National Renewable Energy Laboratory
|Research type||Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy|
|Budget||$271 million (FY 14)|
|Director||Dan E. Arvizu|
|Staff||1620 full time and 678 visiting researchers, interns, and contractors (July 2014)|
|MRIGlobal and Battelle Memorial Institute|
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden, Colorado, is the United States' primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility, and is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This arrangement allows a private entity to operate the lab on behalf of the federal government under a prime contract. NREL receives funding from Congress to be applied toward research and development projects. NREL also performs research on photovoltaics (PV) under the National Center for Photovoltaics. NREL has a number of PV research capabilities including research and development, testing, and deployment. NREL's campus houses several facilities dedicated to PV research.
- 1 History
- 2 Funding in 2009 and 2010
- 3 Commercialization and technology transfer
- 4 National Center for Photovoltaics
- 5 National Bioenergy Center
- 6 National Wind Technology Center (NWTC)
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Established in 1974,[Note 1] NREL began operating in 1977 as the Solar Energy Research Institute. Under the Jimmy Carter administration, it was the recipient of a large budget and its activities went beyond research and development in solar energy as it tried to popularize knowledge about already existing technologies, like passive solar, amongst the population. During the Ronald Reagan administration, the institute's budget was cut by some 90%; many employees 'reduced in force' and the laboratory's activities were reduced to R&D. In later years, renewed interest in the energy problem improved the institute's position, but funding has fluctuated. In 2006 funding had dropped to the point that NREL was forced to lay off 32 workers, and in 2011 anticipated congressional budget shortfalls led to a voluntary buyout program for 100 to 150 staff reductions.
Since its inception in 1977 as the Solar Energy Research Institute, it has been operated under contract by MRIGlobal. In September 1991, the NREL was designated a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)by President George H.W. Bush and its name was changed to NREL. Currently, NREL is managed for the DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC. The Alliance was formed in 2008 as a joint venture between MRIGlobal and Battelle. Dr. Dan E. Arvizu became NREL's eighth Laboratory Director in January 2005, and currently serves as both the director of the lab and president of the Alliance.
Funding in 2009 and 2010
The FY 2010 Congressional Appropriations for renewable energy items were:
- Solar Energy $79.7 million
- Wind Energy $38.8 million
- Biomass and Biorefinery Systems R&D $38.3 million
- Hydrogen Technology $16.4 million
- Geothermal Technology $4.8 million
- Water Power $4.2 million
For 2009 funding was broken down between its major groups.
- Wind $33.9 million
- Biofuels $35.4 million
- Solar $72.4 million
Commercialization and technology transfer
NREL works closely with a number of private partners to transfer technological developments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to the marketplace and social arena. NREL's innovative technologies have been recognized with 57 R&D 100 Awards. The engineering and science behind these technology transfer successes and awards demonstrates NREL's commitment to a sustainable energy future. The idea of technology transfer was added to the mission of NREL as a means of enhancing commercial impact and societal benefit, ultimately justifying the use of tax dollars to in part fund the projects in the lab. As many of these technologies are young and often just emerging, NREL aims to reduce the risk of private sector investment and adoption of their developments. Three key pieces of federal legislation laid the policy framework to enact technology transfer: The Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980, The Bayh-Dole Act or The University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act of 1980, and The Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986.
Ultimately, many of the deployed technologies help mitigate the oil dependence of the United States, reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, and maintain U.S. industry competitiveness. Deployment of technologies is accomplished by developing technology partnerships with private industry. NREL serves as a reduced-risk platform for research, and through partnerships those advances can effectively be translated into serving the interest of both the private sector and the public sector. The energy goals set by the DOE are at the forefront of the research done in the laboratory, and the research reflects the energy goals, which are designed with the interest of "U.S. industry competitiveness" in mind. The challenge to achieving these goals is investment security.
Part of the technology transfer process is to form partnerships that not only focus on financial security, but also to consider partners who have demonstrated core values that reflect the integrity to manage the introduction and assimilation of the technological developments. NREL focuses on the core values of the partnering entity, the willingness to set and meet timely goals, dedication to transparency, and a reciprocating intent to further development. Under these partnership agreements, NREL does not fund projects conducted by their private partners. NREL does provide funding opportunities through their competitively placed contracts. In order to form a Technology Partnership Agreement with NREL, there are essentially 11 steps:
- Discuss the project proposal with the appropriate NREL technical contact
- Determine if the project meets qualifications (separate checklist of criteria)
- Determine agreement type
- Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs)
- Work for others
- Develop statement of work
- Provide draft agreement
- Review and/or negotiate
- Sign agreement
- Review and approve
- Send funds
- Start work
- Manage commitment
Moving further than Technology Partnership Agreements are Licensing Agreements and Nondisclosure Agreements. Licensing Agreements provide industry to market and commercialize technology developed by NREL. This type of agreement is available to any organization, regardless of size. A Nondisclosure Agreement is an agreement to implement confidentiality of information for a mutually beneficial collaboration in research and development.
