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Materials Discovery

Images of red and yellow particles

NREL's research in materials discovery serves as a foundation for technological progress in renewable energies.

Our experimental activities in inorganic solid-state materials innovation span a broad range of technological readiness levels—from basic science through applied research to device development—relying on a high-throughput combinatorial materials science approach, followed by traditional targeted experiments.

In addition, our researchers work closely with those who specialize in the electronic structure theoryof novel materials.


High-Throughput Experimental Approach

Our high-throughput experimental approach capabilities include combinatorial thin-film synthesis, spatially resolved characterization, as well as data processing, analysis, and visualization.

Learn more about our high-throughput experimental approach.

An illustration showing interplay among the three activities of growth, characterization, and analysis. Growth of sample on circular stage leads to characterization of sample by incoming beam and measuring outgoing particles, with data being stored and analyzed by a computer system. The results then inform further growth of new samples.

HTEM Database

The High-Throughput Experimental Materials Database (HTEM DB) has information on deposition and characterization of thin-film materials obtained from high-throughput experiments at NREL. The purpose of releasing this large amount of high-quality experimental data to the public is to 1) enable the discovery of new materials with useful properties and 2) facilitate application of machine-learning algorithms to experimental materials data.

HTEM visualization

Targeted Synthesis, Characterization, and Analysis

Once we identify the most interesting candidate materials by the high-throughput approach, they can be further optimized using targeted growth and measurement methods and specialized analysis algorithms.


Basic Research

The basic research projects are mostly funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through the Office of Science's Energy Frontier Research Centers:

Center for Next-Generation of Materials by Design: Incorporating Metastability (2014–2018)

Center for Inverse Design (2009–2014)

Applied Development

The applied development is mainly supported by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as a part of several projects focused on novel absorbers, transparent contacts, and other functional materials.

Learn more about our materials innovation efforts across technological readiness levels.


The Materials Science Center is Part of the Materials, Chemical, and Computational Science directorate, led by Associate Lab Director Bill Tumas.