NREL Celebrates Fiscal Year 2023 Staff Awards and Tech Awards

May 13, 2024 | By Ernie Tucker | Contact media relations

Rows of people holding awards sit on a stage.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) Fiscal Year 2023 Staff Awards winners were honored at the annual Staff Awards Ceremony, hosted at the Mission Ballroom in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL

Kicking off the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) Fiscal Year 2023 (FY 2023) Staff Awards event, which has taken place annually since 1980, Director Martin Keller thanked Staff Awards Chair Molly Rettig, Communications lead at the Alaska Campus, and co-Chair Guli Blake, HR Compliance Officer, along with the Communications Events team.

Keller cohosted the ceremony at Denver’s Mission Ballroom facility alongside Ian Colrain, MRIGlobal's president and CEO. Colrain noted that MRIGlobal has been a proud supporter of NREL and its predecessor, the Solar Energy Research Institute, for more than half of his organization’s own 80-year history.

Then Rettig, the main conductor, struck up the band, thanking Blake, event coordinator Courtney Kendall, and Staff Awards committee members, including two who tuned in virtually from NREL’s Alaska Campus, Vanessa Stevens and Matt Irinaga, as well as Dan Steinberg from Maine.

For the rest of the event, change-makers and renewable energy rock stars were honored for their varied achievements accompanied by snippets of popular music.

FY 2023 Winners

A diverse set of awardees deserved recognition and celebration for FY 2023. Presenter Kelsey Ramirez announced the first recipient, Bioenergy Science and Technology Project Manager Courtney Payne.

Donal Finegan was then honored for his work on battery safety and efficiency.

“I think I’m echoing everyone else’s comments; NREL’s a wonderful place to work. It’s primarily driven by the people that surround us,” he said. “The people in my group, the researchers, are talented, among the most talented I’ve worked with in the world.” He concluded, “What a time to work at NREL, during the energy transition.”

Kendall then took the stage to welcome the Outstanding Team Award honorees to the podium. Honorees Jenn Sosh, Lindsay Steinman, Casey Schorzman, Christina Vader, and Evan Wong were gifted friendship bracelets in homage to a current pop icon as well as Staff Awards plaques.

Other Outstanding Performance awardees included Xin Jin, Hilary Sewell, Grant Buster, Ahni Hecht, Milan Rahman, Shelly Curtiss, Kent Terwilliger, Elise DeGeorge, Judy Will, Wesley Cole, and Thomas Bowen.

As the acts continued, there was a section comparable to election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that spotlighted two signature NREL honors given each year: the H.M. Hubbard Award and the Van Morris Award.

The FY 2023 Hubbard Award winner went to Kai Zhu, a visionary who saw the potential for metal halide perovskite material more than a decade ago. As a result, NREL has emerged as a global leader in this field. The FY 2023 Van Morris Award winner, Margo Melendez, has managed the Transportation Technology Integration group to new levels while also finding time to volunteer as the leader of the Hispanic & Latinx Alliance Employee Resource Group.

Innovation and Technology Transfer Awards

Anne Miller, Technology Transfer office director, kept up the beat as she announced the Innovation and Technology Transfer Awards Rising Star Awards. These are for early-career research staff who increased and sustained engagement with the technology commercialization function at NREL. Miller honored three Rising Stars: Kerry Rippy, Finegan, and Charles Tripp.

The Highest Impact Publication Award was for “Chiral-induced spin selectivity enables a room-temperature spin light-emitting diode,” a paper describing the use of engineered chiral perovskite materials. The team of authors includes Ashley Gaulding, Steve Harvey, Joseph Berry, Joey Luther, and Matthew Beard.

The FY 2023 Director’s Publication Impact award went to the “Examining Supply-Side Options to Achieve 100% Clean Electricity by 2035 technical report” by Paul Denholm, Patrick Brown, Wesley, Maxwell Brown, Trieu Mai, Brian Sergi, Paige Jadun, Jonathan Ho, Jack Mayernik, and Colin McMillan.

The Outstanding New Partnership Award was presented to Eric Kozubal and Rippy for the Blue Frontier Funds-In Agreement.

Kozubal happily thanked his team.

The impressive lineup continued: The Outstanding License award went to Gregg Beckham for the license of his inventions, a renewable nitrilation technology that represents a novel route to produce low-carbon bioproducts, to a startup, Mars Materials.

The Award for Outstanding Business Collaboration with a Startup went to Bethany Sparn, who has worked over the last eight years with five startups in the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) program. Her appearance was greeted by a chorus of applause from IN2 fans.

Finally, Kozubal, whose work on the Desiccant Enhanced Evaporative Air-Conditioning (DEVap) technology that stretches back nearly two decades and has spawned multiple licenses, was also named the FY 2023 Distinguished Innovator awardee. He played a refrain from his earlier speech, crediting his team for their harmonious efforts.

After, Keller thanked everyone, saying, “It’s clear why we are all here: We want to accomplish our mission. Very inspirational, this whole day.”

Concluding, Rettig ended on a high note by congratulating the awardees who have “inspired us all with your passion and commitment to making the world a better place.”

After the official ceremony, Carishma Gokhale-Welch, former Staff Awards winner and member of the FY 2023 committee, gave Rettig copies of NREL’s Clean Energy Innovators book the committee had signed for her and co-Chair Blake. The book, sort of a greatest-hits collection of the laboratory’s people, includes stories about some of this year’s winners and members of NREL’s Leadership Team. It is available for a free download.

“The research, analysis, and deployment work at NREL is ultimately about people,” Gokhale-Welch said. “What better way to recognize the efforts of Molly and Guli than presenting them with the Clean Energy Innovators book, which tells the story of the people that power the innovation?”

And once again, with the FY 2023 Staff Awards, the mission of recognizing NREL’s people was accomplished.

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Tags: Awards