News & Announcements

We do so many things here at Nexus – scroll for more about the things we have done and the things we want to do. From classes to seminars, workshops and funding opportunities, read on to learn more about our work.

 

JISEA Celebrates a Decade of Energy System Transformation Through Analysis

March 25, 2020

In 2010, NREL leaders decided to launch the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA)—a partnership between NREL and academia—to look beyond individual technologies and consider the bigger picture of how to develop and deploy renewables in an energy economy.

“This energy transition isn’t monolithic,” said Jill Engel-Cox, JISEA’s current director. “Each country has its own set of natural and human resources, energy needs, and social preferences, so every clean energy solution will be unique.”

Brought to us by the NREL communications team. Read more on Nancy’s accomplishments on the NREL website here. If you are a member of the media and wish to learn more, please contact David Glickson at 303-275-4097 or email David.Glickson@nrel.gov.

What's Next?

The faculty and staff at Nexus are working to provide activities during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you are interested in any of the activities below, please click the links for more information.

In the Recent Past. . .

Below are activities and events that may be of interest to you. To find out more information, click the title of the event to activate the toggle.

4D STEM-in-SEM: developing scanning electron diffraction measurements for the scanning electron microscope by Ben Caplins, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Held on April 14, 2020

Historically, the scanning electron microscope (SEM) has been used to study the surfaces of materials, and the transmission electron microscope (TEM) has been used to study the “internal” structure of materials. A driving cause for this difference is that the mean free path for electrons at SEM beam energies (≤30 keV) is much shorter than that for TEM beam energies (≥80 keV). In effect, the incident electrons in an SEM cannot pass through conventional SEM samples, and therefore most of the generated signals pertain to the surface region. In contrast, the incident electrons in the TEM can pass through samples and generate useful through thickness information on the material structure and defects. The transmission SEM project at NIST serves to challenge these historical roles by expanding the measurement modes in an SEM to include numerous transmission modes. Some of these modes are of particular relevance for 2-dimensional materials and nanomaterials where the short mean free path for electrons typical of SEM energies can be highly beneficial. In this presentation, some of our efforts to realize a scanning electron diffraction measurement known as 4D STEM-in-SEM will be presented. As the archetypal 2-dimensional material that can be challenging to analyze structurally, graphene films are used to demonstrate the technique. We will describe the some of the signals obtained in transmission mode, how to experimentally capture them, and discuss some of the analysis methods possible with the generated 4D dataset.

NREL News Releases

Below find the five latest news releases from our partners at NREL.

NREL, ExxonMobil Teams Imagine, Research New Solutions for Tomorrow’s Energy Challenges

August 18, 2020

Through a research partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the corporate giant that once urged motorists to “Put a tiger in your tank,” may one day suggest they fuel up with some algae.

A year into their unique collaboration, NREL and ExxonMobil are navigating a multi-pronged effort toward a future where clean-burning biofuels replace some petroleum-based fuels. The two have agreements in place covering the gamut from increasing the productivity of algae to understanding pollutants associated with different aspects of refining cellulosic biomass into a fuel.

“We’ve both been focused on algae biofuels for many years, so we’re sort of joining forces to help each other,” said Lieve Laurens, a biochemist and head of NREL’s algae program.

Full story…

Media may contact:
Wayne Hicks
303-275-4051
wayne.hicks@nrel.gov

Grid Coordination Opens Road for Electric Vehicle Flexibility
August 3, 2020

As electric vehicle (EV) sales continue to rev up in the United States, the power grid is in parallel contending with the greatest transformation in its 100-year history: the large-scale integration of renewable energy and power electronic devices.

Coordinating large numbers of EVs with the power system presents a highly complex challenge that will test the limits of grid integration, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) sees opportunity at the intersection of energy systems and transportation. With powerful resources for simulating and evaluating complex systems, several NREL projects are determining the coordination required for fast charging, balancing electrical supply and demand, and efficient use of all energy assets.

Full story…

Media may contact:
David Glickson
303-275-4097
david.glickson@nrel.gov

Hats Off and Happy Trails to NREL Wind and Water Pioneer Bob Thresher
July 22, 2020

From his trademark black hat to his legendary one-liners and singing contributions to the Wind Weenie Wailers, Research Fellow Bob Thresher undoubtedly cuts a memorable, larger-than-life figure.

When asked to describe him, Thresher’s colleagues label him as everything from “pioneer” and “mentor” to “friend,” “hero,” and even “rock star.”