Prior successes include the NREL and SkyFuel partnership in the next generation of solar parabolic troughs, and also the partnership between NREL scientists, Ampulse Corporation, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to create a less expensive alternative to wafer crystalline silicon solar cells.
Cooperative Research and Development Agreements
A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) is a partnership between NREL and an outside company. This type of agreement protects the intellectual property of both NREL and the outside company, and allows the investing company the right to exclusive field-of-use license for any inventions that come out of the CRADA. There are two types of CRADA's. A Shared-Resource CRADA is used to "develop, advance, or commercialize an NREL project, without money changing hands." The development and progress of a Shared-Resource CRADA must fit within the scope of an existing NREL project already funded by the DOE. The second type of agreement is called a "Funds-In" CRADA. It allows for the partner to pay for some or all of NREL expenses under a project, but NREL does not supply funds to the partner. A specific example of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) is between NREL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Ampulse Corporation to develop a less expensive silicon solar cell. Funding came from both parties, and the resulting processes and investigations were carried out in cooperation between the three entities (two federal and one non-federal).
Work for others
NREL offers technical services to partners who require resources that are not available to them through the form of a Work-for-Others agreement. This agreement differs from CRADA's in that they are not for the purpose of performing joint research. The partner covers the entire cost of the project. There are four types of Work-for-Others agreements:
- Interagency Agreement-Government (IAG): A partnership formed between the DOE and a second U.S. federal agency. The outside agency funds the project directly.
- Funds-In Agreement (FIA): A non-federal entity funds the project and research conducted by NREL. In some occasions, the partner can obtain title to inventions.
- Technical Services Agreement (TSA): A non-federal entity pays NREL for services related to an analytical problem. NREL provides consultation and basic technical assistance.
- Analytical Services Agreement (ASA): This is a narrower, more specified version of a Technical Services Agreement. Non-federal sponsors pay for a specific analytical service performed by the lab in one of 13 different categories of testing/characterization services. It is a small-scale agreement, often dubbed a "shrink-wrap" agreement, has a maximum duration of 3 months and a maximum value of $25,000.
Technology available for licensing
NREL offers licensing for many of its technologies related to energy efficiency and renewable energy development. Licensing of NREL's intellectual property is available to businesses of any size, from start-up to Fortune 500. The available technologies fall under the categories of: renewable electricity conversion and delivery systems, renewable fuels formulation and delivery, efficient and integrated energy systems, and strategic energy analysis. "NREL-developed technologies include vehicles and fuels, basic sciences, biomass, concentrating solar power, electric infrastructure systems, geothermal, hydrogen and fuel cells, photovoltaics, and wind energy." NREL has a list of 33 market summaries available for licensing, and the list includes information about the descriptions of the technologies, their benefits, potential applications, and their current stage in development. In addition to market summaries, NREL and the DOE hold 457 patents under the heading of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
National Center for Photovoltaics
The goals of the photovoltaics (PV) research done at NREL are to decrease the “nation's reliance on fossil-fuel generated electricity by lowering the cost of delivered electricity and improving the efficiency of PV modules and systems.” Photovoltaic research at NREL is performed under the National Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV). NREL, along with Sandia National Laboratories, helps to coordinate work on PV for the NCPV with other research institutions including Brookhaven National Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology, DOE's Regional Experiment Stations; Southeast Regional Experiment Station and the Southwest Technology Development Institute. The NCPV also partners with many universities and other industry partners. The National Center for Photovoltaics is part of the DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Program (STEP). STEP’s main goal is to “develop cost-competitive solar energy systems for America.”  The STEP program focuses funding on PV solar and concentrating solar because they feel that they have the greatest potential to be cost-competitive by 2015. In 2010, STEP spent over $128 million on PV research and development.
The lab maintains a number of research partnerships for PV research. Some examples include partnerships with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Western Governors' Association Solar Energy Task Force.
NREL uses its expertise in the areas of research and development, testing and evaluation, and deployment to achieve its goals when it comes to PV research.
