The 53rd R&D 100 Awards ceremony took place at the end of 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Going all the way back to 1963, these prestigious awards have identified and honored significant major technological breakthroughs every year.

At the Department of Energy (DOE), the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has a proven track record of supporting the invention and development of game-changing clean energy technologies. We invest in the nation’s top scientists, technologists, and entrepreneurs to deliver the technologies required to achieve our mission to create and sustain American leadership in the transition to a global clean energy economy. Our research and development (R&D) partnerships with DOE’s National Laboratories, including through our National Lab Impact Initiative, are particularly important for achieving our bold clean energy innovation goals.

In 2015, nine EERE-supported technologies invented by our National Laboratories were recognized with R&D 100 Awards in the fields of bioenergy, advanced manufacturing and vehicle technologies.

EERE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO)

Bioethylene via Modified Cyanobacteria

With support from BETO, National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientist Jianping Yu developed a method to make bioethylene using genetically modified cyanobacteria. The traditional petroleum-based method of producing ethylene emits as much as three tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every ton of ethylene. Yu's method redirected the cyanobacteria 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. That could lead to a cleaner energy future in which ethylene production could actually help mitigate CO2 from the environment.

Wet Biomass Fuel Conversion Process

BETO’s other winner involved a new chemical processing system, using hydrothermal processing to convert wet biomass into biofuels. Developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) researchers, this process turns biological materials into biofuels with greater energy efficiency than previous methods. PNNL has licensed the technology to Genifuel Corp. for further development and is also working with the Water Environment Research Foundation to demonstrate its effectiveness with municipal wastewater.

EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO)

Advanced 3D Printing Technologies

In 2014, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), through its Manufacturing Development Facility, partnered with Cincinnati Incorporated to develop a large-scale polymer additive manufacturing (3D printing) system. The partnership aimed to accelerate commercialization of a new additive manufacturing machine that could print large polymer parts faster and more cheaply than then-current technologies.

This effort led to researchers at ORNL receiving two R&D 100 awards this year for their work in 3D printing. Two of the projects, the Big Area Additive Manufacturing-CI system (BAAM-CI) and Genoa 3D Printing Simulation Software, were funded by AMO in partnership with ORNL. BAAM-CI also received an Editor’s Choice award from R&D Magazine.

BAAM-CI is a large-scale additive manufacturing platform that allows arbitrary geometric components to be 3D-printed on a scale 10 times larger than any other commercial system. It is also the first manufacturing project capable of depositing carbon fiber-reinforced plastic into printed materials, endowing objects with greater strength and four to seven times the material’s original stiffness.

Alpha STAR Corp. collaborated with ORNL on a 3D printing simulation platform that uses GENOA software; this allows users to predict printability of products, with a focus on deflection, residual stress, damage initiation, and crack growth formation observed during the 3D printing process. It’s capable of printing components up to 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall. This is another product of ORNL’s yearlong collaboration with Cincinnati Inc.

Both projects help to support DOE’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which is focused on ensuring that innovative clean energy technologies are manufactured in America to an ever-growing extent.

EERE’S Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO)

Argonne's Versatile Hard Carbon Microspheres Made from Plastic Waste - Argonne National Laboratory and Purdue University

Argonne National Laboratory has developed a manufacturing process to salvage hard carbon microspheres made from unsorted plastic waste for use in advanced battery and other applications. This new one-step, low-energy solvent-less process recycles the unwanted waste to produce carbon microspheres. 

This new product can then be used in a variety of ways, including advanced batteries, lubricants, composites, ceramics, polymers and even inks and printer toners.

High-Capacity Anode for Rechargeable Batteries - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Zeptor Corporation

With the support of VTO, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed a silicon-based anode that can increase the capacity of a state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery by 40%. Working with Zeptor Corporation, they have incorporated this anode into a high-capacity rechargeable battery. 

As silicon-based anodes have much higher capacities than currently used graphite-based ones, this is a major step-change forward in battery technology. Currently, a number of major companies are testing the batteries at a pilot scale, including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Intel, General Motors and BMW. Both General Motors and BMW are planning to use this technology in their next generation plug-in electric vehicles, which could substantially increase these vehicles’ all-electric ranges. 

LED Pulser - Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories has developed the LED Pulser, which provides high-brightness, rapidly pulsed (as fast as 10 nanoseconds), multicolor light for scientific, industrial and commercial uses. In some cases, the economical LED Pulser can actually replace more expensive lasers. In fact, Sandia engineers have used it to research the design and optimization of cleaner, more efficient advanced combustion engines.

In one of these studies, researchers were working to capture high-resolution atomic images in a high-pressure diesel fuel spray. Studying this fuel spray is important to improving engines because better understanding how spray atomization and mixing affects combustion can lead to efficiency improvements and emissions reduction.

Advanced Chemistry Solver Zero-RK - Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Zero-RK Advanced Chemistry Solver runs simulations of chemical reactions a thousand times faster than previous technology. Researchers use the software to analyze internal combustion engines, especially predictions of ignition delay, combustion, and emission formation.

Currently, it takes an entire day to run the code needed to examine just a few seconds of a combustion reaction in a simplified gasoline engine. In contrast, the new code enables the computer to do the same work in just 30 seconds, allowing scientists to complete more complicated analyses in a shorter period of time. This will allow the automotive industry to design cleaner and more efficient engines.

Vehicle-to-Grid Simulator - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The Vehicle-to-Grid Simulator, also known as V2G-Sim, is a simulation platform that helps electric system stakeholders better understand how plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) could interact with the electrical grid under a number of scenarios. PEVs have the potential to affect the electrical grid considerably; this software helps managers and policymakers understand that impact and plan for it.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.