The Energy Department funds cutting-edge research on a broad range of topics ranging from advanced battery construction to the modeling of industrial processes and supercomputer simulation of supernovae. But this research is not only about furthering our understanding of the world around us and pushing the frontiers of science, it is also dedicated to improving our quality of life by supporting the development of more efficient cars, better factories, and convenient new technologies.
The process of turning this cutting-edge research into everyday products is called commercialization. One great example of commercialization is the development of Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, found in many hybrid and electric vehicles. Hybrid vehicles have become a common sight on America’s roads, and they are made possible by foundational research into energy storage conducted by Energy Department labs between 1976 and 2007. Let’s explore how the story of hybrid vehicle development illustrates the commercialization process:
- Research. Starting in 1976, DOE-funded scientists formed a broad foundation for advances in battery and ultracapacitor technologies, leading to the development of Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries, used in Hybrid Electric Vehicles.
- Disclosure and IP Protection. This research yielded valuable technologies, resulting in 222 patents for batteries, ultracapacitators, and supporting components by 2009. The importance of this disclosure is clear: 18 percent of all advanced vehicle battery patents filed between 1994 and 2009 referenced an Energy Department patent.
- Licensing. The Energy Department licensed technology critical to the construction of NiMH batteries and engaged in collaborative research with a number of battery and electric vehicle manufacturers.
- Integration and Collaboration. In the early 1990’s, GM and Daimler Chrysler powered early all-electric demonstration cars with Energy Department-funded NiMH batteries, an early step in creating commercially-viable hybrid vehicles.
- Testing and Validation. The Energy Department funded collaborative efforts to improve the power and life of NiMH batteries, starting in the 1990s. Longer lived and lower cost batteries are crucial for creating cost-competitive hybrid vehicles.
- Product Development. Now that the technology is proven, the auto industry installs the new batteries in commercially available cars. For example, Energy Department technologies were used by Sanyo to develop batteries for the Ford Hybrid Escape and the Honda Accord Hybrid.
- Manufacture and Deployment. As of 2010, 1.9 million hybrid electric vehicles have been sold in the US, a sales number that owes much to the investment in research, collaboration, and testing made by the Energy Department.
This is one example of the commercialization process, but there are many paths to commercialization, and the licensing of new inventions, collaborative research, and the refinement of existing technologies by Energy Department labs are all equally important for getting the most out of our latest technology.