CREED: Key player in cleantech
CREED, the Colorado Center for Renewable Energy Economic Development, celebrates its first anniversary this year, but forget any talk about baby steps.
CREED already has taken giant steps.
One reason for CREED’s rapid progress is its long gestation period. So while the center opened officially a year ago, it was in the works since at least 2007, if not before.
We say, "if not before" because CREED also might be said to have come about because of NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which opened operations in 1974 and which began operating as the Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden in 1977. In September 1991 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) designated the facility a national laboratory and changed its name to NREL.
Four years ago, the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC, a joint venture between Battelle and MRIGlobal, won the contract to manage NREL. Due in large part to mid-2000s energy legislation, the mandate for winning that contract included a strong commercialization program.
William Farris was part of the team designing what came to be CREED back in 2007.
"By design we wanted CREED to exist because we felt that, as NREL, and as the alliance that is managing the laboratory, we could do a lot more in the area of tech-based economic development, helping cleantech companies grow, thrive, survive through the stages of development, even if those companies did not necessarily have their roots in NREL, and are not necessarily just our licensing partners," says Farris, NREL vice president for commercialization and technology transfer
Farris was part of the then-new team at NREL in 2008, moving over to the Alliance for Sustainable Energy from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, with 20 years’ experience in technology commercialization in DOE labs.
"Our sponsors at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at DOE, have a mission, so we see it is our role to help these cleantech companies because that’s in our mission space," Farris says.
"We will help our licensees, but say there’s a battery company that didn’t have its roots in NREL, but could benefit from the association with NREL. We can help them with their techno-economic analysis," Farris says, for example.
"We also have what we call convening power as the laboratory. A lot of people look to NREL, and a lot of investors and other people who are interested in renewable energy businesses will call us up and come to events that we sponsor."
A good case is NREL and CREED’s upcoming 25th Annual Industry Growth Forum. "That’s a really good example of where we use our convening power," says Farris.
Right at the same time Farris’ team was formulating CREED and cleantech commercialization, Matt Ringer, NREL commercialization program manager in Golden, was planning one of CREED’s least conspicuous, most creative, commercial outreach programs.
That program, the Energy Innovation Portal in all its glory, can be seen at techportal.eere.energy.gov.
"In fiscal year 2007, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 finally was taking effect, and in it there was a fund that came from a 0.9 percent tax on all the DOE programs," says Ringer. "The intent was to use that fund to do commercialization, to work with companies, to move technologies to the marketplace."
So when the Alliance for Sustainable Energy applied for the NREL contract, it offered some creative ideas on how to move more laboratory technologies to the marketplace, "some unique ideas for commercialization and technology," Ringer says.
One of the ideas that came up through that proposal was something called the energy information portal or the intellectual property portal.
"The idea was that through DOE funding you could go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and find out that more than 16,000 patents and patent applications have been created through DOE funding" Ringer says. "Four years ago on October 1 we pitched the idea of this portal concept to EERE and they loved the concept."
Ringer’s team created a database of DOE patents with a searchable interface on the front.
But "that only has a minimal impact when you look at moving technologies to market," Ringer says.
So in 2010 they took the next step, by creating marketing summaries of patents and patent applications. "We knew that putting the portal together with patents would be only mildly successful; what we really needed to do was to build these marketing summaries, so we started the process of working with all 17 national labs to get them to write marketing summaries for technologies that they have that are available for licensing."
When the Energy Innovation Portal opened in 2010 it had 100 summaries. Now it has 803 summaries.
More than 8,000 visitors per month, "typically an entrepreneur, an investor, or a technology scout at a larger business," visit the Energy Innovation Portal, "which, while it’s not a huge number when you’re thinking of the Google world or the Yahoo world, from the perspective of people wanting to look at DOE technologies that’s quite a good data set," Ringer says.