ORNL to help small biz in DOE voucher program

paulusThe U.S. Department of Energy last week made the first awards in a small-business voucher program, enabling 33 companies to gain access to expertise and top-notch research facilities at national labs.

Nine of the clean-energy projects will be carried out at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the first round of the pilot program has generated an enthusiastic response.

“This is kind of a grand experiment,” said Mike Paulus (pictured right), ORNL’s director of technology transfer.

“One of the challenges all national labs face is that it’s hard for small businesses to access the resources to the same degree as large businesses,” he said.

Small companies may lack the money to cover the costs of research time at lab facilities or may not know how to navigate the systems for approval at the government labs, Paulus said.

Each of the companies submitted a request for assistance, and they were selected for the program on a competitive basis.

The federal vouchers range from $50,000 to $300,000, and the money goes to the labs to help companies solve a key technical problem or otherwise move clean-energy technologies closer to commercialization.

Small businesses participating in the program are required to provide a 20 percent cost share — which can be in-kind work at the company’s home base.

Borrowing a lab scientist with unique expertise for six months or a year can make all the difference to a young company, Paulus said.

DOE announced 33 awards last week, chosen from hundreds of applicants, and ORNL will work with nine small businesses from around the country:

Glucan Biorenewables, Madison, Wisc.; Grid Logic Inc., Auburn Hills, Mich.; GVD Corp., Cambridge, Mass.; Be Power Tech Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; KCF Technologies Inc., State College, Pa.; Treadstone Technologies Inc.; Geothermal Design Center Inc., Asheville, N.C.; Cool-X LLC, Amherst, Mass.; and United Silicon Carbide Inc., Monmouth Junction, N.J.

As an example, ORNL will work with Power Tech to evaluate a natural gas-powered HVAC system that produces 5 kilowatts of continuous electricity for commercial and residential buildings.

The program is sponsored by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the federal agency is investing $6.7 million in the first round and about $20 million overall.

DOE currently is receiving applications for the second round of the pilot program.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.