Research and development
Some of the areas of PV R&D include the physical properties of PV panels, performance and reliability of PV, junction formation, and research into photo-electrochemical materials. NREL partners with both industry and academia to "investigate properties and operating mechanisms of cell materials and devices." Through this research, NREL hopes to surpass current technologies in efficiency and cost-competitiveness and reach the overall goal of generating electricity at $0.06/kWh for grid-tied PV systems.
NREL identifies the following as cornerstones to its PV R&D program:the High-Performance Photovoltaics Project, the Thin-Film Partnership, and the PV Manufacturing R&D Project.
The High-Performance Photovoltaics Project aims to double the conversion efficiency of solar PV panels by analyzing a broad set of complex technical issues. In doing so, they hope to create working prototypes of these high-efficiency PV panels. The Thin Film Partnership Program at NREL coordinates national research teams of manufacturers, academics, and NREL scientists on a variety of subjects relating to thin-film PV. The research areas of the Thin Film Partnership Program include amorphous silicon (a-Si), copper indium diselenide (CuInSe2 or CIS) and, cadmium telluride (CdTe), and module reliability.
NREL's PV Manufacturing Research and Development Project is an ongoing partnership between NREL and private sector solar manufacturing companies. It started in 1991 as the Photovoltaic Manufacturing Technology (PVMaT) project and was extended and renamed in 2001 due to its success as a project. The overall goal of research done under the PV Manufacturing R&D Project is to help maintain a strong market position for US solar companies by researching ways to reduce costs to manufacturers and customers and improving the manufacturing process. It is estimated that the project has helped to reduce manufacturing cost for PV panels by 50%. Examples of achievements under the PV Manufacturing Research and Development Project include the development of a manufacturing process that increase the production of silicon solar modules by 8% without increasing costs and the development of a new boron coating process that reduces solar costs over traditional processes.
NREL is capable of providing an array of testing and evaluation capabilities to the PV industry with indoor, outdoor, and field testing facilities. NREL is able to provide testing on long-term performance, reliability, and component failure for PV systems. NREL also has accelerated testing capabilities from both PV cells and system components to identify areas of potential long-term degradation and failure. NREL is accredited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for primary reference cell and secondary module calibration. It is also certified by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in accordance standard for calibrating terrestrial primary reference PV cells. The Device Performance group at NREL is able to measure the performance of PV cells and modules with regard to a standard or customized reference set. This allows NREL to serve as independent facility for verifying device performance. NREL allows industry members to test and evaluate potential products, with the hope that it will lead to more cost effective and reliable technology. The overall goal is to help improve the reliability in the PV industry.
NREL also seeks to raise public awareness of PV technologies through its deployment services. NREL provides a number of technical and non-technical publications intended to help raise consumer awareness and understanding of solar PV. Scientists at NREL perform research into energy markets and how to develop the solar energy market. They also perform research and outreach in the area of building-integrated PV. NREL is also an active organizer and sponsor in the DOE’s Solar Decathlon.
NREL provides a wealth of information on solar energy, beyond the scientific papers on research done at the lab. The lab provides a great number of publications on solar resources and manuals on different applications of solar technology, as well as a number of different solar resource models and tools. The lab also makes available a number of different solar resource data sets in its Renewable Resource Data Center.
NREL’s Golden, Colorado campus houses several facilities dedicated to PV and biomass research. In the recently opened Science and Technology Facility, research is conducted on solar cells, thin films, and nanostructure research. NREL's Outdoor Test Facility allows researchers to test and evaluate PV technologies under a range of conditions, both indoor and outdoor. Scientists at NREL work at the Outdoor Test Facility to develop standards for testing PV technologies. At the Outdoor Test Facility NREL researchers calibrate primary reference cells for use in a range of applications. One of the main buildings for PV research at NREL is the Solar Energy Research Facility (SERF). Examples of research conducted at the SERF include semiconductor material research, prototype solar cell production, and measurement and characterization of solar cell and module performance. Additionally, the roof at the SERF is able to house ten PV panels to evaluate and analyze the performance of commercial building-integrated PV systems. Additionally, R&D in PV materials and devices, measurement and characterization, reliability testing are also conducted at the SERF. At the Solar Radiation Research Laboratory, NREL has been measuring solar radiation and meteorological data since 1984.
National Bioenergy Center
The National Bioenergy Center (NBC) was established in October, 2000. "The National Bioenergy Center is composed of four technical groups and a technical lead for partnership development with industry. Partnership development includes work performed at NREL under Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA), Technical Service Agreements (TSA), Analytical Service Agreements (ASA), and Work for Others (WFO) contract research for DOE's industry partners."
