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New Fellows to Help Guide NREL Research

February 23, 2012

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) named Dr. Howard Branz and Dr. Michael Himmel to its Research Fellows Council, the Laboratory's top advisory council comprised of internationally recognized NREL scientists and engineers.

Branz is a leader in silicon photovoltaics who produced a world record in nano-structured solar cells, and Himmel is a biochemist whose work on cellulase greatly simplified and lowered the cost of converting biomass to fuel.

Along with the five current members of the Research Fellows Council they will advise NREL executive management on the strategic direction of science and technology inquiry at the laboratory.

Howard Branz

Photo of Howard Branz

Branz, principal scientist in the National Center for Photovoltaics, is recognized worldwide for his research in nano-structured anti-reflection silicon, solar hydrogen production and defects and diffusion in semiconductors. He and his team won a R&D 100 Award in 2010 for Black Silicon, an elegant way to turn silicon cells black in just minutes and virtually eliminate reflection waste. The process produced a confirmed record of 18.2 percent efficiency for a nano solar cell.

Branz also led a cooperative research initiative that launched a venture-capital-funded start-up, Ampulse, using an NREL-developed chemical vapor deposition process to grow the silicon on inexpensive textured rolled-metal foil.

Branz, a Fulbright Scholar, earned his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and joined NREL in 1987. In 2010, he won the Southeast Regional Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer for Ampulse “Flexible Thin Film Solar Photovoltaics on RABiTS.” He has published 106 journal and 104 conference papers.  Branz has 17 patents issued or applied and five pending NREL Records of Invention.

Michael Himmel

Photo of Michael Himmel

Himmel, principal scientist in the Energy Sciences Center, has more than 30 years of experience in conducting, supervising and planning research in protein biochemistry, recombinant technology, enzyme engineering, new micro-organism discovery, and physicochemistry of macromolecules.

He leads a team of 36 in NREL's Biomolecular Sciences Group. In 2004, he won a R&D 100 Award for "Advanced Cellulase System for Biomass Conversion." He has supervised research on stabilizing and improving important industrial enzymes by mutagenesis and rational protein design.

Himmel has developed new facilities at NREL for biomass conversion research, including the Cellulase Biochemical Laboratory, a biomass surface characterization laboratory, and a protein crystallography laboratory.

Since beginning work at NREL in 1980, he has contributed more than 450 journal papers, meeting abstracts, books, patents, and copyrights. He is co-editor-in-chief of Biotechnology for Biofuels and serves on the editorial boards of the scientific journals Science, Bioenergy Research and Cellulose.

Himmel earned his bachelor's degree at University of Northern Colorado and his doctorate from Colorado State University. In 2011, he was named a Battelle Memorial Institute Distinguished Inventor.