Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has developed variety of technical and managerial skills that are being applied to the solution of some of modern society's critical problems.
Through its Office of Energy and Technology Applications, JPL conducts research studies, technical innovation activities and systems management in such fields as solar energy, transportation, biomedicine and environmental protection. The objective is to apply space technology to everyday needs.
With the solar-cell expertise gained from successful spacecraft development over several decades, JPL began in 1975 Low-Cost Silicon Solar Array Project for the Energy Research and Development Administration, now the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE photovoltaic (solar cell) program aims at making solar energy conversion through photovoltaic devices commercially feasible in the mid-1980s.
On the strength of its early performance with the project, JPL was selected by DOE in 1978 to be the lead center for photovoltaics technology development and applications, coordinating the work of several national and contract laboratories toward program goals.
Another approach to solar power is collecting solar heat to drive conventional generator through heat engine. One option is an optical concentrator, most commonly concave parabolic mirror, that focuses high-temperature heat around point inside heat receiver, with engine and generator mounted adjacent; 10-meter (33-foot) sun-tracking unit of that type may generate about 20 kilowatts of electricity. The Laboratory is conducting projects in advanced technology, hardware systems development and applications of the approach for DOE.
Improvements in various technologies are needed to upgrade the nation's utilization of coal and especially the production of synthetic fuels from coal. The Laboratory is bringing its systems engineering experience to problems of coal mining, handling and cleaning. JPL novel approach to feeding or "pumping" coal into high-pressure gasifiers or synfuel reactors is being developed for DOE, as is promising method of removing polluting sulfur from the fuel before it is burned.
The JPL Office of Energy and Technology Applications, formerly the Civil Systems Programs Office, was officially organized in March 1970, although several civil projects had evolved years earlier as part of NASA's technology utilization program.
For fiscal year 1979, the budget for energy and technology applications totals more than $70 million. Solar energy-related projects account for about 75 percent of that, with other energy and transportation projects nearly 20 percent. Biomedical and other technology applications account for the balance.
More than 400 JPL employees were involved in JPL's energy and technology applications work during the current year.
H.M. (Bud) Schurmeier is assistant laboratory director for Energy and Technology Applications. Geoffrey Robillard is deputy assistant laboratory director, and manages the conservation and fossil energy program. Program managers include M.E. Alper, solar energy; William H. Spuck, technology applications programs; and G.E. (Nick) Nichols, business operations.
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