They are not all misty-eyed tributes, however.

Everyone loves a good story—and several have been written about Thresher over the years—which begs the question: What has not yet been said about him and his time at NREL?

As he looks toward retirement and shifting to an emeritus position at the lab, we sat down with the wind and water pioneer to find out.

Full story…

Media may contact:
David Glickson
303-275-4097
David.Glickson@nrel.gov

NREL Research Points to Strategies for Recycling of Solar Panels
July 13, 2020

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have conducted the first global assessment into the most promising approaches to end-of-life management for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules.

PV modules have a 30-year lifespan. There is currently no plan for how to manage this at end of their lifespan. The volume of modules no longer needed could total 80 million metric tons by 2050. In addition to quantity, the nature of the waste also poses challenges. PV modules are made of valuable, precious, critical, and toxic materials. There is currently no standard for how to recycle the valuable ones and mitigate the toxic ones.

Numerous articles review individual options for PV recycling but, until now, no one has done a global assessment of all PV recycling efforts to identify the most promising approaches.

“PV is a major part of the energy transition,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist at NREL who specializes in sustainability science. “We must be good stewards of these materials and develop a circular economy for PV modules.”

Heath is lead author of “Research and development priorities for silicon photovoltaic module recycling supporting a circular economy,” which appears in the journal Nature Energy. His co-authors from NREL are Timothy Silverman, Michael Kempe, Michael Deceglie, and Teresa Barnes; and former NREL colleagues Tim Remo and Hao Cui. The team also collaborated with outside experts, particularly in solar manufacturing.

“It provides a succinct, in-depth synthesis of where we should and should not steer our focus as researchers, investors, and policymakers,” Heath said.

The authors focused on the recycling of crystalline silicon, a material used in more than 90% of installed PV systems in a very pure form. It accounts for about half of the energy, carbon footprint, and cost to produce PV modules, but only a small portion of their mass. Silicon’s value is determined by its purity.

“It takes a lot of investment to make silicon pure,” said Silverman, PV hardware expert. “For a PV module, you take these silicon cells, seal them up in a weatherproof package where they’re touching other materials, and wait 20 to 30 years—all the while, PV technology is improving. How can we get back that energy and material investment in the best way for the environment?”

The authors found some countries have PV recycling regulations in place, while others are just beginning to consider solutions. Currently, only one crystalline silicon PV-dedicated recycling facility exists in the world due to the limited amount of waste being produced today.

Based on their findings, the authors recommend research and development to reduce recycling costs and environmental impacts, while maximizing material recovery. They suggest focusing on high-value silicon versus intact silicon wafers. The latter has been touted as achievable, but silicon wafers often crack and would not likely meet today’s exacting standards to enable direct reuse. To recover high-value silicon, the authors highlight the need for research and development of silicon purification processes.

The authors also emphasize that the environmental and economic impacts of recycling practices should be explored using techno-economic analyses and life-cycle assessments.

Finally, the authors note that finding ways to avoid waste to begin with is an important part of the equation, including how to make solar panels last longer, use materials more effectively, and produce electricity more efficiently.

“We need research and development because the accumulation of waste will sneak up on us,” Silverman said. “Much like the exponential growth of PV installations, it will seem to move slowly and then rapidly accelerate. By the time there’s enough waste to open a PV-dedicated facility, we need to have already studied the proper process.”

If successful, these findings could contribute one piece of a PV circular economy.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office funded the analysis.

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 the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

Media may contact:
Wayne Hicks
303-275-4051
wayne.hicks@nrel.gov

Breakthrough Machine Learning Approach Quickly Produces 50X Higher-Resolution Climate Data
July 7, 2020

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a novel machine learning approach to quickly enhance the resolution of wind velocity data by 50 times and solar irradiance data by 25 times—an enhancement that has never been achieved before with climate data.

The researchers took an alternative approach by using adversarial training, in which the model produces physically realistic details by observing entire fields at a time, providing high-resolution climate data at a much faster rate. This approach will enable scientists to complete renewable energy studies in future climate scenarios faster and with more accuracy.

“To be able to enhance the spatial and temporal resolution of climate forecasts hugely impacts not only energy planning, but agriculture, transportation, and so much more,” said Ryan King, a senior computational scientist at NREL who specializes in physics-informed deep learning.

