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NREL Staff Recognized for Top Innovations as Lab Celebrates Record Patent Year

May 7, 2015

Today during its annual Innovation and Technology Transfer Awards ceremony, the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recognized the professionals behind the lab's greatest innovations from the past year. NREL also celebrated the 43 U.S. patents issued in fiscal year 2014 (FY14), which is the largest number in lab history-nearly three times more than the previous year.

The annual event acknowledges NREL's commercialization and partnering successes and honors the researchers and engineers who made it happen, including Distinguished Innovator Min Zhang and Rising Stars Chuck Booten and John Simon.

In opening remarks before presenting the awards, David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), recognized NREL's most innovative and impactful work this year leading to the commercialization of clean energy technologies.  

"The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a scientific and engineering powerhouse, developing innovative breakthrough technologies to address some of our biggest energy challenges and ensuring the U.S. remains a world leader in clean energy technology," Danielson said. "The world-class scientists and engineers at NREL successfully produced a record number of patents last year, and the work of these honorees serves as an example of our progress attaining the Energy Department Lab Impact Initiative's goal to move great ideas from the drawing board to the marketplace."

Zhang Named Distinguished Innovator

During her 25 years at NREL, Zhang has worked to support the Energy Department's Bioenergy Technology Program by engineering advanced microbes to further the adoption of cellulosic biofuels. Zhang has contributed 80 peer-reviewed papers, numerous meeting abstracts, and 21 issued patents. She helped transfer foundational biotechnologies to companies with three commercial licenses incorporating her innovations, including DuPont's cellulosic ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa, which plans to produce 30 million gallons of clean energy per year from the non-food parts of plants.

"One of the laboratory's primary goals is to conduct cutting-edge research and move those innovations to market," said Kristin Gray, director of NREL's Technology Transfer Office. Because partnerships are a core component of NREL's strategy, the lab has streamlined the way it does business and enhanced its entrepreneurial environment, providing greater access to capital and engaging strategically with industry and stakeholders. "We work with hundreds of partners within industry, government, academia, small business, international organizations, and nonprofits to advance the use of clean energy technologies in the marketplace," Gray said.

Rising Stars Shine Brightly as Innovators

Rising Star awards recognize employees who have fewer than six years of service at NREL and who have demonstrated increasing engagement with the laboratory's commercialization and technology transfer process. The two winners for FY14 are Chuck Booten, who works in buildings and thermal systems, and John Simon, who works in materials applications and performance.

Since coming to NREL in 2010, Booten has focused his research on heat transfer modeling and the study of home energy management system performance. He has submitted 11 Records of Invention. Simon, who joined NREL in 2011, studies novel crystalline substrates for growth of III-V Nitride semiconductors for solid-state lighting applications and the development of low-cost III-V solar cells, high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells, III-V semiconductor epitaxy, and novel semiconductor devices. He has submitted nine Records of Invention.

"NREL's scientists and researchers have been leading clean energy innovations for more than 35 years. Last year's patent record demonstrates how our technology products and commercial services are making a difference in America's energy future," said NREL's Associate Lab Director of Innovation, Partnering, and Outreach Bill Farris. "We congratulate today's winners and are proud of their accomplishments."

Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) are one of the many ways that private industry partners with NREL. Every dollar the Energy Department invests in a CRADA attracts another $5 in total value from all industry contracts. NREL added 31 new CRADAs in FY14 for a total of 166 active CRADAs that year-the highest in the Energy Department system. Overall, there were 242 new partnership agreements signed in FY14, boosting the lab's number of total active partnerships to 657. Also in FY14, the lab signed 18 new intellectual property agreements and filed 90 new patent applications. NREL has a total of 208 U.S.-issued patents and 61 foreign-issued patents.

For more information on how to work with NREL, visit the Technology Transfer website.

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 the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

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