Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) took home high honors from Editors of R+D Magazine recently for two separate solar cell technologies that were named "the most revolutionary technologies of the year."
At its annual awards gala for the winners of the R&D 100 awards in Chicago Oct. 16, R&D Magazine announced that an NREL-developed ultra-light, highly efficient solar cell called the Inverted Metamorphic Multi-Junction solar cell, and a process that uses ink-jet printing to manufacture thin-film photovoltaics were selected for Editor's Choice Awards. Only four Editor's Choice Awards were given among a field of the top 100 technologies that received 2008 R&D 100 awards.
With these two Editor's Choice awards, NREL has now accumulated a total of 44 R&D 100 Awards, the "Oscars of Invention" which annually recognize the year's most significant technology developments.
"Clearly, we are seeing national recognition of the importance of solar energy in helping meet our nation's need for domestic energy," said NREL Director Dan Arvizu. "NREL's solar research, in partnership with private enterprise, is vital to creating technologies that can be pushed quickly to the marketplace to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I am pleased that the Editors of R&D Magazine recognize the excellent scientific achievements of our researchers."
The Inverted Metamorphic Multi-Junction Solar Cell represents a new class of solar cells with clear advantages in performance, engineering design, operation and cost. It employs an entirely new way of constructing solar cells. It was developed at NREL and is being commercialized by Emcore Corp. of Albuquerque, N.M., in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratories Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. The cell set three world records for solar conversion efficiency, with a top solar conversion rate that exceeded 40%.
The inkjet manufacturing process is a new technology for manufacturing Hybrid CIGS, or thin film PV employing layers of copper indium gallium diselenide. Thin films may not achieve the highest solar conversion efficiency levels set by crystalline silicon cells, but they do have other advantages. Thin films can be manufactured quickly and in large volumes using inks that cost a fraction of the cost of silicon. The thin-film photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing process combines NREL's precursor inks with a rapid reactive bonding technique being commercialized by HelioVolt Corp. of Austin, Texas. This combination eliminates complex manufacturing methods and could create enough of the flexible film to turn entire buildings and other structures into small, self-sustaining power plants. Xcel Energy also supported the work.
"Over the last three decades, researchers and others have envisioned a time when we might be able to do something as simple, fast, and inexpensive as constructing our houses and buildings with PV-coated materials to provide the electricity the buildings would need," said R&D editor in chief Tim Studt. "That vision will soon be a reality thanks to this low cost solar printing process developed by HelioVolt and NREL."
The Hybrid CIGS research team was led by Dr. David Ginley. The Inverted Metamorphic Multijunction solar cell was developed by a research team led by Dr. Mark Wanlass.
NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.
For further information contact NREL Public Relations at (303) 275-4090.