NREL research honored with R&D 100 awards

November 16, 2015

A technology developed at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has been honored by R&D Magazine as a winner of a coveted R&D 100 award as well as an Editor's Choice award.

Jianping Yu's research into using a strain of cyanobacteria to produce bioethylene won both awards in the category of Mechanical Devices/Materials. The magazine presents R&D 100 awards - considered to be the Oscars of innovation - in five categories. Only one Editor's Choice Award was given in each of the five R&D 100 award categories. The awards were presented November 13, in Las Vegas.

A senior scientist with NREL's Biosciences Center and the principal investigator for the research, Yu developed a method to make bioethylene without the traditional use of petroleum. Yu's research showed ethylene could be made directly and continuously from a genetically modified cyanobacterium using sunlight and carbon dioxide (CO2). Normally, these organisms convert CO2 during photosynthesis into biomass, oils or sugars that require sacrificing the culture to recover the product. Yu's method redirected the cyanobacterium to use a portion of the CO2 to produce ethylene, not only a valuable product, but a gas capable of migrating out of the cell walls and enabling continuous production.

The traditional method of producing ethylene produces as much as three tons of CO2 for every ton of ethylene. Jianping sees a greener future where ethylene production could actually help mitigate CO2 from the environment instead.

A second NREL-developed technology was a finalist in the same category. SunStop is a flexible film that can be affixed to the interior side of an existing window and connected wirelessly to a controller. Once activated, the technology reflects heat and light. A Colorado company formed by serial entrepreneur Loren Burnett, called e-Chromic Technologies Inc., has licensed the SunStop technology from NREL and intends to use it in offices, homes and automobiles.

NREL's Robert Tenent, a senior scientist in the Chemical and Materials Science Center, and Tim Snow, a research scientist in the center, developed the SunStop technology.

Another finalist for the R&D 100 in the category of Mechanical Devices/Materials, was tested at NREL for its developer, Maxim Integrated. The national laboratory served as a testing site for deployment of the company's Solar Cell Optimizer, and investigated possible applications for it. The Solar Cell Optimizer uses a new technology to overcome the power and energy loss that comes when a photovoltaic module is cast in shadow.

Chris Deline, an engineer with NREL's Materials Application & Performance Center, was principal investigator for the project.