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Innovation Impact Publications

NREL has a rich history of scientific innovation and partnering with industry in research and development across our primary areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency research: analysis, bioenergy, buildings, manufacturing, solar, transportation, and wind technologies.

Learn more about NREL's Innovation Impact by viewing the fact sheets below on our key breakthrough results.

NREL Case Study Leads to International Partnership

In 2012, NREL analysts produced a case study that proposed a cross-cutting initiative to transform the world's power systems by implementing two complementary strategies: the largescale deployment of renewable energy, and a combination of comprehensive energy efficiency and smarter grids. This recommendation led to the launch of the 21st Century Power Partnership.

NREL Develops OpenEI.org, a Public Website Where Energy Data can be Generated, Shared, and Compared

NREL has developed OpenEI.org, a public, open, data-sharing platform where consumers, analysts, industry experts, and energy decision makers can go to boost their energy IQs, search for energy data, share data, and get access to energy applications.

NREL Energy Models Examine the Potential for Wind and Solar Grid Integration

As renewable energy generating sources, such as wind turbines and solar power systems, reach high levels of penetration in parts of the United States, NREL is helping the utility industry to peer into the future. Using software modeling tools that the lab developed, NREL is examining the future operation of the electrical grid as renewable energy continues to grow.

NREL Patents a Catalyst that Removes Syngas Tar, Boosting the Economics of Biofuels

NREL has patented a catalyst that reforms tar into syngas, a breakthrough that can accelerate the process of getting biomass ready for fuel synthesis and use as a drop-in fuel.

NREL Produces Ethylene via Photosynthesis; Breakthrough Offers Cleaner Alternative for Transportation Fuels

NREL scientists have demonstrated a way to produce ethylene through photosynthesis, a breakthrough that could lead to more environmentally friendly ways to produce a variety of materials, chemicals, and transportation fuels.

NREL Proves Cellulosic Ethanol Can Be Cost Competitive

Ethanol from non-food sourcesknown as "cellulosic ethanol"is a near-perfect transportation fuel: it is clean, domestic, abundant, and renewable, and it can potentially replace 30% of the petroleum consumed in the United States, but its relatively high cost has limited its market. That changed in 2012, when NREL demonstrated the technical advances needed to produce cellulosic ethanol at a minimum ethanol selling price of $2.15/gallon (in 2007 dollars). Through a multi-year research project involving private industry, NREL has proven that cellulosic ethanol can be cost competitive with other transportation fuels.

Reducing Enzyme Costs Increases the Market Potential of Biofuels

Cellulosic ethanol prices depend heavily on the cost of the cellulase enzymes used to break down the biomass into fermentable sugars. To reduce these costs, NREL partnered with two leading enzyme companies, Novozymes and Genencor, to engineer new cellulase enzymes that are exceptionally good at breaking down cellulose.

NREL's OpenStudio Helps Design More Efficient Buildings

The free, NREL-created OpenStudio software platform makes it easier for architects and engineers to evaluate building energy efficiency measures throughout the design process. OpenStudio makes energy modeling more accessible and affordable, helping professionals to design structures with lower utility bills and less carbon emissions, resulting in a healthier environment. The software platform includes a user-friendly application suite that makes the U.S. Department of Energy's EnergyPlus and Radiance simulation engines easier to use for whole building energy and daylighting performance analysis.

NREL Recommends Ways to Cut Building Energy Costs in Half

Building designers and operators could cut energy use by 50% in large office buildings, hospitals, schools, and a variety of storesincluding groceries, general merchandise outlets, and retail outletsby following the innovative energy-saving recommendations in technical support documents and Advanced Energy Design Guides compiled by NREL.

NREL's Building-Integrated Supercomputer Provides Heating and Efficient Computing

NREL teamed with Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Intel to develop the innovative warm-water, liquid-cooled Peregrine supercomputer, which not only operates efficiently but also serves as the primary source of building heat for NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility offices and laboratories. This high-performance computer (HPC) can perform more than a quadrillion calculations per second as part of the world's most energy-efficient HPC data center.

Award-Winning Etching Process Cuts Solar Cell Costs

NREL scientists have invented the "black silicon" nanocatalytic wet-chemical etch, an inexpensive, one-step process that literally turns the solar cells black, allowing them to absorb more than 98% of incident sunlight. The process costs just a few cents per watt of solar-cell power-producing capacity.

Breakthrough Furnace Can Cut Solar Industry Costs

A game-changing Optical Cavity Furnace, developed by NREL, uses optics to heat and purify solar cells at unmatched precision, while also boosting the cells' efficiency.

NREL Innovations Help Drive Wind Industry Transformation

For nearly 30 years, NREL has helped the wind turbine industry through design and research innovations. The comprehensive capabilities of the National Wind Technology Center, ranging from specialized computer simulation tools to unique test facilities, has been used to design, develop, and deploy several generations of advanced wind energy technology.

NREL Invention Speeds Solar Cell Quality Testing for Industry

A solid-state optical system, invented by NREL, measures solar cell quantum efficiency (QE) in less than a second, enabling a suite of new capabilities for solar cell manufacturers. NREL's technique, commercialized by Tau Science as the FlashQE system, uses a solid-state light source, synchronized electronics, and advanced mathematical analysis to parallel-process QE data in a tiny fraction of the time required by the current method, allowing its use on every solar cell passing through a production line.

