No, it's not a new reality TV series. As part of the Start-up America Initiative, America's Next Top Energy Innovator challenge will give start-up companies the opportunity to license groundbreaking technologies developed by the national laboratories for just $1,000. As part of this effort, the Dept. of Energy says it is reducing the amount of paperwork start-up companies have to manage to license some of the 15,000 patents and patent applications held by the 17 national laboratories.

Currently, only about 10% of federal patents have been licensed to be commercialized. DoE says the point of the challenge is to double the number of start-up companies coming out of the national laboratories.

The challenge kicks off on Monday, May 2, when the DoE will post an agreement online that entrepreneurs can submit to laboratories. Entrepreneurs must identify the technology of interest and submit a business plans, and then will have until Dec. 15 to make their submissions to the laboratory. Any of the 15,000 unlicensed patents and patent applications held by the national laboratories will be available for licensing this way.

The $1,000 upfront fee for portfolios of up to three patents will apply until Dec. 15. This represents a savings of $10,000 to $50,000 on average in upfront fees.

But if the idea really takes off, other fees kick in. License terms such as equity and royalties will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. They are typically due once the company grows and achieves wide-scale commercial success.

Entrepreneurs who complete the process and make progress commercializing the technologies will have opportunities to exhibit at the 3rd Annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in 2012. This event brings together leading technology start-ups and clean energy investors from around the country.

DoE says it is also making it easier for companies to use national laboratory facilities to conduct collaborative research and development activities. Previously, companies had to make upfront payments covering the first 90 days of research work — a requirement that was often difficult for start-ups. DoE is lowering the advance payment requirement to 60 days.

Interested entrepreneurs can view the available technologies on the DoE Innovation Portal. Some of the promising innovations available for licensing include:

Solar Energy Storage, Transportation and Conversion: DoE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers have developed a system for converting solar energy to chemical energy and, subsequently, to thermal energy. The system includes a light-harvesting station, a storage station, and a thermal energy release station that enables transportation of stored energy over long distances.

Grid Friendly Appliance Controller: DoE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a controller that senses grid conditions by monitoring system frequency and provides automatic demand response in times of disruption. This simple computer chip can be installed in household appliances and can turn them off for a few minutes or even a few seconds to allow the grid to stabilize and prevent blackouts.

Growth of Lattice Matched III-V Semiconductor Materials: DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has produced high-performance semiconductor materials for high efficiency solar cells, solid-state lighting, and high-speed transistors, among other things. This portfolio allows for the use of low-cost, scalable, and reusable substrates to dramatically reduce production costs for these materials.

NOx-reducing catalyst for diesel engines: DoE's Argonne National Laboratory devised a diesel DeNOx catalyst that removes 80-85% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel fuel combustion by converting NOx to nitrogen. With its lower expected manufacturing and installation costs, ease of use, and significant market potential, the Argonne catalyst could help reduce our global industrial “footprint.”


DoE Energy Innovation Portal,