King and NREL colleagues Karen Stengel, Andrew Glaws, and Dylan Hettinger authored a new article detailing their approach, titled “Adversarial super-resolution of climatological wind and solar data,” which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Accurate, high-resolution climate forecasts are important for predicting variations in wind, clouds, rain, and sea currents that fuel renewable energies. Short-term forecasts drive operational decision-making; medium-term weather forecasts guide scheduling and resource allocations; and long-term climate forecasts inform infrastructure planning and policymaking.

However, it is very difficult to preserve temporal and spatial quality in climate forecasts, according to King. The lack of high-resolution data for different scenarios has been a major challenge in energy resilience planning. Various machine learning techniques have emerged to enhance the coarse data through super resolution—the classic imaging process of sharpening a fuzzy image by adding pixels. But until now, no one had used adversarial training to super-resolve climate data.

“Adversarial training is the key to this breakthrough,” said Glaws, an NREL postdoc who specializes in machine learning.

Adversarial training is a way of improving the performance of neural networks by having them compete with one another to generate new, more realistic data. The NREL researchers trained two types of neural networks in the model—one to recognize physical characteristics of high-resolution solar irradiance and wind velocity data and another to insert those characteristics into the coarse data. Over time, the networks produce more realistic data and improve at distinguishing between real and fake inputs. The NREL researchers were able to add 2,500 pixels for every original pixel.

“By using adversarial training—as opposed to the traditional numerical approach to climate forecasts, which can involve solving many physics equations—it saves computing time, data storage costs, and makes high-resolution climate data more accessible,” said Stengel, an NREL graduate intern who specializes in machine learning.

This approach can be applied to a wide range of climate scenarios from regional to global scales, changing the paradigm for climate model forecasting.

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 the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

Media may contact:
David Glickson
303-275-4097
david.glickson@nrel.gov

Be in the Know - Sign up today!

NREL Monthly News Email Digest

Subscribe to this informational newsletter from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Headlines from this month’s issue included:

  • Greening Industry: Building Recyclable, Next-Generation Turbine Blades
  • NREL Solar Cell Sets Two World Records
  • Automated Test Bed for Residential Battery Systems
  • Global ‘Fashion for Good’ Picks Pienkos

Colorado Energy Research Collaboratory (CERC)

Since 2007, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, and Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have
worked together on innovations and solutions
involving research surrounding the full spectrum of
energy sources, while partnering with their supply
chains, industry & research partners. The 9th Annual meeting has been rescheduled for May 4-5, 2021 with the title 21st Century Energy Transition Symposium. In addition to their annual meeting, the Collaboratory will host webinars throughout the year. Upcoming webinars include:

  • How can utilities transform their energy plans to advance clean energy? In partnership with the Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines, this webinar is scheduled for May 2020.
  • Focused on hydrogen, there will be another webinar in May in partnership with Colorado Cleantech Industries Association (CCIA), Denver Metro Clean Cities Coalition, and Colorado Hydrogen Network
  • In June and July, the Collaboratory will host three panels in partnership with Will Toor and his team at the Colorado Energy Office on Colorado Transportation Electrification focused on electric vehicles.
  • In July, the Collaboratory will host a webinar Decarbonization Strategies for Colorado from a Legislator’s and Utility Perspective that will include panelists State Senator Chris Hansen, Colorado Public Utility Commissioner, and a top executive from Xcel Energy.
  • Other webinars include Renewable natural gas, Powering women in energy—jobs and careers, The role of natural gas and natural gas infrastructure in the energy transition, and Decarbonization Solutions (that include multiple Collaboratory researchers and scientists)

Nexus in Action

Working in a Nexus lab, David Goggin is a graduate researcher. David shares his GRADS project in the video above!

Scientist Nancy Haegel [NREL] Uses the Elegance of Physics to Guide Materials Research

NREL Materials Science Center Director Nancy Haegel’s fingerprints were on semiconductor light detectors aboard NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. During that time, Haegel also worked on semiconductor materials for solar cells, radiation detectors, and light emitters—all areas that have helped inform her activities at NREL.

“When people ask what I do here, I’m never quite sure what to tell them,” Haegel said. “And so, in our center, I think the joke is that I am expensive grease”—pushing to help projects go forward with less friction. “I enjoy every day being expensive grease for such bright, committed people who are doing such great work.”

Brought to us by the NREL communications team. Read more on Nancy’s accomplishments on the NREL website here. If you are a member of the media and wish to learn more, please contact David Glickson at 303-275-4097 or email David.Glickson@nrel.gov.