Top Ten Cleantech Initiatives of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) located in Golden, Colorado and is America’s primary laboratory for energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development. NREL’s main mission is to advance the energy goals provided by the United States Department of Energy. The research and development capabilities of the NREL are focused to advance the nation’s energy goals through the development of innovations to change how the nation powers businesses and homes and fuel cars. The research and development areas of expertise include renewable electricity, integrated energy system testing and engineering, renewable fuels, and strategic energy analysis.

1) Advanced Vehicles and Fuels Research. One of the major challenges faced by the United States is meeting the increasing demand for transportation-related goods and services, while at the same time minimizing adverse energy, economic impacts, and environmental impacts. NREL is working to advance energy efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles and fuels. Some of the projects NREL is working on include energy storage, electric vehicle grid integration, secure transportation data, hybrid electric and fuel cell vehicles, and energy storage. NREL works with a variety of private and public organizations to research, develop as well as demonstrate innovative fuel and vehicle technologies to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, gain energy security, and improve air quality.

2) Basic Sciences Research. Research and development into basic sciences is extremely vital to NREL’s overall mission to develop energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. NREL scientists use their expertise and talents to study energy-related devices and materials. They explore different phenomena, investigate existing material as well as synthesize new materials, and model different approaches and devices. Some of the areas here include carbon-based nanoscience, biological sciences, and biomolecular sciences.

3) Biomass Research. NREL is currently doing biomass research and development into technologies that will convert biomass into fuels. The biofuels will increasingly reduce the overall national dependence on foreign oil, support rural economies, and improve overall air qualities. The projects the NREL is currently focused on include biochemical conversion, biomass characterization, thermochemical conversion, integrated biorefinery processes, catalyst and chemical science, biomass sustainability and process analyses, and microalgal biofuels. NREL is currently the lead national laboratory for the virtual National Bioenergy Center.

4) Buildings Research. Buildings are very important to overall well being as they are where people live, learn, work, worship, and heal. Therefore, buildings tend to have a significant energy and environmental impact. NREL is currently at the forefront in the research and development of advanced building technology to decrease the total amount of consumed energy in all buildings. The goal of the NREL is to improve energy efficiency in all buildings and increase the utilization of renewable energy based technologies in the next ten years. Research activities have included applied energy analysis tools, whole building integration, and innovative building technologies.

5) Hydrogen and Fuels Research. The hydrogen and fuel research projects at the NREL focus on hydrogen delivery, production and storage, technology validation, fuel cells, analysis, safety, standards and codes, manufacturing, and education. The work at the NREL supports the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies Program and also contributes to numerous advances across the field, including bioenergy, photovoltaics, wind, transportation, buildings, as well as basic sciences.

6) Electric Infrastructure Systems Research. At the NREL the electric infrastructure systems research and development focus on distributed energy certification and testing, renewable energy integration, interconnection codes and standards, control technology, smart grid research, distributed energy regulatory and institutional issues, and energy management and grid support applications. The technologies created will be utilized in an effort to strengthen power grids and improve their overall reliability. NREL is involved in technology development, standards and codes development, and testing and evaluation.

7) Energy Analysis. At NREL, energy analysis research and development aims at increasing the comprehensive understanding of current and future roles and interactions of energy markets, policies, technologies, resources, infrastructure, and environmental impact. The analyses are then used to further inform decisions as renewable energy and energy efficient technologies advance from the original concept to the total commercial application. The analysis capabilities include a number of core analysis areas, including technology systems, market, policy, and sustainability analyses.

8 ) Geothermal Technologies. The geothermal team at NREL is involved in the research and development of a number of projects associated with accelerating the research, development and deployment of renewable and clean geothermal technologies, such as strategic planning, low temperature resources, analysis and modeling, technical monitoring, and workforce and education deployment.

9) Photovoltaic Research. The photovoltaic research and development NREL programs are committed to improving America’s environmental quality, security, and economic prosperity via private-public partnerships that will bring affordable and reliable photovoltaic technologies to the current marketplace. The goals of the NREL, in partnership with the United States Department of Energy include making photovoltaic energy a sustainable and competitive energy source within today’s growing energy market and reduce solar energy costs for businesses and homeowners. Primary research and development projects include building-integrated photovoltaic projects, photovoltaic performance and reliability, electronic devices and materials, process development and integration, systems engineering, and silicon materials and devices.

10) Wind Research. The wind research and development projects at NREL focus on decreasing the overall cost of wind technology as well as expanding access to different wind energy sites. Through their specialized technical expertise, analysis tools and comprehensive design, and unique facilities for testing, NREL helps the wind industry overcome the various challenges associated with bringing wind technologies to the current marketplace. NREL also partners with national laboratories and universities that support wind technology research. Current projects focus on large, midsize and small wind turbine research, utility grid integration, and environmental impacts outreach. The goals of this include the reduction the cost associated with wind turbine technology, improvement of grid integration and power transmission issues, and expansion of the wind energy market.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at

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