Innovation Crossroads logo.

For the first time, the Building Technologies Office (BTO) will fund an innovator through ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads program as part of DOE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP). BTO’s selectee will be one of six science and technology innovators from across the U.S. to participate in ORNL’s research and development (R&D) to market program for entrepreneurs.

Innovation Crossroads is one of three lab-based programs that form DOE’s LEEP Program. LEEP takes top entrepreneurial scientists and engineers and embeds them within U.S. national laboratories to perform early-stage R&D that may lead to the launch of energy or manufacturing businesses in the future. DOE created the LEEP to provide an institutional home for innovative postdoctoral researchers to build their research into products and train to be entrepreneurs.

“We are excited to sponsor the first Building Technologies Office fellow at Innovation Crossroads,” said Mary Hubbard, BTO’s technology-to-market manager. “We look forward to seeing the impact our innovator will have on high-performance, low-carbon building materials. Moving these kinds of materials into highly market- adopted products will put the U.S. on the path to a carbon-free buildings sector by 2050.”

ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads is the Southeast’s only R&D program for entrepreneurs based at a DOE national laboratory and provides unique support to science-based startups to help advance new technology from the laboratory to the marketplace. ORNL will match innovators with technology leaders, experienced mentors, and business and investment networks that can accelerate the transition of their world-changing ideas to the marketplace.

The six innovators in this year’s cohort were selected through a merit-based process. Selectees will have the opportunity to work with world-class scientists and unique capabilities at ORNL, such as Summit, the nation’s most powerful supercomputer; the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, DOE’s largest advanced manufacturing research center; the Building Technologies Research and Integration Center, DOE’s only user facility dedicated to buildings research; and the Spallation Neutron Source, an accelerator-based system that offers atomic-level insight into advanced materials. The innovators will further benefit from a network of mentoring organizations in the Southeast that will help develop business strategies to advance technological breakthroughs to market.

Tommy Gibbons, the BTO Innovation Crossroads fellow, will focus his project on energy-efficient, carbon-negative, bio-based insulation. Gibbons has developed hemp fiber insulation that is nontoxic, high-performing, and carbon-negative. The hemp-based product can drastically reduce a building’s carbon footprint while increasing the occupant’s health and comfort. The material also has the potential to achieve a high R-value, which denotes efficiency, and is fire resistant. Hemp-based insulation releases zero carbon and can be manufactured at a lower cost because the material can be sourced wholly in the U.S. Gibbons holds an undergraduate degree in public policy from Princeton University and is a certificated green associate from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Applications for the next cohort at all LEEP Program locations – Innovations Crossroads, Cyclotron Road, and Chain Reaction Innovations – will open in fall 2021.