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One key difference between a great technology that stays in the lab and one that reaches the marketplace is customer interest. In this video, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Lab-Corps team, MyGreenCar, gets ready to step outside the lab and test their technology’s value to consumers.
Blog post by Janine Benner, Associate Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).
The market trends are clear – clean energy is the economic opportunity of the 21st century. The countries and companies that invest in a robust clean energy innovation pipeline will be the ones that lead this economic revolution, providing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to American innovators and businesses. Fortunately, the United States has an advantage unmatched by any of our global competitors – our network of national laboratories.
Now – more than ever – we need to tap into the reservoir of research and development capabilities at our labs to ensure American competitiveness. These world-class science and technology facilities house resources that, in many cases, simply aren’t available elsewhere – such as pioneering work on advanced light sources and energy systems integration. From the very beginning with the Manhattan Project, our labs have made extraordinary contributions to our understanding of science and engineering – from developing some of the world’s most powerful lasers and supercomputers to uncovering the mysteries of dark matter.
To fully maximize the capabilities of the labs, it’s critical that we are accelerating the transfer of more research from the lab bench to the marketplace. It’s crucial that lab researchers have a deep understanding of market needs, allowing them to evaluate the commercial potential of their innovative technologies.
That’s why the Energy Department’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has launched the DOE Lab-Corps program, which pairs national lab scientists with industry mentors from across the energy and high-tech sector in a seven-week entrepreneurial training. It’s an intensive experience that many researchers have likened to “boot camp,” providing a crash course in how to bring new technologies to consumers. Four classes have graduated in the first year of the program. I had the opportunity to attend the graduation ceremony for the most recent class on December 8 and could not have been more impressed with this dynamic group.
Over the past year, EERE has worked with a third-party evaluator to determine the effectiveness of the program model and how we can continually improve the program as it grows. The final evaluation of our first class was released on November 28, with some very promising results. An overwhelming majority of participants indicated a strong understanding of market needs and potential industry entry points for their technologies thanks to the training. To learn more, I encourage you to read the full report here.
Thanks in part to this initiative, there is a growing group of national lab scientists who value early industry engagement – and see it as a way to guide their research, helping ensure that public investment in the national labs helps solve the toughest market challenges. Although we’re only a year into the program, teams from our first and second classes have already made significant progress toward turning their lab-developed technologies into real-world solutions. These successes are all the more impressive when you consider what a difficult path clean energy innovators face in bringing their technology to the market.
It takes time and capital for these investments to pay off, but our participants are clearly up for the challenges. Here are just a few examples of exciting projects that our Lab-Corps participants are pursuing, applying the skills they have learned through the program.
Technology: An alternative to window-mounted air conditioning units, the device installs anywhere on an exterior wall, allowing users to be comfortable without losing their window view. On top of that, this technology is also quieter and more energy efficient- and it’s easy to install.
Recent News: EcoSnap-AC Wins R&D 100 Conference Award; NREL Engineers Look for a Cool way to Make AC Units an Affordable Snap
Technology: A smart phone app that allows users to virtually test drive and choose the electric car that best fits their driving style, this app tracks driving style, terrain, and circumstances. It then shows users how available electric cars stack up in terms of fuel efficiency, range, and cost savings.
Recent News: Which Electric Car is Right for You?; VIDEO: Who Will Buy My App? The Science of Customer Discovery
3. Smart Charge Adapter (Qmulus LLC)
Technology: Qmulus’ smart charge adapter connects between the electric vehicle supply equipment and a plug-in electric vehicle. The device allows users to convert any “dumb” station to a “smart” station at a substantially lower cost than replacing the whole charging station. The data collected from “smart” stations allows residents, communities, workplaces, retailers, and utilities to gain more detailed information about electric vehicle charging behavior.
News: Qmulus Wins Inaugural City of Fort Collins Innovation Challenge; Meet Innovate Fort Collins EV Charging Challenge Winner, Qmulus
You can learn more about DOE Lab-Corps teams online. You can also explore other programs that help innovators and entrepreneurs overcome commercialization barriers at our Technology-to-Market site. Just as the national labs have helped our country establish our science and technological dominance in the 20th century, I have no doubt that they are ready to lead us on the greatest challenge of the 21st – leading the world to a low-carbon, clean economy.