Basic Energy Sciences

NREL's basic energy sciences programs balance use-inspired and discovery R&D to provide underpinning knowledge and understanding for energy conversion and technologies.

Our programs include core projects, Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program awardees.

To develop solutions for renewable energy conversion and storage and related technologies, we utilize NREL's strong capabilities in semiconductors and materials science, nanomaterials synthesis and modification, synthesis and fabrication, photochemistry and advanced spectroscopy, and bioscience. These capabilities allow us to develop a better scientific understanding of molecular, nanoscale, semiconductor, and biological materials, systems, and processes.

Our basic energy sciences projects and their NREL principal investigators (PIs) are listed below.

Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences

Solar photochemistry (Jeff Blackburn)

Photosynthetic energy transduction (Paul W. King)

Mechanism of photochemical N2 reduction (Paul W. King)

Hierarchical scalable Green's function modeling of chemistry at interfaces (Computational Chemical Science Center; Mark van Schilfgaarde)

Mechanistic determinants of Flavin-based electron bifurcation (Early Career Award; Cara Lubner)

Cell-type specific pectins in plant cell walls (led by University of Georgia; Vivek Bharadwaj)

Beyond-density functional theory electrochemistry with accelerated and solvated techniques (led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Derek Vigil Fowler).

Understanding interfacial phenomena for solar H2 production and N2 reduction (led by SLAC National Laboratory; Todd Deutsch)

Materials Science and Engineering

Nitride materials and interfaces for radiation-hard integrated neutron detection (Nancy Haegel)
Partially funded by the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program

Ab initio theory of unconventional superconductivity (Mark van Schilfgaarde)

Design, discovery, and chemical synthesis of earth abundant ferromagnetic nitrides (Sage Bauers)

Disorder in topological semimetals (Kirstin Alberi)

Photophysical energy transfer for selective separations of critical lanthanides (Andrew Ferguson)
Partially funded by the Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences program

Kinetic synthesis of metastable nitrides (Early Career Award; Andriy Zakutayev)

Degradation mechanisms of aminopolymers used in direct air capture (led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Wade Braunecker)

Formulation engineering of energy materials via multiscale learning spirals (led by Cornell University; David Moore).

Understanding interfacial phenomena for solar H2 production and N2 reduction (led by Dartmouth; Sage Bauers)

Energy Frontier Research Centers


NREL leads the Center for Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Semiconductors for Energy EFRC.

NREL Principal Investigator: Matt Beard

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NREL participates in the Bioinspired Light-Escalated Chemistry EFRC.

NREL Principal Investigator: Garry Rumbles

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NREL participates in the Center for Alkaline-based Energy Solutions EFRC.

NREL Principal Investigator: Bryan Pivovar


NREL participates in the Center for Electrochemical Dynamics and Reactions on Surfaces EFRC.

NREL Principal Investigator: Myles Steiner

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NREL participates in the Ensembles of Photosynthetic Nanoreactors EFRC.

NREL Principal Investigator: Katie Hurst


NREL participates in the Reconfigurable Electronic Materials Inspired by Nonlinear Neuron Dynamics EFRC.

NREL Principal Investigator: Andrew Ferguson

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NREL participates in the Center for Soft PhotoElectroChemical Systems EFRC.

NREL Principal Investigator: Elisa Miller

Previously, NREL led the Center for Next Generation Materials Design and the Center for Inverse Design. NREL participated in these EFRCs: Biological Electron Transfer and Catalysis, Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics, Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels, Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials, Center for Energy Efficient Materials, and Molecularly Engineered Energy Materials.

Fuels From Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub

NREL is part of the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (LiSA), a Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub. Watch the video about LiSA research at NREL.

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The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science Basic Energy Sciences Program funds NREL’s basic science research.


Bill Tumas

Basic Energy Sciences Point of Contact