Two University of Central Florida scientists have earned national awards because their inventions are expected to make a difference in fueling future commercial spacecraft and in the efficiency of solar panels needed to convert sunlight into electricity.

TechConnect World has selected engineering professors Sudipta Seal and Neelkanth G. Dhere for 2014 TechConnect National Innovation Awards. The organization is the world’s largest multi-disciplinary multi-sector conference and marketplace of vetted innovations, innovators and technology business developers and funders. Winners were selected for the potential positive impact their technology will have on a specific industry sector.

Harvard University, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, King Saud University and the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology were among the 67 winners. They will be recognized during the TechConnect National Innovation Showcase, June 17-18 in Washington, D.C.

Seal, director of both the Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis Center and the NanoScience Tech Center was recognized for his work in the area of nanotechnology. Dhere, who works at UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, earned the award for his work in solar power.

Seal and his team, in collaboration with professor Eric Petersen at Texas A&M University, found a way to engineer nanoparticles that grow within solid and liquid substances used for propellants in collaboration. Propellants are used to fuel commercial space-launch vehicles as well as government satellite launches. It’s an industry that makes an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion annually. By having nanoparticles grow within the substances, Seal can make the propellants more efficient and less expensive to produce. Co-inventors include former UCF engineering professor Eric Petersen, now a professor of engineering at Texas A&M University, and UCF graduate students David Reid and Robert Draper.

“This is great news,” Seal said. “This technology has many applications including opening up the field of polymer composites.”

Dhere and his team of graduate students developed a new way to prepare absorber films for photovoltaic solar panels that makes them more efficient and less expensive. Dhere’s method includes a new process for using the metal organic compound diethyl selenium. The new approach is also safer than the traditional route used in the industry, Dhere said.

The novel process can be easily scaled to large-scale panels, which utility companies can then use to generate power from sunlight. This power is then fed into the electrical grid to provide energy to homes around the country. Starting next year Dhere predicts that electricity produced from photovoltaics will cost less than electricity from natural gas, which will increase demand. The ability to make solar panels more efficient and less expensive will then become even more important, he said.

One of his graduate students said he is thrilled to be part of the winning team.

“This is really great,” said Eric Schneller. “This developed over a long period of time and could really have a big impact. I am fortunate to be part of the team that finalized this technique.”