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Energy Department’s Technology Commercialization Fund Helps Build a Bridge to Industry

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is one of the largest supporters of technology transfer within the federal government, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), as one of DOE’s 17 national labs, strives each day to mature technology solutions to the nation’s energy challenges.

“NETL faces tech transfer challenges – like any national lab,” said NETL’s Technology Transfer Program Manager Jessica Lamp. “This is because DOE and other public funding may only support research and development efforts up to an early technology readiness level. The funding can expire before the technology is matured to a point where a business will enter into a cooperative R&D agreement or license the technology.”

To overcome this challenge, DOE created the Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF).  As it is currently implemented, TCF is a nearly $20 million funding opportunity that can help mature promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact. The funds are matched with contributions from private partners with the goal of technology commercialization.

The TCF is designed to increase the number of energy technologies developed at DOE’s national labs that graduate to commercial development and achieve commercial success. The fund will also enhance DOE’s technology transitions system with an enterprising and competitive approach to lab-industry partnerships. Through the TCF, the applied program offices and national laboratories can pursue a strategic, forward-looking, competitive approach to commercializing technologies from lab-industry collaborations.

Among the 64 R&D projects funded under the TCF in 2018, projects awarded to NETL included an effort to improve small-scale solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems and a method to improve subsurface decision-making through uncertainty quantification and communication.

“The fuel cell project is a partnership with WATT Fuel Cell Company to apply NETL-developed solid oxide fuel cell enhancement technologies to WATT's commercial 1-kilowatt SOFC system,” Lamp explained. “The uncertainty quantification and communication project represented a collaboration between NETL and Varigrid Explorations, Inc., which is evolving NETL’s Variable Grid technology into an advanced computing software application.”

These projects are part of a legacy of technology transfer successes, as NETL has supported the critical research and development that led to many technologies in the marketplace today. For instance, working with partners at Carnegie Mellon University, NETL developed novel ionic liquids and polymers that provide a more efficient and economical process for carbon capture. The suite of technologies, covering the synthesis and use of ionic liquids has been exclusively licensed to Liquid Ion Solutions, a Pittsburgh-based chemical manufacturing start-up. Another prime example of successful tech transfer was the adoption of NETL sorbents by enVerid Systems to increase the efficiency of commercial HVAC systems.

The 2018 TCF-awarded NETL projects will join contributions from the other national labs to further expand DOE’s efforts to catalyze the commercial impact of research, development and demonstration activities to increase return on investment from federally funded work, and to give more Americans access to cutting-edge energy technologies.