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Exploring America’s Energy Future

Fellowship Focus, Spring 2012
By Jamie Vernon, 2011-12 Fellow, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

AAAS Fellows getting a preview of advanced automotive technologies at NREL’s Vehicles Testing and Integration Facility.

While the economy struggles to overcome the drag of rising gas prices, a group of AAAS S&T Policy Fellows from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) traveled to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado in March, to see how DOE’s investments in scientific research and development are easing the country’s dependence on foreign sources of energy. According to their website, “NREL is the only federal laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Backed by 35 years of achievement, NREL leads the way in helping meet the growing demand for clean energy.”

Fellows were given a behind-the-scenes tour of NREL’s research facilities, including the Research Support Facility, Vehicles Testing and Integration Facility, Thermal Test Facility, Advanced Energy Storage Laboratory, Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility, Thermochemical User Facility, Solar PV Outdoor Test Facility, Process Development Integration Laboratory, and the National Wind Technology Center. Elena Berger, 2011-12 Fellow in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Office of International Affairs, said, “The tour allowed me to better appreciate the significance of NREL as a lab that operates throughout the whole innovation cycle, from basic R&D to commercialization.”

AAAS Fellows Ryan Kerney (left) and Amitai Bin-nun (right) enjoying the facilities at NREL’s Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility.

Ryan Kerney, 2011-12 Fellow in EERE’s Office of Strategic Programs, described the tour as “an amazing opportunity.” NREL is EERE’s principal research laboratory. The lab conducts research for DOE’s Office of Science, which was represented on the trip by Jonathan Petters, 2011-12 Fellow, and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, represented by Kerry Cheung, 2010-12 Fellow. Petters concluded, “Visiting NREL gave me a real appreciation for the engineering and scale-up required to transfer newly developed processes and materials, like those developed in the Office of Science, to the market.”

Fellows were encouraged to meet with scientists, analysts and support staff to develop collaborative relationships. “These new connections have already proven themselves as extremely valuable to the cross-cutting analysis work carried out in our office. Since the visit, I have tapped into the new pile of NREL business cards on my desk for multiple projects,” said Kerney.

The visit took place at the midpoint of the fellowship for the first-year Fellows, and based on the response, it has already improved their productivity. For second-year Fellows, it was an opportunity to build on relationships established while working at DOE. According to Berger, “The visit is an essential professional development component of any AAAS Fellow coming to work at DOE.”

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