Blog: 2018 Technology Days Connects Better Plants Partners with the National Labs

May 30, 2018

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Technology Days participants explore an interactive, 3D visualization of wind patterns in NREL’s Energy System Integration Facility Insight Center.
Technology Days participants explore an interactive, 3D visualization of wind patterns in NREL’s Energy System Integration Facility Insight Center.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Plants program is helping industry boost its productivity through adoption of energy technology being researched and developed at the 17 U.S. National Laboratories. This, in turn, enables the National Labs to validate the real-world performance and impact of these technologies, while getting feedback from industry on its needs and challenges, which can inform future early stage R&D. On April 24 - 25, 2018, Better Plants partners and prospects gathered at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, for the 2018 Technology Days.

Technology Days are prime opportunities for industrial energy and R&D staff to tour facilities at national laboratories, discover innovative technologies under development, network with lab staff and each other, and learn how to leverage research and technologies through lab-industry partnerships.  The 2017 Technology Days at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has already inspired collaborative R&D proposals, which could lead to significant energy savings.

NREL is the DOE’s primary National Laboratory for energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development, with expertise in manufacturing and building energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies. Technology Days began with overviews of Better Plants, DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, and presentations on several interesting projects at the lab:

One attendee, Rob Jambor of Owens Corning, is particularly excited about the REopt tool: “You can basically provide the inputs: what you’re making, how you’re making it, what your process is, and how much energy do you use. And then it can spit out recommendations on how to better reach some of the sustainability goals that we have…I think that can be very useful for us to identify onsite opportunities [and] where should we be putting our eggs.”

The event continued with tours of several of NREL’s state-of-the-art facilities – the Research Support Facility, Energy Systems Integration Facility, and Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility – and talks with onsite researchers and firsthand looks at their projects. “When I came I knew I was going to be looking at renewable energy technologies,” Eastman Chemical Company’s Sharon Nolen noted. “There were some things that kind of surprised me, like how the lab is looking at controlling the energy provided to electric vehicles on-site, that was pretty innovative. And then I was also kind of surprised to learn about some of the manufacturing capability, particularly with the roll-to-roll manufacturing. That may fit in well with some of the technologies that we have.”

Attendees next heard about the Better Buildings Smart Labs Accelerator, which links public and private sector-laboratories with the Federal Energy Management Program and helps them develop standardized approaches to overcoming common barriers to energy efficiency.

This year’s Technology Days ended with an optional tour of the National Wind Technology Center and Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology Facility, the nation’s premier wind energy, water power, and grid integration research facilities and a nexus of wind energy-related advanced composite materials research, respectively. These facilities are located several miles from the main NREL campus, where they take advantage of unique wind patterns.

The event inspired partners to think outside the box and consider ways to tap into the national labs; participants are already exploring next steps. “One thing I was particularly interested in was the discussion about how to make fume hoods more efficient,” Sharon Nolen said. “That is a big energy hog for our company and we think we’ve looked at a lot of ideas but I’m very interested in some additional discussions just to make sure there’s nothing we’ve overlooked. We hope we can learn something new about that.” Rob Jambor concluded, “I have a long list of different ways where maybe there are some overlaps where we could share knowledge.”