research centers. NREL has won 21 R&D 100 Awards since 1982. The awards will be presented to winners Sept. 25 at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.