If you are working on A) research that involves Lab-developed intellectual property and B) you are working with or plan to work with an industry partner, the Technology Commercialization Fund may be the right place for you to seek funding.
The DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions (OTT)’s Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF) provides R&D funding in the applied energy programs (including electricity, energy efficiency, renewable energy, fossil energy, cybersecurity, and nuclear energy) to energy technologies with the potential for high impact. All TCF projects require matching funds from non-federal sources that cover half of all project costs, though not all the funds have to be in the form of cash; time and equipment costs, or in-kind funding, count towards the matching funds.
TCF awards have two goals in mind. First, it is designed to increase the number of energy technologies developed at DOE’s national labs that graduate to commercial development and achieve commercial impact. Second, the TCF encourages lab-industry partnerships.
TCF offers two types of awards. Topic 1 awards are for projects that demonstrate evidence of commercial potential; the awards provide $100,000-$250,000 for a performance period of 6-18 months. Topic 2 awards are projects with a defined commercial application for the technology and require an identified industrial partner; the awards range from $250,000-$1,500,000 and the performance period is 12-36 months.
The DOE is expected to make its call for FY 2022 proposals for TCF awards in September.
Two recent awardees, Nem Danilovic, with the Energy Technologies Area’s Energy Storage & Distributed Resources Division, and Maxim Marchevsky, with the Physical Sciences Area’s Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division, shared their experiences with the TCF program and tips for potential applicants. Nem received a Topic 2 award for $300,000 in 2020 and another in 2021, while Maxim received a $150,000 award for his Topic 1 proposal in 2019. Their DOE awards were matched with equal amounts in in-kind funding from industry partners.
How has the TCF award helped your research project?
Nem: I received two TCF awards. In 2021, I received an award to develop an electrode for water electrolysis that can produce hydrogen and oxygen from water. In 2020, I received an award to develop a promising oxygen evolution reaction (OER) catalyst for a water splitting device called a proton exchange membrane water electrolyzer (PEMWE), used in the development of hydrogen-based renewable energy. Last year’s award allowed me to partner with Pajarito Powder, a catalyst manufacturer, IRD Fuel Cells, a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) fabricator, and Proton OnSite/NEL, the largest proton exchange membrane water electrolyzer company, to synthesize more efficient and durable electrocatalysts for improved PEMWE devices.
The TCF award allows for early stage lab scale technology to move up through the Technology Readiness Level from beaker, to product integration, to commercial system. Through our partnership with Pajarito Powder, as part of the TCF award, we are tuning our existing structure in order to maximize the efficiency of water splitting while reducing the degradation of components at scale. Additionally we will demonstrate translation from laboratory to commercial PEMWE systems at NEL.
Maxim: The TCF award helped me to further develop ultrasonic sensing technology for detecting and localizing hot spots in electrical devices that are critical to fail-safe, uninterrupted operation of electrical utilities and energy generation. In particular, my team has been focusing on transformers and high-temperature superconductor cables andfor fusion magnet systems. Development of this technology started at Berkeley Lab in 2016, and the TCF award was our first opportunity to collaborate on it with a commercial partner.
We have partnered with Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a fusion energy pioneer, to explore detection and localization of hot spots in high-temperature superconductor cables. These cables will be used to wind the central solenoid coil of a demo fusion system that the company is building; early detection of heating in such devices is essential for system protection.
Thanks to the TCF award, we have successfully demonstrated our method on a commercial fusion cable sample at realistic operating conditions. We are now continuing our collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems under the recently funded ARPA-E proposal to implement the technology for their central solenoid coil.
What was the time commitment for submitting a proposal?
Nem: It took us one month from the time of the initial FOA to the pre-proposal due date. The first stage was the pre-proposal, which only required a couple of pages that are used to screen the invention so that time is not wasted on efforts that are not most relevant to the funding areas of interest. Upon passing the pre-proposal screen, we put together a 5-7 page proposal that included technical aspects which were fairly rudimentary as well as a commercialization plan that was unique to this FOA. We also included commercialization milestones and addressed how our partners would deal with IP and licensing. Though it was easy to collect materials, letters of support, and develop budgets with our partners, the first stage was a bit more challenging in that it was time sensitive and required gaining the support of industry partners within that set timeframe.
Maxim: The application process was not too difficult in my case, especially compared to proposals required by the ARPA-E. Also, having a prior existing collaboration with a company or a clearly outlined path to such collaboration is a key for success in this funding proposal.
Do you have any tips for those who are considering submitting proposals for this coming cycle?
Nem: I worked closely with Shanshan Li in the Intellectual Property Office to identify the most relevant topic areas and to develop a timeframe. Working with Shanshan and IPO was instrumental in understanding our current state of IP protection and to ensure that our technology meets the criteria. IPO also helped us to approach our partners by explaining the cost-share requirements, which can be in-kind and not necessarily in direct funds, as well as the benefits to our partners, such as early access to advanced technology and favorable IP rights under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).
Maxim: Establishing good business relationships with commercial partners and discussing potential IP issues and in-kind contributions (if any) well in advance would help streamline the proposal process and avoid delays. Also, a commercial partner’s plans, priorities, and schedules may change along the way, so be mindful of that when preparing your milestones and deliverables. Keep a good portion of those Berkeley Lab-focused, and broaden the scope to provide a path for future growth.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org in the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) if you are interested in submitting a proposal, as TCF projects must involve Lab-developed IP. Contact Todd Pray at email@example.com, Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer, if you have any questions regarding the contracting process required to include industry and cost-share partners.