DOE announces America’s Next Top Energy Innovator program

DOE program may unearth new solar technologyIt’s not going to be the next blockbuster reality show, but the new America’s Next Top Energy Innovator program, launched on March 29 by the Department of Energy (DOE), could produce new solar and alternative energy stars.

The program will encourage startup companies and entrepreneurs to license patents developed at national laboratories, like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and bring the technologies to market.

The available patents include technologies like a Solar Energy Storage, Transportation and Conversion patent developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The technology takes an organometallic compound that responds to sunlight by becoming a higher energy organometallic compound, which can be stored and transported to a site where it can be released and used as thermal energy. After releasing the energy, the material reverts back to the first compound for reuse.

Under the program, more than 15,000 patented technologies and patent applications will be available to the public for $1,000 each.

“This represents a savings of $10,000 to $50,000 on average in upfront fees,” the DOE said. In addition, the DOE is simplifying the paperwork involved with applying for the patents.

“The plan is to review how effective the pilot program is in facilitating new company creation and encouraging entrepreneurs to spin out Lab technologies,” said DOE spokesperson Tiffany Edwards.

At present, there is no unified application among all the national labs. The DOE is establishing a template agreement that all of the national research centers can use.

“If we find that the template agreement is well received and accomplishes its goal, the Department will encourage the Labs to continue to use it,” Edwards said.

The simplified template agreement will become available on May 2. Between then and Dec. 15, entrepreneurs and startups will be eligible to apply for a license by submitting the agreement, identifying the technology they want to develop and submitting a business plan for consideration.

The DOE will review the applications and choose licensing winners based on results. Winners will also be eligible to participate in other DOE programs, like the SunShot Initiative.

“This initiative will in no way inhibit a startup’s ability to participate in any other DOE program,” Edwards said.

To further help winners commercialize the resulting projects, they will be showcased at the third Annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit showcase in 2012, according to the White House. The summit attracts investors and innovators that could help startups gain a firmer footing.

The program is part of the Obama Administration’s Startup America initiative, which seeks to stoke the entrepreneurial spirit of U.S. citizens in a bid to create more innovation and high-growth firms in the country.

Image courtesy of NREL.