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Turning Ideas into Impact: The Energy Department’s Office of Technology Transitions

December 8, 2015 - 9:05am

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Find out how we connect scientists with innovators and entrepreneurs, like the company who used the National Labs’ supercomputing power to model aerodynamics of long-haul trucks to improve efficiency. | Image by Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Find out how we connect scientists with innovators and entrepreneurs, like the company who used the National Labs’ supercomputing power to model aerodynamics of long-haul trucks to improve efficiency. | Image by Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Amazing things happen when scientists connect with innovators who connect with entrepreneurs. Ideas are sparked, solutions are found, new products are created and the entire economy is strengthened.

That’s why the Department of Energy recently created the Office of Technology Transitions (OTT). Our goal is to turn ideas into impact. And we do so by connecting scientists and engineers at the Department’s 17 National Laboratories with investors and entrepreneurs all across the country.

For instance, when the entrepreneurs and engineers at Smart Truck Systems, a company in Greenville, South Carolina, were looking to improve the aerodynamics and fuel efficiency of long-haul trailers, they looked to the supercomputers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Sophisticated simulations of airflow around the trailers led to the design of unique aerodynamic add-on components called the UnderTray system. The simulations reduced the time from concept to manufacture-ready from three years to 18 months. The system can increase highway fuel efficiency by up to 12 percent, saving thousands in annual fuel cost per truck and leading to potentially dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Similar successes are happening all over the country. In 2014, non-federal partners made some 2,400 agreements with the Energy Department, including 850 small businesses and 40 start-up companies. That same year, 482 new technologies were licensed, 800 patents were issued and 1,550 new inventions were disclosed.

Looking further back, the Department’s partnerships with entrepreneurs have led to everything from advanced batteries to lighter and stronger materials for aircraft and vehicles, to improved radiation detection tools and improved cancer therapies.

But there’s so much more that we can and should do. The Energy Department is one of the nation’s largest funders of R&D in basic and applied sciences, and our labs offer some of the most advanced facilities and tools in the world, so the opportunities are significant. Today, while the U.N. climate conference -- COP21 -- continues in Paris, it’s hard to think of a more urgent challenge than accelerating the development of clean energy technologies to solve climate change.

Climate change is just one challenge, one area of opportunity. Many others are waiting. That’s why OTT is working to provide investors and entrepreneurs streamlined information and access to the labs. It’s also why we are collecting data on technology transitions efforts across the Department, evaluating impact, showcasing best practices and making recommendations on improvements. And through our Clean Energy Investment Center, the OTT team is working to advance private, mission-oriented investment in clean energy technologies.

Ultimately, OTT is designed to nurture and support the ecosystem of technology transitions at Energy -- the multiple handoffs that take an idea at a lab to an innovation at a university to a product that consumers enjoy… which sparks another idea at a lab.

When that happens, the economy is a bit stronger, the nation is a bit safer and the Earth is a bit greener. That’s OTT at work. And we’re just getting started.

 

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