Leveraging the Feds

Federal research programs represent an opportunity for private industry to get additional resources applied to their RD&D projects and other business goals. Many companies, and a few utilities, have been successful at this for a long time.

This discussion is an initial introduction to what it takes to tap the Feds, and DOE/Labs in particular. If there is interest, UFTO stands ready to dig deeper.

The good news is that: it can be done, as evidenced by the companies that do it successfully and repeatedly (“best practice”). The bad news is that it isn’t easy, especially starting fresh. “Startup costs” may be considerable, and the ongoing costs are significant as well, particularly administrative. Companies with a lot experience have advised: don’t do it for a couple $100K; be in for the long haul; it’s a means, not an end; and start with knowing what you want to do. Bottom line– there are resources, programs, and mechanisms that can lead to leverage, but if you want to drink, you have to go to the well.

Federal Tech Transfer

Starting in the early 80’s, Congress and executive orders have been steadily reshaping U.S. federal research policy to expand the importance of technology transfer. Over time, it has become easier and easier for federal agencies to grant private parties the rights to technology and IP developed at federal labs. Working with industry is now the norm.

The emphasis on tech transfer is aimed to get results of federal R&D programs into use — thus fulfilling a (new) mission to help U.S. industry be more competitive. Where these efforts provide resources, industry gets a chance for leverage –it’s just the other side of the same coin.

Where federal spending is targeted at policy goals (such as conservation or advancing a new technology), utilities can be particularly appropriate partners. Another point to keep in mind–the labs are always looking for ways to maintain funding for their programs. An outside funder can gain tremendous leverage by adding resources to ongoing programs which can adapt to meet the funder’s own requirements.

If a private company wins a government award to develop new technology, it usually has to come up with matching funds (especially if it expects to hold on to the resulting IP). From the company’s point of view, their portion is leveraged substantially compared with a go-it-alone approach. (In the case a startup, an equity investor who provides the matching funds will find that his money goes that much farther.)

For a good overview and introduction to federal tech transfer, see the Federal Lab Consortium’s “Green Book”, available online or in hardcopy. (scroll down, on left margin under “Resources”)

There are many contracting mechanisms for working with the government, ranging from outright grants to actual fee-for-service. National labs in particular like to say that contracting should not be an obstacle, that they will find a way to make it work. (Non-U.S. companies shouldn’t be discouraged from looking into opportunities– there usually are ways to deal with restrictions that might otherwise interfere.)

– CRADA (Cooperative R&D Agreement)
– Cost Share/Cofund
– Licensing
– User Facilities
– Work-For-Others
– Personnel Exchange
– Data & Information Exchange
– Consulting & Technical Assistance (by Lab personnel)
– Contracts
– Financial Assistance
– Grants (SBIR, Clean Coal, STTR, TRP, ATP, etc.)
– Consortia (“Industry Partnerships”)
– Informal Collegial Contact!

The main agency for energy is obviously DOE, and other agencies have extensive energy programs as well (e.g., DOD , NASA, Commerce, EPA, Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, etc.). Within DOE, two major programs account for most of the relevant activity:
– Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EREN)
– Fossil Energy (FE)

Solicitations are handled by headquarters, regional program offices, or labs. NREL and NETL in particular seem to be heavily involved in supporting headquarters with administering solicitations and managing programs.
NREL-Nat’l Renewable Energy Lab, CO
NETL- Nat’l Energy Technology Lab; WV, PA — formerly METC & PETC

Solicitations Listings

EREN provides this site as a general starting point

DOE’s Seattle Regional Office publishes a comprehensive compilation of solicitations — from multiple agencies and foundations — relating to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable development. They maintain online a 15-20 page “Open Solicitations Summary” and also send out a monthly email announcement of all new items.
Go to “Open Solicitations” link to see the new monthly listings. Also note instructions on how to be added to the email distribution. The link “Open Solicitations Summary” will take you to the archive where you can download the complete list. (Be sure to look at the last page of the summary for additional information about sources of information.)

On behalf of Fossil Energy, NETL provides alerts, solicitations, CRADA lore, etc., at:
The “Solicitations” link gives a list of current and future opportunities (plus a link to archives).

All DOE solicitations are now handled through the new centralized Industry Interactive Procurement System (IIPS). It is used to post solicitations and amendments, receive proposals/applications, and disseminate award information. Entities wishing to participate in these solicitations will need to register at the IIPS Webster. Proposals will only be accepted through IIPS, unless otherwise indicated within the solicitation document.

IIPS takes some getting used to. “Guest” users can see most everything, but navigation is not easy. Guest users click on “Browse Opportunities”, and are stuck scrolling through 100’s of listings by number. It’s worth registering for a password, otherwise you can’t use the “Main View” which gives you much better sorting capabilities (e.g., by contracting office).
>> or

[Caution: Don’t be surprised to see that “solicitations” in IIPS include everything DOE buys, from research (RFPs) to light bulbs to janitorial services. The Seattle list is a valuable filter.]


Some additional links that provide information and guidance on working with the government:

Argonne National Lab Tech Transfer Office

Laboratory Coordinating Council
Specifically geared to the major “Industries of the Future” from the DOE Office of Industrial Technology.

DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Program
— Sign up to receive notices (right margin, at the bottom)


Advanced Technology Program: partners with the private-sector to develop broadly beneficial technologies. ATP applies across almost any technology area–R&D, (*not* commercialization). Proposal teams often include private companies, startups, labs, universities, etc.


Utilities and DOE

Some utilities have been working closely with DOE for a long time, and others are just now entering the game.

Electricity Advisory Board
Established Nov 2001 to advise on electricity policy issues. Specifically, the DOE’s electricity programs; current and future capacity of the electricity system; issues related to production, reliability and utility restructuring; and coordination between the DOE and state and regional officials and the private sector on matters affecting electricity supply and reliability. Chair is Lynn Draper, CEO of AEP. Many of the CEO members come from utilities that are household words in DOE. (NiSource, DTE, SoCo, etc.)

The Clean Coal Program, which began mid 80’s, has funded major projects with companies like AEP, Tampa Elec, SoCo, etc. The recent solicitation (Clean Coal Power Initiative Round One Proposals – 8/02) attracted a number of new players (Ameren, IP&L, LG&E, Wepco, etc.).

Efficiency & Renewables likewise sees old and new companies at its conferences and responding to its solicitations, particularly in DG, Storage, Hydrogen, etc. (SCE, Nipsco, DTE, Com Ed, SRP…)


Here is some advice compiled from conversations with people at DOE and in the utilities.

Know what DOE is trying to do that fits with your company’s goals
(attend workshops, review meetings, conferences etc.)

Get to know the people and programs, and understand what they’re up to.
( might be able influence what goes into an RFP)

Information/access is public, but only some companies bother to look.
extent of involvement depends on objectives

Work out a strategy, pick out a couple of areas, and put foot in the door.

Key is to find a (programmatic) match and a (contracting) vehicle.
(most DOE work is competed and cost-shared)

Follow the solicitations; understand procedures

Congressional earmark is a possibility, but doesn’t make any friends in DOE

Companies participate (in R&D/DOE) for variety of reasons
(PR, reg. pressures, …and sometimes… actual business goals!)

Don’t need to be insider (but it doesn’t hurt). DOE welcomes new faces and new ideas.