Special Interviews
Sep.01, 2023
Vol. 12
The United States’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory Is Advancing Carbon Neutrality Through Mutual Cooperation
Bill Tumas, Ph.D. Associate Laboratory Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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The United States’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory Is Advancing Carbon Neutrality Through Mutual Cooperation

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory with over 3,200 employees, is transforming energy through research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. NREL also plays a key role in RD20, helping promote greater collaboration in the clean energy field. We interviewed Dr. Bill Tumas, associate laboratory director for Materials, Chemical, and Computational Science at NREL, to learn more about the lab’s efforts to achieve a circular economy and the key role the lab plays in RD20.

NREL’s participation in RD20 began in 2019, when Dr. Tumas was invited to represent NREL and the United States at the first RD20 meeting. “Collaboration is something we believe in strongly at NREL, and it’s also a key focus of RD20,” Dr. Tumas said. “So I was thrilled to be able to attend the 2019 RD20 conference and affirm the significance of international cooperation with the other participants.”

Bill Tumas, Ph.D.
Associate Laboratory Director,
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

NREL’s Partnership with RD20

Since 2019, NREL has worked extensively with Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) on RD20 initiatives. Dr. Tumas joined forces with Michio Kondo and Noriko Yoshizawa and the other members of the RD20 International Advisory Board to establish the RD20 Action Committee. He has been actively supporting the design and implementation of agendas for RD20 alongside AIST leaders.

Dr. Tumas provided support for RD20 Leader Preparatory Meeting and worked with NREL Director Dr. Martin Keller and AIST leaders to help frame the RD20 Leaders Statement as well as recommendations for enhancing international collaboration. “I was fortunate to work with a number of energetic leaders and advisory board members to help establish and enhance international collaborations that are critical for accelerating the innovations needed for our clean energy transformation,” Dr. Tumas explains.

“Achieving our ambitious decarbonization goals for a clean energy economy will require an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, Dr. Tumas said. “Decarbonization will require rapid development and deployment of clean energy technologies, and that will demand large amounts of materials, including scarce, critical materials. To ensure that these materials are available in the necessary quantities, we must evolve from the current linear economy—a one-way path in which all products progress toward disposal—to a robust circular economy that recycles and remanufactures materials and products.”

To make this vision a reality, NREL is developing novel, low-emissions materials, designing manufacturing processes that reduce material use, increasing technology lifetimes, and more. The key to all of this work, according to Dr. Tumas, is collaboration. “By working with industry, government, international institutes, universities, and nonprofit partners, we can achieve our vision of a clean energy future for the world far faster and more efficiently than working alone.”

International Partnerships and Actionizing the RD20 Leaders Statement

“We at NREL are very excited about RD20. There is much we can do as a collection of institutions to enhance international collaboration to accelerate innovation as codified in the RD20 Leaders statement and action plan,” Dr. Tumas states. Tumas believes that the RD20 technical sessions have focused on important key aspects for international collaboration, including but not limited to solar energy and renewables, hydrogen, energy storage, carbon management, and systems integration. Low-carbon electricity and deep electricification will be very important. Connecting the electrical world and the chemical world through cross-coupling using hydrogen and other electrons to molecules innovations is also critical.

Workshops can foster international collaboration as illustrated by the “Terawatt Photovoltaics” workshop created by NREL, AIST and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (F-ISE). Dr. Nancy Haegel, lead organizer of the Terawatt PV workshop and director of the National Center of Photovoltaics at NREL, spoke at the RD20 workshop last year. “Clean energy covers a vast range of areas, but it’s fulfilling work, so I hope we can narrow our focus down to several particular fields and continue to work together collaboratively,” Dr. Haegel said.

AIST, NREL and F-ISE are joining forces again to host the “Gigaton Hydrogen” workshop in Tokyo that will precede the RD20 2023 even in Fukushima. It will include experts from RD20 institutions as well as other leaders in the field. This year it will focus on hydrogen production. Future RD20 workshops can be developed in a number of areas and they can include interactive opportunities for experts to collaborate as well as other members to oversee meetings and proceedings.

NREL also sent several participants to the first RD20 summer school held in Grenoble, France. The summer school gave Ph.D. students, postdoctoral fellows, and early career researchers the opportunity to learn more about low-carbon energy technologies and systems from world experts and to explore opportunities for collaboration. “Our friends at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) did an incredible job of organizing the conference and providing a venue for young researchers to come together, learn from each other, and develop new partnerships,” Dr. Tumas said.

Dr. Tumas also praised RD20 for starting the concept of task forces where researchers from RD20 institutions focus on specific technical issues. The solar characterization taskforce and the Hydrogen Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) task forces are off to a great start. The Hydrogen LCA task force will present key findings at the Gigaton Hydrogen workshop in October. Dr. Tumas is optimistic that this year’s RD20 Technical Session can lead to additional task forces.

Looking to the future

Dr. Tumas said that he is looking forward to the upcoming RD20 2023 conference. NREL will be actively engaged in both the Gigaton Hydrogen workshop and RD20 meetings. “Several NREL researchers are participating in the conference, including Dr. Silvana Ovaitt, who will be discussing large-scale PV deployment, challenges, and opportunities, and how we can bring circularity to PV,” Dr. Tumas said. “I am optimistic that presentations like these will foster new ideas and collaborations in solar energy, circular economy, and other fields.” which will be held in Fukushima, Japan, in October.

Moving forward, RD20 leaders also aim to significantly increase communication and knowledge-sharing among researchers. To support these efforts, the RD20 Action Commmittee is proposing infrastructure, tools, a database, and processes to share information. Dr. Tumas looks forward to RD20 enabling research personnel exchange among institutions. Collaboration, like American football, is a contact sport,” he jokes. Getting our researchers more engaged is critical.

Sustainably and equitably meeting our global needs presents daunting challenges and great opportunities. We are living in very exciting times where renewable energy is becoming the cheapest form of energy. We need to accelerate the deployment and integration of clean energy technologies, but we also must innovate to address all energy sectors. We are making massive strides but we aren’t done yet.

Last year, Dr. Tumas had to participate remotely. He ended the interview with an English phrase that means to hope for the best outcome: “Knock on wood.”

Kenji Tsuda, Editor in Chief, Semiconductor Portal