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8 Ways the Energy Department is Removing Barriers to Make National Lab Inventions a Reality

Blog post from Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary of Energy, September 28, 2016.

Today, at our National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), I was proud to announce a new pilot program called Lab-Bridge that will make it easier for our Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories to fast-track the great ideas and technologies they generate into the marketplace. DOE is investing $2.5 million in this project because we know that it will accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy. 

Lab-Bridge will reduce the barriers to collaboration between DOE's science and technology powerhouses – our 17 national labs – and the private sector. The pioneering technologies developed within DOE'S labs can help solve some of the most pressing economic and clean energy challenges we face. But we know that the road from invention to commercialization is filled with obstacles, can take too long, and lacks clear guidelines for partnering with industry to maximize the value of the investment we make in our labs to the benefit of the American people.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Lab Impact team developed Lab-Bridge to accelerate technology commercialization. Lab-Bridge's unique approach allows lab experts to explore their best ideas, providing them with the resources they need to test and validate their programs. Through this process we are now better enabling our scientists to engage with the private sector with eight new tools and approaches:

  1. Intellectual Property Bundling is the packaging together of complementary lab resources into a single tech solution to increase attractiveness and ease of use to an industry partner.
  2. Lab Technology in Business Plan Competitions is a project promoting the use of lab-developed EERE technologies within university business plan competitions.
  3. Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) Walkthrough is the creation of an online, interactive walkthrough of a standard DOE CRADA, explaining the most commonly misunderstood terms and conditions.
  4. Lab Accelerator is a collaborative lab effort to support a more comprehensive Lab-Corps approach and move technologies to market by helping scientists understand and interact with industry. Learn more about DOE’s Lab-Corps pilot.
  5. Microgrid Innovation Challenge will bring partners together to solve specific challenges and demonstrate effective microgrid controller solutions.
  6. Creation Space is the formation of an assessment tool to evaluate the potential commercial value of early-stage technology.
  7. Innovation Space focuses on creating flexible facilities at existing Innovation Commercialization Centers, consisting of a prototyping space, office, and lab space for companies.
  8. Engineering Your Pitch is a best practices training program to build a “sales force” of scientists who can identify business opportunities and successfully pitch their technologies.

The Lab Impact team developed Lab-Bridge in collaboration with the Office of Technology Transitions and EERE’s technology offices. Lab Impact is part of EERE’s Technology-to-Market Program, working to build a more efficient and interconnected innovation ecosystem in the U.S. to bring clean energy technologies to market more quickly. Lab Impact’s first pilot, DOE’s Lab-Corps, pairs our innovative national laboratory researchers with business development and customer engagement training so the lab researchers can better understand the value a new technology has in the marketplace. By the time DOE’s Lab-Corps wraps up its fourth class this December, the program will have trained 50 teams from 10 national labs in commercialization techniques, and Lab-Bridge is leveraging the expertise built in Lab-Corps to make the new pilot program a success. 

Lab Impact’s second pilot, Small Business Vouchers, brings together 12 national laboratories and nine EERE technology offices to provide U.S. small businesses with unparalleled access to the expertise and facilities of the national labs. With access to these facilities, our nation’s small businesses focused on clean technology can grow and add more jobs to this critical sector of our economy.

Both of these programs have helped close the knowledge gap between lab-developed technology and market application, but Lab-Bridge takes these approaches a step further. We now understand the previously unarticulated challenges our national laboratories faced in commercializing their technologies. During the next 12 months, 11 national labs will explore innovative projects and provide critical feedback enhancing our technology-to-market efforts. Each month, Lab Impact will provide an in-depth look at one of these projects through the program’s newsletter and blog. You can receive these updates by signing up for our news alerts.

The team I spoke with at NREL is prepared to make the most of these new opportunities and I look forward to seeing how they and their colleagues in national labs around the country are able to build synergistic partnerships with industry and contribute to the advancement of our nation’s economic strength and clean energy future. 


Distribution channels: Energy Industry