Richard W. Roberts, 43, a General Electric Co. executive, former director of the National Bureau of Standards and former government energy official, died Tuesday in Wilton, Conn.

Police there said he had doused himself with gasoline and set his clothes on fire. They said his wife found his body about 7:30 a.m. in the driveway of their home. They said she told them her husband had been depressed.

Dr. Roberts had served as director of the National Bureau of Standards from January, 1973, to June, 1975, when he was named assistant administrator for nuclear assistant administrator for nuclear energy of the Energy Research and Development Administration.

He remained with ERDA, which last October became the Department of Energy, until February, 1977, when he returned to General Electric, with which he had been associated.

Internationally known for his studies of ultrahigh-vacuum technology, Dr. Roberts was a staff executive on the corporate technologies staff at GE headquarters in Fairfield, Conn. He was conducting research on high-vacuum technology, chemical kinetics and the lubrication of spaceage metals.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Dr. Roberts was a graduate of the University of Rochester. He earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from Brown University in 1959.

He then was a National Academy of Sciences postdoctoral fellow at the National Bureau of Standards for a year before joining the General Electric Research and Development Center in Schenectady, N.Y.

There he moved from laboratory research to several successive management positions. In 1968, he was named manager of materials, science and engineering, a position he held until 1973.

Dr. Roberts held three patents in his field. He was the author or coauthor of more than 100 technical articles and of a book on ultrahigh-vacuum technology.

In 1975, he received an Arthur S. Fleming Award as one of the outstanding young men in federal government.

In addition to his wife, Carol Jean, his survivors include two children, Beth Carol and William Charles.