Award-Winning Etching Process Cuts Solar Cell Costs

NREL scientists have invented the "black silicon" nanocatalytic wet-chemical etch, an inexpensive, one-step process that literally turns the solar cells black, allowing them to absorb more than 98% of incident sunlight. The process costs just a few cents per watt of solar-cell power-producing capacity.

Breakthrough Furnace Can Cut Solar Industry Costs

A game-changing Optical Cavity Furnace, developed by NREL, uses optics to heat and purify solar cells at unmatched precision, while also boosting the cells' efficiency.

NREL Invention Speeds Solar Cell Quality Testing for Industry

A solid-state optical system, invented by NREL, measures solar cell quantum efficiency (QE) in less than a second, enabling a suite of new capabilities for solar cell manufacturers. NREL's technique, commercialized by Tau Science as the FlashQE(TM) system, uses a solid-state light source, synchronized electronics, and advanced mathematical analysis to parallel-process QE data in a tiny fraction of the time required by the current method, allowing its use on every solar cell passing through a production line.

NREL Spurred the Success of Multijunction Solar Cells

Many scientists once believed that high-quality gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) alloys could not be grown for use as semiconductors because the alloys would separate. However, researchers at NREL thought differently, and they employed GaInP in a material combination that allowed the multijunction cell to flourish. The multijunction cell is now the workhorse that powers satellites and the catalyst for renewed interest in concentrating photovoltaic products.

Quantum Dots Promise to Significantly Boost Solar Cell Efficiencies

In the search for a third generation of solar-cell technologies, a leading candidate is the use of "quantum dots"tiny spheres of semiconductor material measuring only about 2-10 billionths of a meter in diameter. Quantum dots have the potential to dramatically increase the efficiency of converting sunlight into energyperhaps even doubling it in some devicesbecause of their ability to generate more than one bound electron-hole pair, or exciton, per incoming photon.

Rapid Deposition Technology Holds the Key for the World's Largest Manufacturer of Thin-Film Solar Modules

First Solar, Inc. has been collaborating with NREL since 1991, advancing its thin-film cadmium telluride solar technology to grow from a startup company to become one of the world's largest manufacturers of solar modules, and the world's largest manufacturer of thin-film solar modules.

NREL's Isothermal Battery Calorimeters are Crucial Tools for Advancing Electric-Drive Vehicles

NREL's innovative Isothermal Battery Calorimeters (IBCs) are the only calorimeters in the world capable of performing the precise thermal measurements needed to make safer, longer-lasting, and more cost-effective batteries for the next generation of electric-drive vehicles. Now being commercialized in collaboration with NETZSCH, the IBCs are the most accurate devices of their kind and are capable of testing a wide size range of samples.

NREL-Led Team Improves and Accelerates Battery Design

NREL is leading some of the best minds from U.S. auto manufacturers, battery developers, and automotive simulation tool developers in a $20 million project to accelerate the development of battery packs and thus the wider adoption of electric-drive vehicles. The Computer-Aided Engineering for Electric Drive Vehicle Batteries (CAEBAT) collaboration is developing sophisticated software tools to help improve and accelerate battery design and boost the performance and consumer appeal of electric-drive vehicles with the ultimate goal of diminishing petroleum consumption and polluting emissions.

NREL Works to Increase Electric Vehicle Efficiency Through Enhanced Thermal Management

Researchers at NREL are providing new insight into how heating and cooling systems affect the distance that electric vehicles can travel on a single charge. Electric vehicle range can be reduced by as much as 68% per charge because of climate-control demands. NREL experts are collaborating with automotive industry partners to investigate promising thermal management technologies and strategies, including zone-based cabin temperature controls, advanced heating and air conditioning controls, seat-based climate controls, vehicle thermal preconditioning, and thermal load reduction technologies.

NREL Collaborative Improves the Reliability of Wind Turbine Gearboxes

To help minimize gearbox failures, in 2007 NREL initiated the Gearbox Reliability Collaborative (GRC), which consists of manufacturers, owners, researchers, and consultants. Based on all the lessons learned from the past five years, the GRC has now produced a new and improved design, which is projected to yield an operating lifetime of 12 years, more than triple that of the previous redesigned gearbox.

NREL Innovations Help Drive Wind Industry Transformation

For nearly 30 years, NREL has helped the wind turbine industry through design and research innovations. The comprehensive capabilities of the National Wind Technology Center, ranging from specialized computer simulation tools to unique test facilities, has been used to design, develop, and deploy several generations of advanced wind energy technology.

NREL Software Aids Offshore Wind Turbine Designs

NREL researchers are supporting offshore wind power development with computer models that allow detailed analyses of both fixed and floating offshore wind turbines.

NREL Studies Wind Farm Aerodynamics to Improve Siting

NREL researchers have confirmed through both observation and simulation that the influence of the atmosphere and wakes is more complex than the way it is represented in computer models used by the industry today. New models and the knowledge gained from studying wind turbine wakes is expected to lead to improved turbine design standards, increased productivity in large wind farms, and a lower cost of energy from wind power.

Explore NREL's Innovation Impact in depth.