Since 2015, Energy I-Corps has addressed critical gaps in technology deployment for national labs by enabling researchers to develop real-world entrepreneurial skills and better understand market drivers. It provides valuable opportunities for the application of commercialization to DOE technologies. Researchers return to their labs with a framework for industry engagement to guide future research and inform a culture of market engagement within the lab environment. 

What is Energy I-Corps

This hybrid training accelerates the commercialization of innovative research discoveries through an immersive two-month program that brings together researchers with industry mentors to define their value propositions, interview stakeholders to learn more about product viability, and develop realistic market pathways for their technologies.

Each Energy I-Corps cohort represents a wide range of research fields, including hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, bioenergy, wind power, and more. 

A donut chart showing that Energy I-Corps represents a wide range of research fields and technological innovations.

Energy I-Corps teams have brought innovations to a diverse set of stakeholders across industries.

Over the last eight years, Energy I-Corps has graduated 191 teams from 12 National Labs, with more than 190 industry mentors providing guidance. To date, the teams have facilitated over 13,600 customer discovery interviews with companies such as Lowes, Johns Manville, LEGO, the U.S. Army, Tesla, GM, and many more. 

Introducing the New Cohort

Cohort 16, which began on March 9, 2023, and will graduate in mid-May, is comprised of 13 teams representing five national labs. They are:

CUBES from Sandia National Labs
Carbon Upcycled Bioproducts for Environmental Sustainability (CUBES) delivers a scalable biochemical-chemical platform at low-energy intensity and cost to convert undervalued organic materials at 100% theoretical carbon yield into biofuels, bioplastics, and bio-derived detergents. The technology is energy-efficient, renewable, and synergistic with other biorefinery feedstocks (e.g., lipids). 

Ridged Electrodes from Sandia National Labs
Ridged Electrodes’ technology promotes high-charge and discharge speeds in batteries while maintaining the total energy they release through electrode ridging. Ridging means to impart a microscale 3D architecture in an electrode. This process can be carried out using printing methods, so it is well suited for large-scale manufacturing through slight modification of existing processes. 

NIO from National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The Non-Intrusive Optical (NIO) method is a tool designed to characterize errors in heliostats–specially designed, dynamic-mirror assemblies that reflect the sun’s rays onto a central receiver in concentrating solar power tower plants. NIO uses image processing tools to derive information on a mirror’s optical performance from data collected by an autonomous, versatile, aerial imaging platform that doesn’t interfere with plant operations.

Track Analytics from Sandia National Labs
This team has developed a patented technique for distilling tracks (the recorded paths of moving objects) into feature vectors allowing millions of tracks to be efficiently analyzed using machine learning techniques. Track Analytics’ award-winning technology has had impact in national security missions but could be employed in other domains where information needs to be gleaned from vast amounts of path data.  

3HP from Pacific Northwest National Lab
Production of chemicals from petroleum feedstocks contributes significantly to the U.S. carbon footprint. To reduce chemical industry emissions, this team developed an efficient process that leverages fungi to convert renewable and waste feedstocks to 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP) for polymer manufacturing. 

Electro 3D from Sandia National Labs
Electro 3D has developed an electrochemical technology that can simultaneously analyze and manufacture materials. Their platform is substantially more energy efficient than traditional methods and is highly flexible. This advanced manufacturing technology integrates seamlessly with machine learning techniques and can address many customer needs. 

Fire Map from Sandia National Labs
Wildfires pose a physical threat to the electric grid and are becoming more frequent and severe in response to drought and fire-suppression policies across the western United States. Fire Map was developed to characterize recent fuel conditions and simulate the risk of wildfire to electric-grid components and can be used to help identify strategies to make the grid more resilient to wildfire.

Diamond Semiconductors from Sandia National Labs
The most common semiconductor material used in electronics is silicon, but the properties of diamonds are superior compared to silicon for electronics. With a novel manufacturing process, this technology produces a diamond wafer semiconductor with a desirable and unique high-electric field strength, high-electron mobility, larger band gap, and very high thermal conductivity.

Recyclobot from Argonne National Laboratory
Recyclobot is developing a robotic hot-cell technology for remote automation of electric vehicle battery pack disassembly which will reduce cost, enhance safety, and eliminate tedious labor. 

NoVo Rotor from National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The Negative Tip Vortices Blade is a new technology developed to enhance the power capture from wind turbines using new blade designs. These new designs have different twist and chord profiles along the blade that take advantage of physic insights obtained from high-fidelity modeling tools and are shown to produce more power than conventional designs.

Catch It from National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Research shows that many Americans are willing to alter their lifestyles to reduce the effects of climate change. This team’s goal is to use simple and low-cost “nudges” to promote the habit of implementing and sustaining daily household energy reduction measures. Catch It will amplify our efforts in educating the public about simple approaches to reduce their energy consumption.

Distributed Wind Toolkit from National Renewable Energy Laboratory
This seem seeks to increase commercialization of a suite of technical and analytical tools for commercial entities to support distributed wind energy deployment. When combined, these tools can provide users with the ability to simulate consumer purchasing behavior, accurately assess wind resource to better predict turbine performance, and effectively design and optimize hybrid systems that include distributed wind.

DSHP-TES from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
ORNL developed a dual-source (air source and ground source) heat pump that is integrated with underground thermal energy storage. This integrated system can provide space heating, space cooling, and thermal energy storage. With intelligent control, this system can shift most electricity consumption for space heating/cooling from peak hours when electricity is expensive to other times when electricity is cheap while maintaining room temperature at setpoint. 

A group of 40 people pose for a photo in an outdoor patio.

Energy I-Corps Cohort 16 gathers in Golden, Colorado with its teams of national lab researchers and industry mentors alongside their instructors and the NREL program management team. 

Teaching Team

Energy I-Corps always offers a team of gifted teachers to help participants discover potential opportunities in the market for their technologies. The expertise of the instructors combines with their ability to ask key questions and point out challenges, while finding the best way forward. The teaching team for Cohort 16 includes: 

  • Danielle France 
  • Max Green
  • Rebecca Kauffman
  • Deepa Lounsbury  
  • Nakia Melecio
  • Jean Redfield

Opening Session in Golden, Colorado

All of Cohort 16 and their teaching team gathered in Golden, Colorado at the end of March for a week of trainings, workshops, and networking. 

Two men chat in a room of people working at tables.

Energy I-Corps Cohort 16 had an nonstop agenda of instructor-led lessons, training activities, and team presentations. 

Two people talk while sitting at a table with a poster board on it.

Energy I-Corps Cohort 16 teams had plenty of time to develop business models and value propositions for their technologies. 

A woman stands to speak from the back of a room with people seated in front of her.

Energy I-Corps Cohort 16 teaching team provides valuable feedback and asks the tough questions to guide participants through the commericalization journey.

Three people work near a laptop and poster board.

Energy I-Corps Cohort 16 teams also got out of the building and into the market, literally. They began collecting stakeholder discovery interviews and then reconvened to discuss lessons learned.

A group of four people sit at tables and hold up green pieces of paper.

Energy I-Corps Cohort 16 teams will continue with their curriculum until May 2023, when they will gather in Washington, D.C. to graduate from the program. 

Closing Thoughts 

Since it started in 2015, more than 20 Energy I-Corps teams have successfully launched new businesses. Furthermore, alumni teams continue to raise post-program funding, surpassing more than $150 million in 2022 and have gone on to execute more than 75 licenses. These teams aim to change the world and Energy I-Corps wants to help make that happen.

Learn more about Energy I-Corps including how to get involved.