An etching technique that makes silicon wafers more efficient and a mammoth
power generator that sets a new standard for the production of solar energy
- both developed at the U.S.
Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory - have
been named among this year's most significant innovations by Research + Development
The two prestigious awards, known in the research and development community
as "the Oscars of Innovation," brings to 47 the number of R&D
100 awards that NREL has won since 1969, when the magazine launched the awards
for the best new technologies from around the world.
"I want to congratulate all of this year's winners on their awards
and to thank them for their work," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. "The
large number of winners from the Department of Energy's national labs
every year is a clear sign that our labs are doing some of the most innovative
research in the world. This work benefits us all by enhancing America's
competitiveness, ensuring our security, providing new energy solutions, and
expanding the frontiers of our knowledge. Our national labs are truly national
treasures, and it is wonderful to see their work recognized once again."
Both R&D 100 awards recognize research at NREL's National Center for Photovoltaics.
"These two technologies will play an important part in advancing solar
energy's competitiveness and enhancing the availability of solar power
in the United States and around the world," NREL Director Dan Arvizu said.
The "Black Silicon" Nanocatalytic Wet-Chemical Etch
emerged from work by NREL photovoltaic researchers that demonstrated that "black
silicon" solar cells, which have been chemically etched to appear black,
can better absorb the sun's energy. The inexpensive, one-step method reduces
light reflection from silicon wafers to less than 2 percent, and promises to
reduce manufacturing production cost and capital expense.
Any photons reflected from the surface of a solar cell are wasted. To reduce
reflected sunlight and increase cell efficiency, NREL scientists invented the
antireflection process that turns silicon wafers black so they absorb 98 percent
of solar radiation.
Today's solar cells absorb about 95 percent of the sun's radiation,
so the new high-absorption black silicon process could make solar cells some
3 percent more efficient. That should reduce the cost of energy delivered over
the life of a silicon PV array by about 2.5 percent.
NREL's Howard Branz is the principal scientist for the black-silicon
etch technology, working with postdoctoral researcher Hao-Chih Yuan, research
scientist Matthew R. Page, senior research technician Vernon E. Yost, senior
scientist Scott Ward and engineer Anna Duda.
The Amonix 7700 Solar Power Generator was developed in a partnership
between NREL and Amonix. It is a highly concentrated, highly efficient bulk
power generator that produces 40 percent more energy than conventional fixed
photovoltaic panels. The 53-kilowatt photovoltaic power generator is based on
the MegaModule, a turnkey unit pairing a durable Amonix Fresnel lens with high-efficiency
multi-junction solar cells.
The Amonix 7700 is the first terrestrial photovoltaic system capable of converting
one-fourth of the sun's energy into usable electricity. It produces "more
power per tower" by using record-efficient solar cells, tried-and-true
concentrator Fresnel lenses and smart controller and tracker systems.
It is expected to be a game-changer, sharply increasing the viability of PV-generated
electricity to compete with fossil fuels. At 53 kilowatts of electricity generation
per unit, it has the highest capacity in the industry, and it can be installed
in days, rather than the weeks or months typical of large-scale concentrated
Martha Symko-Davies, manager of NREL's PV Technology Incubator, led the
NREL effort along with Amonix's Vahan Garboushian, Robert McConnell and