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Lucky Number 7


When it comes to success, it seems everyone envisions achieving a 10.  But for the Critical Materials Institute, those who handle technology transfer at the Ames Laboratory would say a “seven” is a better barometer of success.

As it turns out, technology transfer success is built on a numbering system originated by NASA and adapted by the Department of Energy as a metric to help laboratories, such as the Ames Lab, universities and companies determine the right time to transition a technology into the marketplace. The system is called technology readiness level or TRL.

Debra Covey, associate laboratory director, and head of the Ames Laboratory’s Office of Sponsored Research Administration, says the key TRL number is seven.  
“Once a technology has reached a level seven, it’s ready to be deployed to industry for prototype demonstration in an operations environment,” says Covey.  “You’ve taken it past bench scale and proof of concept to a prototype to be deployed.”
That’s significant for the CMI because its partners have already identified projects that have the potential to achieve TRL7.


“Some of these projects are at TRL2 or TRL3 right now, and we hope that in the next two to three years we’ll see several of them being fast-tracked along to a TRL7 and then into the marketplace, TRL9,” Covey says.

Many of the technology transfer concepts the CMI is ushering in are new for Ames Laboratory.  For example, this will be the first time the Lab will have its industry partners “pull” technologies into their organizations rather than the Laboratory “push” them out into industry.  Covey explains Ames Lab’s approach has been to take the basic science research performed at the Lab, capture any intellectual property, and then search for an industry partner interested in developing it.  Using the new model, the potential industry partners will already be in place by virtue of their existing participation in the CMI.  

“In essence, the CMI will be creating its own markets because it’s focusing on projects that our partners have identified as addressing commercial needs,” says Covey.

The end result could be an exceptional payoff in terms of years cut from the research-to-product window.  Based on the old model, for example, Covey says it took 10 years for lead-free solder to reach the marketplace.  The CMI is hoping its model will reduce the window depending upon the technology.

CMI will also establish a commercialization council that will serve in an advisory capacity, making recommendations regarding intellectual property protection and licensing.  This council will consist of technology transfer executives from all 18 team members.

And the Institute will create an affiliateship program, whereby companies, organizations or individuals can pay a membership fee that will allow them to have an earlier look at the research results and some of the new technologies coming out of CMI work. Already, Covey says, over 30 different entities have expressed an interest in potentially partnering with the CMI.

When asked to peer down the road five years and describe the CMI’s technology-transfer picture, Covey predicts it will be a bright one, with several projects at TRL7 and the resulting technologies or innovations pulled into one or more companies.
Through this success, she hopes the criticality of certain materials is lessened or eliminated, and that CMI is making significant contributions to helping the Department of Energy accomplish its goals for clean, efficient energy sources.

~ by Steve Karsjen