Vasilis Fthenakis Receives IEEE's William R. Cherry Award

Recognition for pioneering contributions to the science and sustainable development of photovoltaic (PV) solar energy

Senior Scientist Emeritus Vasilis Fthenakis enlarge

Brookhaven Lab Senior Scientist Emeritus Vasilis Fthenakis

UPTON, NY — Vasilis Fthenakis, a Senior Scientist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Founder and Director of the Center for Life Cycle Analysis at Columbia University, will receive the 2018 William R. Cherry Award from the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The award—named in honor of William R. Cherry, a founder of the photovoltaic community—recognizes Fthenakis’ “pioneering research at the interface of energy and the environment that catalyzed photovoltaic technology advancement and deployment world-wide.” 

Fthenakis will receive the award and deliver a talk on Tuesday, June 12, during the 7th World Conference on Photovoltaic Energy Conversion (WCPEC-7) in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

“It is with great humility that I receive this prestigious award, joining the global leaders on PV science and technology who created the technologies and industries that are changing the world,” Fthenakis said. “I want to share this honor with collaborators all over the world who are working on sustainability, an area that does not often receive the attention it deserves.”

Born in Greece to a family of chemists, Fthenakis was an active employee of Brookhaven Lab for 36 years. He is a worldwide leader in the analysis of life-cycle issues in renewable energy applications, with seminal contributions in photovoltaics and the environment. He is recognized in particular for his efforts calling for research on the environmental effects of the production of photovoltaic technologies, including the effects of cadmium and lead used in photovoltaic materials and solders, and for promoting recycling strategies within the industry. He also created and led multi-country collaborations supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency. Through all these efforts, his work helped to identify potential barriers to commercialization and resolve concerns associated with the photovoltaic market's rapid growth so the industry could be developed in a sustainable way in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Fthenakis earned his undergraduate degree in Chemistry from the National University of Athens, Greece, then completed his MS in Chemical Engineering at Columbia. He worked at Columbia’s fossil energy coal-biomass gasification pilot-plant before joining Brookhaven National Laboratory as a research engineer in 1980. While advancing at Brookhaven he earned a PhD in Fluid Dynamics and Atmospheric Science from New York University, wrote a book on “Prevention and Control of Accidental Releases of Hazardous Gases”, and was promoted to chemical engineer. In 2002 he was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in recognition and appreciation of superior attainments, valuable contributions, and service to that field. In 2003 he was named as a Fellow of the International Energy Foundation and tasked to head the National Photovoltaic Environmental, Health and Safety (PV-EH&S) Center established at Brookhaven Lab. The PV-EH&S Center assisted the US photovoltaic industry in maintaining safe and environmental facilities and its early studies created the “gold standard” for EH&S in today’s production facilities.  

According to Charles Gay, Director of the Solar Energy Technologies Office within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and one of the ten authorities who endorsed Fthenakis’ nomination for this award, “Vasilis Fthenakis is truly unique for his leadership, team building skills, demonstrated talent for applying scientific principles to real world challenges, as well as establishing practical environmental benchmarks essential for expanding adoption of PV as a cost effective electric power resource. Vasilis has had a firsthand role in the rising role of clean energy technology commercialization for his entire professional career and is an inspiration to the best and brightest we wish to see enter the field of photovoltaics.”

In 2006, Fthenakis began a dual appointment with Columbia University, where he founded the Center for Life Cycle Analysis (CLCA). He was promoted to senior chemical engineer at Brookhaven in 2007, was granted tenure in 2010, and attained the status of senior scientist emeritus upon his retirement from Brookhaven in 2017. He continues his work at CLCA, expanding his research into the areas of PV-plus-storage life cycle analysis, solar-enabled water desalination, modeling of renewable energy grid integration, and PV performance forecasting using deep-learning networks.

Fthenakis is the author of a new textbook, Electricity from Sunlight: Photovoltaic-Systems Integration and Sustainability (2018), editor of A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Energy Systems (2018), editor of two books on life cycle analysis, a book on Third Generation Photovoltaics and author or co-author of about 400 scientific articles and reports. Among his more noteworthy publications is “A Solar Grand Plan,” co-authored with Zweibel and Mason as a cover article for Scientific American in 2008, which has been translated into eleven languages. 

Fthenakis’ work at Brookhaven Lab was funded mainly by the Solar Technologies Program within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the U.S. Department of Energy.

About the Award

In the 1950's, William R. Cherry was instrumental in establishing solar cells as the ideal power source for space satellites and for recognizing, advocating, and nurturing the use of photovoltaic systems for terrestrial applications. The William R. Cherry award was instituted in l980, shortly after his death, to recognize an individual engineer or scientist who devoted a part of their professional life to the advancement of the science and/or technology of photovoltaic energy conversion. The award consists of a plaque, monetary award, recognition at the WCPEC-7 opening ceremony and a dedicated Cherry Award Talk and reception at WCPEC-7.

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