The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was selected by R&D Magazine as one of the top 100 contributors of innovations for its liquid silicon, FlashQE and optical cavity furnace. The three awards bring NREL’s total R&D 100 awards, since 1982, to 50.
NREL’s first award was for its silicon ink, a liquid form of silicon, which was developed under a partnership with Innovalight. NREL points out that this is the first time silicon has been sold as a liquid and states that the Innovalight Silicon Ink process can increase a solar production plants end product by 20% while making solar cells 6% more efficient. The silicon ink process was achieved by adding a screen printer to the manufacturing line, which NREL states increased the solar cell’s efficiency by allowing lighter doping and improving the response to the blue portion of the spectrum.
The NREL won its second R&D Magazine 100 award for Flash Quantum Efficiency System for Solar Cells, a process that was developed with Tau Science and is supposed to evaluate a solar cell’s quality at a speed that is 1,000 times faster than traditional methods. The FlashQE uses light-emitting diodes, high-speed electronics and mathematical processes to measure the quantum efficiency of solar cells. David Young, a senior scientist at NREL, maintains that this process allowed for a random sample of cells to have their efficiency monitored in one second, compared to 20 minutes.
NREL’s final award came for its new furnace innovation, the Optical Cavity Furnace, which employs photons to evenly-heat crystalline solar cells and semiconductor materials. Bhushan Sopori, NREL principal scientist, advised that the furnace improved solar cell’s efficiency by 3% to 4% with a cost that is 75% below an industrial thermal or infrared furnace. The furnace is licensed to AOS Solar and branded as the Optical Processing Furnace.
Steven Chu, US Energy Secretary noted that 36 of the 100 R&D awards were bestowed to research conducted at US federal labs and facilities. “The cutting-edge research and development done in our national labs (and sites) is helping to meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security and enhance our economic competitiveness. It is gratifying to see their work recognized once again,” commented Chu.
Representatives from NREL will join other R&D 100 winners for an awards ceremony in Orlando, Florida on October 13.