October 25, 2016

Collaborating with DOE National Laboratories

Holland & Knight Government Energy Finance Blog
Taite R. McDonald

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Laboratories offer a wealth of resources that can support the research and development into and validation of innovative clean energy technologies. These labs have a proven track record of collaborating with both small and large businesses, academia, and federal agencies to de-risk high potential technologies and facilitate commercialization. With world class facilities and top notch scientists, DOE National Labs provide a compelling alternative and/or supplement to federal funding opportunities like grants and loan guarantees, especially for early-stage technology development.

Pros vs. Cons of Collaborating with National Labs

When exploring a collaboration with the DOE National Labs, there are both Pros and Cons to this type of work to consider. Companies should leverage the Pros and minimize the Cons to identify a mutually beneficial sweet spot in the collaboration where all parties benefit from the relationship.

The Pros include:

  • Access to laboratory space, equipment, and subject matter expertise (as opposed to having to purchase or rent these resources)
  • Increased credibility, visibility, and prestige in the marketplace (once the government invests, many private sector investors show an increased appetite to do the same)
  • Increased attractiveness of project proposals for DOE grant funding (the DOE likes to fund projects that support its labs)

The Cons include:

  • Projects must fit within the scope of existing lab research interests (especially if you want to avoid paying fees for utilizing lab facilities; check out the technology transfer section of each Lab’s website to determine mutual areas of interest)
  • Intellectual property rights of any collaborative agreement must be clearly understood prior to commencing work (a variety of arrangements exist)
  • Any funds received for collaboration will either entirely go to the labs or be shared with the labs (reducing how much funding can contribute directly to company operations)
  • Increased reporting/administrative requirements for DOE grant funding (DOE grant funding already has substantial requirements without introducing complex project structures)

National Labs Investing in Clean Tech

DOE National Labs with both a history and sustained interest in clean energy technology research, development, and validation include but are not limited to:

To date, clean energy collaborations have encompassed sustainable transportation, energy efficient buildings, advanced manufacturing, energy storage, and biobased chemicals. 

Small Business Voucher (SBV) Pilot

While the DOE National Labs have a number of different structures for partnering with industry, the highest value near-term opportunity is probably the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Small Business Voucher (SBV) Pilot Program. Vouchers support small business by providing funding to National Lab staff to help small business overcome critical technology and commercialization challenges such as:

  • Prototyping
  • Materials characterization
  • High performance computations
  • Modeling and simulations
  • Intermediate scaling to generate samples for potential customers
  • Validation of technology performance
  • Designing new ways to satisfy regulatory compliance

With the third and final round of funding ($12 million total) recently announced, now is an excellent time to get involved. The SBV Pilot is accepting applications through November 10, 2016 at 11:59pm ET. To get started, visit the EERE Funding Exchange.

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