NREL’s Martin Keller Named Lab Director Of The Year

The Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) for Technology Transfer recently awarded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) director Martin Keller its 2024 Laboratory Director of the Year Award.

The FLC was founded in 1974 to support federal laboratories maximizing technology transfer for the United States and currently includes more than 300 federal laboratories, facilities, and research centers.

“This award reflects the amazing effort made here by all the researchers and innovators, as well as the tech transfer team at NREL,” Keller said. “This is really an honor for us all.”

The subject of tech transfer has been central to Keller’s vision since becoming NREL laboratory director in November 2015. And, as he discussed in the recent “Lab Notes” episode of Transforming Energy: The NREL Podcast, tech transfer continues to remain at the core of NREL’s mission.

“This is in our DNA,” Keller said.

The FLC award validates his strategy of emphasizing partnerships and tech transfer:

• In 2017, Keller challenged the Business Development team and laboratory leadership to aim for $100 million in new partnership work every year.

• By the end of fiscal year (FY) 2020, the laboratory reached an all-time high in new technology partnership project agreements, surpassing that goal. These agreements, including cooperative research and development agreements and non-U.S. Department of Energy strategic partnership projects, accounted for $130 million of the laboratory’s total business volume.

• Overall, NREL’s active partnerships have grown from 696 in 2015 to more than 1,000 in 2022 under Keller’s leadership, with business volume totaling $671 million. In FY 2023, NREL signed a record $143 million in partnerships, with 30 agreements executed at $1 million or more. Additionally, the number of newly filed U.S. patents has also grown under his tenure, from 72 in FY 2015 to 129 in FY 2022—a 79% increase.

Taken together, these advances reflect his focus, along with the rest of the NREL Leadership Team, of connecting with the best collaborators to move innovation from basic research through to applied research, helping the country stay on the cutting edge.

“No laboratory alone can do this, no country alone can do this,” Keller said. “We need to bring together communities. Partnerships with industry is how we can really accelerate this energy transition.”

Keller emphasized the urgency of this thrust in April 2023 when he encouraged the Department of Energy’s Technology Transfer Working Group to pull out all the stops to speed up the energy transition.

“It will require new ways of bringing all these companies together,” Keller said. “We are doing really cool research, but can we go back and say, ‘Yes, we made an impact on our mission?’ The key is to partner with other organizations to get the technology into the market. We need to be driven, by not just the science, but to make sure we get all the science into the market.”

In all, the FLC recognized 32 recipients of the 2024 FLC Awards in eight federal agencies. Awards will be presented during the FLC national meeting in April.

“Again, this isn’t about me,” Keller said. “Instead, I want to thank everyone involved, particularly Bill Farris and his team in Innovation, Partnering, and Outreach, for making NREL such a shining example of how to get our ideas out into the real world.”

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