NREL at 40: Driving Advanced Energy Research

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From its start in 1977 to today, NREL has pushed the boundaries of what's possible. For 40 years, NREL has expanded American prosperity and security through world-class research. The laboratory's work stimulates the U.S. economy, inspires ingenuity, and preserves our nation's energy security. Today, the laboratory is poised to lead America into the future—for the next 40 years and beyond.

Photo of a woman standing on top of a wind turbine

NREL's innovative research leads to job creation and economic growth. By 2030, as many as 380,000 people could be working in the wind industry nationwide—including areas ranging from the southeast up through mid-America. Learn about NREL's many accomplishments over its 40 year history.

Working with our partners in industry and academia, NREL delivers the scientific foundation for new energy technologies that drive the country's economic growth. Our researchers, facilities, tools, and analysis yield innovations that create new business opportunities and greatly reduce the risk of investment for energy companies and manufacturers.

Building on decades of work and ongoing advanced-energy research, today's NREL tackles a range of energy challenges with an integrated approach. It seeks ways to strengthen the U.S. manufacturing sector through on-site production of wind turbines and continues to enhance the solar technologies industry with disruptive innovation. NREL partners with utilities to help to secure the nation's energy grid and is leading teams that develop cost-competitive, domestically sourced products like ammonia for fertilizer, ethylene for plastics, and acrylonitrile for carbon fiber. The laboratory stands at the forefront of integrating biomass into the nation's petroleum infrastructure.

Learn more about NREL at 40 and how we are advancing energy innovation.

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NREL Director Martin Keller speaks at the dedication of NREL's Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology Facility (CoMET), which will accelerate manufacturing and serve as a workforce development resource for a growing composites manufacturing industry.

We continually look forward. Our leading-edge research is informed by world-class analysis that reveals gaps in technology and market needs. This innovative approach delivers value to American industries and creates economic opportunity for the nation in the form of energy security and prosperity.

— Martin Keller, Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

NREL Partnerships Accelerate Commercialization

The laboratory gives U.S. entrepreneurs a competitive edge in the global energy race by bridging the gap from concept to market. NREL accelerates the commercialization of energy technologies through licensing and partnerships with industry. We have 749 active technology partnerships with 503 unique active partners; 57% of these partnerships are with large and small businesses. In FY2016, we created 259 new partnership agreements with a value of $43 million. Learn more about technology transfer and how NREL supports innovation and entrepreneurship.

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A method to make bioethylene won an R&D 100 Award and a coveted Editor's Choice award.

NREL Links R&D with Real-World Applications

For over 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards have recognized excellence in innovation. Winning an R&D 100 Award provides an important initial push for new technology innovations to compete in the marketplace. NREL has won 61 R&D 100 Awards; in 2016, NREL won three awards.

2017 American Council of Renewable Energy (ACORE) Recognition

In March, ACORE presented NREL with the Technology Advancement & Industry Impact Award in Washington D.C. This prestigious award recognizes NREL for the many technological advancements in renewable energy spanning four decades. Tech giants Google Web Services and Amazon also garnered awards.

Photo of a silver medallion that says: July 5, 1977 The National Renewable Energy Laboratory opens as the Solar Energy Research Institute. 1991 President George H.W. Bush elevates the Institute to National Laboratory Status.

A medallion commemorates the lab's anniversary in 1977 and the day in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush elevated the institute to national laboratory status.

Laboratory History

In 1977, NREL started as the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), spurred by national concern during the 1973 oil embargo that caused long lines and high prices at gas stations. Three months after his 1977 inauguration, President Jimmy Carter announced his desire to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to invest in alternative energy sources. He created the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) with the mission to launch a new American energy industry and he consolidated oversight of U.S. energy policy into the newly formed U.S. Department of Energy. 

While early work at the newly formed research institute concentrated on solar technologies, the focus quickly broadened to include many forms of advanced energy, including wind and biomass. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush elevated SERI to a member of DOE's national laboratory system and changed its name to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Learn more about key milestones that shaped NREL.