The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and 3M, the St. Paul, Minn.-based technology company, have embarked on research and development partnerships in three areas of clean energy innovation: thin-film solar cells, concentrating solar power, and biofuels. The work ranges from jointly identifying and developing critical aspects of renewable energy technology to accelerated testing of 3M designs and scaling-up successful prototypes for commercial production. The partnerships are covered in three Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, or CRADAs, which last for at least one year. The total combined value of the shared R&D covered by the agreements is $7.33 million.

With $23 billion in annual sales, 3M employs 75,000 people worldwide and has operations in more than 65 countries. It is one of the laboratory’s largest commercial partners.

“CRADAs like these with 3M are critical for achieving the marketplace impact that is the goal of NREL’s work in renewable energy,” said Casey Porto, NREL senior vice president of commercialization and deployment. “Not only do they help shift the nation to clean energy, but they also establish and expand important partnerships for product development through technology transfer.

“3M’s wide-ranging expertise and commitment in these fields makes this a key partnership for the laboratory because this type of partnership enables the creation of clean energy breakthroughs that can become products,” she said.

For thin film solar cells, 3M and NREL will work to develop and test new moisture barrier films and flexible packaging for solar cells made of semiconducting layers of copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS). For concentrating solar power (CSP) systems, 3M is developing highly reflective silvered polymer mirror reflectors as low-cost replacements for glass mirrors. For biofuels, 3M is working on a new prototype liquid-liquid separations technology.

“3M is excited for the opportunity to tap into NREL’s expertise and understanding of a variety of solar modules and the interplay between the materials and systems,” said Mike Roman, general manager and vice president of 3M Renewable Energy Division. “Also, NREL has pilot plant capabilities, which allow valuable application testing of 3M’s biofuel separations technologies in a controllable and scalable environment.”

Publication date:07/19/2010