Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Cyclotron Road: Creating a Home for Top Clean Energy Technology Entrepreneurs within our National Laboratories

September 2, 2015

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As Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the Energy Department, I’ve made it a major priority to transform the way EERE works with the Department’s national laboratories to increase their impact on the clean energy industry. That’s why two years ago, I launched EERE’s National Lab Impact Initiative, a bold new EERE-wide effort to increase the industrial relevance and impact of EERE’s work with the national labs.

To develop a strong foundation for this initiative, our first step was to work with our national labs to establish appropriate  Guiding Principles to provide a clear framework for how EERE and the national labs will increase the commercial impact of our work together. These principles have now led to a uniform set of improved EERE-National Lab policies, including the creation of larger multi-year projects, external merit review of all lab projects, the establishment of more lab-industry consortia, and increased numbers of lab-industry R&D partnerships. In addition, we’ve established a wide array of new national lab “technology-to-market” pilot programs designed to find innovative new ways to increase industrial engagement and partnerships with our national labs and to create a more “commercially aware” R&D culture within our national labs. Through the Small Business Vouchers pilot, we’re investing $20 million for up to 100 small businesses to create new relationships with our national labs. Through the Lab-Corps entrepreneurial training program, we’re training dozens of top lab technologists in the technology commercialization process. And through the Technologist in Residence pilot program, we will be investing in the development of long-term partnerships between labs and industry.

But I am particularly excited about another new EERE technology-to-market program called Cyclotron Road. In an era of declining private-sector investment in early-stage energy technologies, many of our best and brightest engineers, scientists, and energy technology entrepreneurs are at risk of turning away from their pursuit of potentially groundbreaking new energy technologies.  Why? Developing energy technologies isn’t easy. It requires a lot of time and money and many traditional investors don’t have the stomach for it.

Cyclotron Road, the brainchild of former ARPA-E Program Director Ilan Gur and supported by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, was created to address just this problem. Cyclotron Road focuses on the gap between early-stage energy technology invention and high impact commercial outcomes by offering a home for top entrepreneurial researchers to advance technologies until they can succeed beyond the research lab.

In a nutshell, Cyclotron Road takes the best elements of a Silicon Valley startup – top entrepreneurial talent, a strong sense of urgency, and an “all-in” commitment – and couples them with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which has the world-class tools and expertise needed to help these technology entrepreneurs develop cutting-edge new clean energy technologies. The program provides critical mentorship and network support, helping each project define and align itself with an appropriate commercialization strategy. The highly competitive first cohort drew the interest of 150 applicants in just a three-week window, from which 8 individuals were selected as Cyclotron Road innovators.

The program’s first cohort of innovators is advancing an array of clean energy materials and manufacturing technologies ranging from bio-based production of industrial plastics to ultra-high efficiency waste heat recovery systems.  As just one example of Cyclotron Road’s first crop of world-class technology innovators, Raymond Weitekamp, a recent Caltech Ph.D. graduate, is developing a new process for better, faster, and more flexible production of next-generation structural materials. Advanced manufacturing processes such as these—efficient, productive, highly integrated, and tightly controlled—have the potential to unlock a new era of sustainable products and deliver a competitive advantage for U.S. manufacturing. And the program’s imminent expansion holds promise for even greater achievements.

With our support, Cyclotron Road will expand its impact this fall by taking an important step forward with the selection and funding of a second cohort of innovators. I encourage all entrepreneurial researchers with expertise in an energy-technology-related field to explore this exciting opportunity to participate in a prestigious program that is reinvigorating innovation, engaging top minds, and accelerating the commercialization of essential technologies. Cyclotron Road appointments are for up to two years, contingent upon project performance and funding availability. The window for applications opens October 1.

Don’t miss this potentially life-changing chance to be part of a remarkable community of energy innovators who can question conventional wisdom in search of the best path for bringing new technologies to market. Learn more about this game-changing program today and join our journey to help develop innovative technologies that will have a real impact on the U.S. economy, environment, and society.