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Program gives start-ups national lab access

Awards to 33 small businesses will help develop, validate clean energy technologies

by Melody M. Bomgardner
March 21, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 12

It’s an unusual type of coupon, to be sure. But for scientists at small firms and start-ups, a new small business voucher could be just the ticket to explore and validate their potentially world-changing technologies. The voucher program, sponsored by the Department of Energy, puts the tools and expertise of national labs at the disposal of small businesses.

Each voucher, worth between $50,000 and $300,000, can be used for prototyping, materials characterization, high-performance computing, pilot scale-up, or performance validation at national labs. The vouchers go to clean energy technologies in areas including advanced manufacturing, bioenergy, fuel cells, and solar power.

The first 33 awardees were announced this month. Emeryville, Calif.-based Lygos, a biobased chemicals start-up, will take advantage of fermentation, separation, and purification expertise at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Amsen Technologies, based in Tucson, will characterize its polymer electrolyte membranes and evaluate them against DOE targets for fuel-cell applications, all at nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory.

And Lansing, Mich.-based XG Sciences will get a very close look at the graphene-silicon composite material it has developed for high-energy lithium-ion batteries. “What they have of interest to me is a great deal of very expensive analytical equipment that small XG Sciences does not have in Michigan,” says Rob Privette, vice president of energy markets at XG. Thanks to the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley, XG’s material samples can be examined with X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, secondary ion mass spectrometry, and focused ion-beam analysis. Privette says the new information may help his team create improved composites.


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