The main focus of the research is to convert biomass into biofuels/biochemical intermediates via both biochemical and thermochemical processes.
The mission statement as of November, 2013, states:
- "The National Bioenergy Center's mission is to foster capability to catalyze the replacement of petroleum with transportation fuels from biomass by delivering innovative, cost-effective biofuels solutions."
The National Bioenergy Center is currently divided into certain technology and research areas:
- Applied Science
- Catalysis and Thermochemical Sciences and Engineering R&D
- Biochemical Process R&D
- Biorefinery Analysis
Learn about NREL's biomass research, development, and deployment projects by visiting this site
Some of the current projects are in the following areas:
- Biomass characteristics
- Biochemical conversion
- Thermochemical conversion
- Chemical and catalyst science
- Integrated biorefinery processes
- Microalgal biofuels
- Biomass process and sustainability analysis
NREL biomass researchers have strong capabilities in many facets of biomass technology that support the cost-effective conversion of biomass to biofuels. At NREL's state-of-the-art biomass research facilities, researchers design and optimize processes to convert renewable biomass feedstocks into transportation fuels and chemicals. The Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility (IBRF) houses multiple pilot-scale process trains for converting biomass to various liquid fuels at a rate of 450–900 kg (0.5–1 ton) per day of dry biomass. Unit operations include feedstock washing and milling, pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, fermentation, distillation, and solid-liquid separation. The heart of the Thermochemical Users Facility (TCUF) is the 0.5-metric-ton-per-day Thermochemical Process Development Unit (TCPDU), which can be operated in either a pyrolysis or gasification mode.
National Wind Technology Center (NWTC)
NREL's National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) is the nation's premier wind energy technology research facility. The NWTC advances the development of innovative land-based and offshore wind energy technologies through its research and testing facilities. Researchers draw on years of experience and their wealth of expertise in fluid dynamics and structural testing to also advance marine and hydrokinetic water power technologies. At the NWTC researchers work side-by-side with industry partners to develop new technologies that can compete in the global market and to increase system reliability and reduce costs. Learn more about the facilities and capabilities at the NWTC by viewing our fact sheet.
Located at the base of the foothills just south of Boulder, Colorado, the center's test sites experience diverse and robust wind patterns that are ideal for the development of advanced wind energy technologies. The NWTC's 305-acre site comprises field test sites, test laboratories, industrial high-bay work areas, machine shops, electronics and instrumentation laboratories, and office areas.
The NWTC is also home to NREL's Distributed Energy Resources Test Facility (DERTF). The DERTF is a working laboratory for interconnection and systems integration testing. This state-of-the-art facility includes generation, storage, and interconnection technologies as well as electric power system equipment capable of simulating a real-world electric system.
The center is the first facility in the United States with a controllable grid interface test system that has fault simulation capabilities and allows manufacturers and system operators to conduct the tests required for certification in a controlled laboratory environment. It is the only system in the world that is fully integrated with two dynamometers and has the capacity to extend that integration to turbines in the field and to a matrix of electronic and mechanical storage devices, all of which are located within close proximity on the same site.
Learn more about the NWTC's wind energy research capabilities.
- Renewable energy commercialization in the United States
- List of renewable energy organizations
- SMARTS (The Simple Model of the Atmospheric Radiative Transfer of Sunshine) a software published by NREL
- NREL was established by the Solar Energy Research Development and Demonstration Act of 1974, TITLE 42,CHAPTER 71,SUBCHAPTER II
- NREL to Lay Off 32 Staff, Budget Shortfall
- Plunkett, Chuck. National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden to cut 100-150 jobs through buyouts, The Denver Post, October 4, 2011.
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- NREL Overview
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- "Technologies Available for Licensing". Energy Innovation Portal. National Renewable Energy Lab. Retrieved 2011-04-15.
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- "NREL PV Research". Partnerships. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
- "PV Research and Development". NREL PV Research and Development. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
- "NREL PV Research". Projects. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "NREL PV Research". High-Performance Photovoltaics. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "NREL PV Research". Thin Film Partnership Program. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "NREL PV Research". Photovoltaic (PV) Manufacturing Research and Development (R&D) Project. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "NREL PV Testing and Evaluation". PV Testing and Evaluation. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
- "NREL PV Depolyment". PV Depolyment. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
- "NREL Renewable Resource Data Center". Solar Resource Data. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
- "Photovoltaics Research - Facilities". National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
- "Biomass Research - Facilities". National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
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