Berkeley Lab, small businesses collaborate through Small Business Vouchers Pilot

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ABPDU Biofuel processing lab - 07/09/2015.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists will collaborate with four small businesses to commercialize clean energy as part of the Small Business Vouchers Pilot, a program launched by the U.S. Department of Energy in July.

Berkeley Lab was selected as one of five national laboratories for this pilot through a competitive process, according to Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Berkeley Lab’s associate lab director for energy technologies. Small energy businesses will be paired with Berkeley Lab researchers — who can take on roles such as principal investigators — with the number of staff members dependent on the scope of the project.

“(The) biggest economic impact is through small companies,” Ramesh said.

With up to $20 million in funding, the SBV Pilot aims to provide about 100 small businesses access to national laboratory facilities and resources through vouchers valued between $50,000 and $300,000 per company, according to the SBV website.

These vouchers do not serve as a grant, according to Alecia Ward, leader of program and business development at Berkeley Lab, as money is not given directly to small businesses. Instead, the vouchers will allow the small businesses to access laboratory materials, according to Ramesh.

The first round of awardees was announced Thursday and includes three Bay Area companies set to work with Berkeley LabLucid Design Group in Oakland, Lygos Inc. in Emeryville and Envia Systems in Newark as well as XG Sciences Inc. in Lansing, Michigan. Each business’ project is allowed to take up to 12 months, according to Ward, though she does not expect the projects will take that long.

The Department of Energy seeks diversity in its small business selection process, having nine key energy fields for which vouchers are given: advanced manufacturing, bioenergy, buildings, fuel cells, geothermal, solar, vehicles, water power and wind, according to Ward.

The Lucid Design Group, for example, has teams working on accelerating advanced building performance to improve the benchmarking of buildings and to enable efficiency, according to its website.

Ward called Berkeley Lab’s involvement with the SPV program another way to “effectively engage with industry.” She noted that Berkeley Lab’s goals for the program are energy efficiency and job creation.

Ward gave the example of a small business testing a magnesium battery. Before the business can produce or manufacture a plausible prototype, it needs to test the new technology with special resources or facilities that may too expensive for it to access on its own, Ward explained. But by using the vouchers, the small business will be able test the technology and advance its research with the help of Berkeley Lab facilities and staff.

Applications for the second round of the SBV Pilot opened Thursday and will remain open until April 10.  

Contact Jennifer Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jenniferwong_dc.