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NREL Bioenergy Staff Honored for Top Innovations in 2015

May 24, 2016

Photo of a group of ten people receiving an award on a stage.


Jetta Wong, Director DOE Office of Technology Transitions presents Technology Transfer Excellence Awards to the bioenergy team of (from left to right) Wesley Hjelm, David Sievers, Mary Ann Franden, Yat-Chen Chou, Min Zhang, David Templeton, Richard Elander, Robert Lyons, Ed Jennings, and Melvin Tucker at the 2016 Innovation and Technology Transfer Awards. Not pictured are Ali Mohagheghi, Darren Peterson, and Jeffrey Wolfe. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's state-of-the-art bioenergy research has once again reached award-winning levels.

Each year NREL recognizes the professionals behind the lab's greatest innovations and breakthrough technologies from the past year during its Innovation and Technology Transfer Awards ceremony. Held May 3, this year's event presented nearly 60 awards to NREL scientists and engineers for renewable energy advancements in fiscal year 2015 (FY15).

Among the recipients were many talented staff from the National Bioenergy Center (NBC) and NREL's Biosciences Center who were recognized for exceptional work in promoting the transfer of NREL-developed technologies into the private sector and partnering successes.

Patent Awards

NREL researchers achieved more than 30 patents in FY15. Bioenergy staff recipients were:

  • Susan Habas, along with NREL colleagues Maikel van Hest, Materials Science, and Dave Ginley, Material and Chemical Science & Technology, was recognized for the U.S. patent, "Liquid precursor inks for deposition of In-Se, Ga-Se and In-Ga-Se." The patent outlines methods of preparing hydrazine-free inks that can be processed into thin film light-absorbing materials for use in solar cells. These liquid precursors for use in thin film deposition represent less expensive and more environmentally acceptable alternatives to the typical vacuum deposition technology.

  • The team of Qi Xu, John Baker, and Mike Himmel were acknowledged for their 2015 U.S. patent, "Chimeric enzymes with improved cellulase activities." The patent describes nucleic acid molecules encoding chimeric cellulase polypeptides that exhibit improved cellulase activities. The chimeric cellulase polypeptides encoded by these nucleic acids and methods to produce the cellulases are also defined, along with methods of using chimeric cellulases for the conversion of cellulose to sugars such as glucose.

  • Eric Knoshaug, Bryon Donohoe, Lieve Laurens, and Stefanie van Wychen were recognized for their U.S. patent, "Disruption of cell walls for enhanced lipid recovery." The patent presents methods of using cell wall degrading enzymes for recovery of internal lipid droplets from biomass sources such as algae. Methods for recovering lipids from the cells that eliminate solvent extraction to create a simple, environmentally sound, and economical lipid recovery process are also outlined.

Key Contributor Awards

These awards recognize license agreements that enable the transfer of technologies so that they can be matured and deployed in the future. Bioenergy staff awardees for FY15 were:

  • The team of John Baker, Yannick Bomble, Roman Brunecky, Mike Himmel, Jeff Linger, and Qi Xu for its intellectual property license to FedImpact, LLC, for a portfolio of synthetic proteome IP for human and veterinary therapeutic and diagnostic applications.

  • Todd Vinzant, along with his NREL team members from Buildings & Thermal Systems-Ron Judkoff, Eric Kozubal, and Jason Woods-for working with BePower Tech for an exclusive license to the NREL desiccant-enhanced evaporative cooling portfolio for combined natural gas air conditioning and power generation.

Technology Transfer Excellence Awards

These awards honor NREL's impactful partnering and licensing, and product release activity, along with technologies that have been in development for a while and are starting to make an impact in the marketplace. Recipients included the following bioenergy staff:          

  • Todd Vinzant, and his NREL team members Ron Judkoff, Eric Kozubal, and Jason Woods from Buildings & Thermal Systems, for an outstanding new license agreement with BePower Tech for the Desiccant-enhanced Evaporative (DEVAP) Air-Conditioner. BePower Tech licensed DEVAP in 2014 and has made significant progress developing the BeCool air conditioner, which uses low-cost natural gas to produce high value electricity while producing cool/conditioned air at 70% of the operating cost of conventional high efficiency air conditioner.

  • The team of Yat-Chen Chou, Richard Elander, Mary Ann Franden, Wesley Hjelm, Ed Jennings, Robert Lyons, Ali Mohagheghi, Darren Peterson, David Sievers, David Templeton, Melvin Tucker, Jeffrey Wolfe, and Min Zhang, for their outstanding business collaboration with DuPont. The partnership got its start in 2002 when the two organizations set out to improve the cellulosic ethanol process. Two technologies developed include (1) the dilute ammonia-based pretreatment, which deconstructs corn stover so it is properly prepped for the enzyme step in the process, and (2) the engineered strain of Zymomonas mobilis, which can convert both the C6 and C5 sugars from plant biomass into ethanol. The collaboration helped lead to DuPont's decision to open one of the world's first pilot-scale commercial cellulosic ethanol plants in Vonore, Tennessee, which began operating in late 2009. The plant uses a unique biomass pretreatment process developed by DuPont and NREL.

Rising Star Award

The Rising Star Awards recognize employees who have less than six years of service at the laboratory and have demonstrated increased engagement with the commercialization and technology transfer system through sustained submission of Records of Invention or Software Records.

The NBC's Derek Vardon received one of this year's Rising Star Awards for his efforts in catalyst process design and integration for renewable chemical and fuel production, including producing renewable carbon fiber precursors, bioplastic, and bio-nylon intermediates.

Photo of a man receiving an award on a stage while the presenter is shaking his hand.


NREL Director Martin Keller presents the Director’s Publication Award to Paul King and Katherine Brown (not pictured) at this year’s Innovation and Technology Transfer Awards. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Director's Publication Award

New this year, the Director's Publication Award recognizes a more recent publication with high impact potential, and was awarded to Katherine Brown and Paul King for their article recently published in Science that outlines a cutting-edge ammonia product process: "Light-driven dinitrogen reduction catalyzed by a CdS:Nitrogenase MoFe protein biohybrid."

For more information about additional Innovation and Technology Transfer Awards winners, see the NREL news release.