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U.S. Energy Department makes Renewable Energy Technology Patents Available

published: 2011-06-03 11:22

U.S.Government energy research is now easier to license

The U.S. Department of Energy has created a new public-private partnership opportunity that gives businesses and entrepreneurs the option to bring cutting-edge U.S. government energy research and technology from the laboratory to the market place.

"By making it easier, faster and cheaper for start-ups to license groundbreaking technologies we can move innovative ideas to the marketplace - creating jobs and growing our economy," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Following U.S President Barak Obama's call in his January 2011 “State of the Union” address for new investments in American innovation, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the plan to “accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation.”

That initiative is part of a larger plan to help the United States “win the future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our global competition.”

The plan, which started this month, is to give businesses and entrepreneurs a streamlined option agreement through the Department of Energy to some of the 15,000 patents and patent applications held by the 17 National Laboratories run by the DOE. The restructured agreements give entrepreneurs the opportunity to option groundbreaking technologies developed by the National Laboratories for a $1,000 upfront fee.

DOE announced on May 20, 2011, that Dr. Karina Edmonds, who is responsible for working with the Department's National Laboratories and Facilities to accelerate the pace of technology transfer, will now report directly to Energy Secretary Chu.

From Lab to Market Place

One good example of this public-private partnership involves nanocrystal solar cells. In 2005, researchers the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed the first ultra-thin solar cells comprised entirely of inorganic nanocrystals and spin-cast from solution. The dual nanocrystal solar cells are “the only photovoltaic technology that is sufficiently long-lasting and inexpensive to compete with electricity from the grid,” according to DOE. San Jose, California-based Solexant licensed the technology and the company’s nanocrystal solar cell went on to win a 2009 R&D magazine award. Solexant is continuing to perfect the original government research into an ultra-thin, printable manufacturing process. Trident Capital, along with X/Seed Capital, Firelake Capital and Medley Partners, contributed to Solexant's first round of financing.

Another example is nano-structured polymer electrolytes for rechargeable lithium batteries. This was developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and licensed to start-up company Seeo, Inc. in 2007, enabling the development of a solid-state rechargeable lithium battery that is inherently safe because it lacks the reactive and flammable materials of conventional lithium ion batteries, thus preventing thermal runaway. Dr. Hany Eitouni, co-founder and Director of Materials Development of Seeo,was selected by Technology Review magazine as one of the top young innovators of 2010.

Backed by Khosla Ventures, Seeo was also awarded $6.2M from the Department of Energy in 2010 as part of the “Smart Grid and Energy Storage” demonstration program. This 4-year project will support development and deployment of Seeo’s 25 kWh battery pack targeted for utility-scale storage operations.

15,000 Energy Patents

The current portfolio of the Department of Energy’s emerging renewable energy technologies includes some15,000 projects available for licensing and patent applications. These include projects for solar thermal and photovoltaics; biofuels; vehicle technology; grid energy storage; wave, tidal and hydropower; wind; building efficiency; and, geothermal.

A sample of the technologies currently available includes:


  • Improved Amorphous Silicon Solar Cells: Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a “hydrogenated amorphous silicon” solar cell that improves conversion performance by 30 percent compared previously PVs made with the same materials.
  • Thinner Film Silicon Solar Cells: Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have created a process for thin film silicon solar cells that use a thinner energy-absorbing silicon layer.  This could allow a 20 percent conversion increase because the technology uses less silicon than the conventional PV manufacturing process and so cuts costs.
  • Processing Iron Pyrite Nanocrystals for Use in Solar Cells: “For solar energy to become an economically viable energy source, alternative semiconductor materials to be used in solar cells must be found. Silicon, the longtime standard for solar cells, is expensive to process and in ever-growing demand. Thin films made of CdTe (cadmium telluride) and CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) have potential, but their raw material sources are too limited to meet the world’s growing energy needs.”
  • Low-cost, Modular, Building-integrated Photovoltaic-Thermal Collector: “Buildings consume approximately 40% of the energy, and nearly 70% of the electricity used in the United States. Building surfaces are well suited to renewable energy production. The surface area of a typical residence is large enough to produce the electricity required to operate the building. However, in order to achieve net-zero energy use, solar thermal collectors are often required to produce hot water for domestic and space heating needs or pre-heated ventilation air.”

EV Technology:

  • Conductive Carbon Coatings for Electrode Materials: Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed improved carbon coatings for LiFePO4 materials used in lithium ion batteries. The coatings enhance electrochemical performance without sacrificing the energy density of the battery.
  • Grid Friendly Charger Controller: Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed algorithms and a technology for simplifying electric vehicle charging. These patent pending technologies, if integrated with other components, can initiate the communication between the vehicle and the grid to decide the optimal time to re-charge.

Energy Storage and Lithium Batteries:

  • High Power Performance Lithium Ion Battery:Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have increased by 20 percent the power from lithium ion batteries through a process that optimizes the cathode’s ratio of polymer binder to the acetylene conductive additive. in the. This electrode composition also improves the cycling lifetime of the batteries.
  • Electrostatic Generator/Motor: A new configuration of the electrostatic generator/motor has been developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the course of improving electromechanical battery (flywheel energy-storage) technology. E-S generator/motors in present-day energy storage systems fell short of meeting the low parasitic losses and low capital cost requirements.

According to the Department of Energy, when an agreement grants an “exclusive license” for the U.S. market, the licensee must manufacture a substantial amount of the new technology-driven products in the U.S. To date, more than 400 companies and entrepreneurs have inquired about the available technologies.

The DOE has set up an “Energy Innovation Portal” website

(//techportal.eere.energy.gov/) for entrepreneurs and businesses interested in viewing the available technologies and the restructured patent agreements.

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