NREL’s New Facility Will Advance Energy Alternatives

Congressman Bob Beauprez, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar officially “cut the ribbon” at the dedication of NREL’s new Science and Technology Facility in Golden, Colorado, at a ceremony this month which underscored NREL’s importance in solving the nation’s energy challenges.

The Science and Technology Facility (S&TF) is the latest addition to state-of-the-art research buildings on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) campus. The new facility will advance a number of the energy research priorities within the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative. The National Research Council — and the U.S. solar power industry — identified the facility as a critical need for the nation. “This beautiful and functional building will give the scientists and engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and their industry partners first-class space and equipment allowing them to more quickly move clean, affordable, domestic energy technologies to the market and into the hands of all Americans,” U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at the July 7 dedication for the facility. Adding Crucial Research Capabilities The purpose of the S&TF is to accelerate the development and commercialization of promising new energy alternatives — technologies that will cleanly and economically meet future demand for energy while reducing our nation’s reliance on imported oil. The 71,000-square-foot S&TF provides needed laboratory space and expands research capabilities necessary to accomplish DOE’s goals in solar, buildings, electrochromics, solid-state lighting, photovoltaics, thin-film coatings and devices, hydrogen, and nanotechnologies. Building Fosters Collaboration The building is uniquely designed to foster collaboration among government and industry scientists and engineers. A key feature is the Process Development and Integration Laboratory (PDIL), an 11,400-square-foot space that accommodates a new class of tools for thin-film photovoltaic deposition, processing and characterization. Researchers there are able to pass samples between laboratory equipment in a controlled environment, avoiding contamination and speeding the research process. In addition, there are nine distinct laboratories for advanced material synthesis, characterization and general support. These make up a flexible laboratory module, where space can be combined to form smaller and larger labs as needed. There are seven interaction spaces where researchers can share scientific results. Speeding New Technologies to Market “What all this means in a practical sense is that the S&TF itself will foster a new level of communication and cooperation among those working within it,” said NREL Director Dan Arvizu. “And by doing so it will bring about a more productive research program.” Arvizu noted that these practical features collectively are expected to cut the time it takes to commercialize new technologies by at least 25 percent, and in some cases by as much as 65 percent. Researchers will employ the laboratory to resolve the complex manufacturing issues confronting the next generation of solar, hydrogen, and fuel cell technologies. And researchers will support U.S. industry in the fast-expanding and highly competitive international marketplace for renewable energy systems. Energy Efficiency Features The S&TF is a model for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. It is designed to be NREL’s first Gold-level LEED-certified building, incorporating features that are expected to reduce energy use by 41 percent, compared to similar new federal buildings. Extensive use of daylighting reduces energy needs for electric lighting, and advanced heating, ventilation and cooling systems reduce energy consumption by half. Other strategies include chemical hoods that monitor airflow; energy recovery from exhaust air to temperature-condition fresh air; displacement ventilation for the offices; and high-efficiency pumps, fans and transformers. A new, shared high-efficiency chiller will save energy for both the S&TF, as well as the adjoining Solar Energy Research Facility. Environment Is Paramount The facility is a showcase for land use and architectural integration into the natural landscape. The multi-story design reduces the building footprint, conserving valuable land for open space and future expansion needs. The building incorporates water conservation, sustainable materials and indoor environmental quality principles. “The S&TF is an example of how DOE and NREL can take the best of the concepts and technologies we’ve developed over the years and combine them in a world-class facility,” Arvizu said, “a facility we will use to develop further breakthroughs in the future.” Integration with Other NREL Labs S&TF connects to the existing Solar Energy Research Facility via an elevated bridge. Laboratory space and office space are on the ground floor, while the second level houses general laboratories and the PDIL. The third level is reserved for mechanical support systems. Ground was broken for the $22 million facility in July 2004, and construction, headed by M.A. Mortenson Company, began in February 2005. The architect for the building was SmithGroup of Phoenix, Arizona.
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