A few answers to some frequently asked questions...
We hope the information below helps to answer a few questions you may have.
You can also use our contact form to ask a question.
Doesn’t the U.S. taxpayer fund national labs? Why can’t I just walk in and use whatever I want?
Indeed, we are funded by the taxpayer, however, there are rules which ensure fair access with limited funding. Safety restrictions also apply.
Can't I just pay you for your time and expertise; in other words, “rent” you and/or your facility?
We do perform work for others when we provide unique capabilities or resources under Strategic Partnership Projects (SPP) however, we balance working in this fashion with work which keeps us at the cutting edge of science. This means that we cannot spend all our time on this type of endeavor or let our equipment be used solely for this purpose. We continue to develop new methods for studying batteries not only to enhance our value to our industry partners, but to also facilitate scientific progress for the nation at large and advance the mission of the national labs.
Don't User Facilities allow for exactly such an engagement?
Indeed, User Facilities (such as the Advanced Light Source) are allowed to let you use their facilities for free, on the premise that you will publish what you find. User Facilities are carefully designated and fully funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The battery labs at Berkeley Lab are not designated as a User Facility. However, our sincere hope is to find the right balance between ensuring access while meeting our funders' expectations.
So what is the path forward?
More information on exactly how you can access Berkeley Lab expertise, techniques, and equipment can be found on the Contractual Mechanisms page. The Capabilities section of this site can give you a sense of what is available and help you identify what technique and/or researcher would best help you in solving your problem. Or use our contact form to ask a specific question.
How long does it usually take for you to help a company identify the right technique for the problem?
If you already know what you want and are well-versed with various techniques to achieve your goals, then the information contained in the Capabilities section, and a brief consultation with the right person, might be enough. It is reasonable to anticipate that a work scope could be put together in one week. On the other hand, if you are unclear about what we have and what techniques would best suit the problem, history suggests that we may need several meetings to identify the work scope.
Once the scope is identified, what are next steps?
Depending on the scope of work that is mutually decided (between you and the Berkeley Lab researcher), you can either utilize a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) or a Strategic Partnership Project (SPP) agreement. Another possibility would be to submit a joint proposal to a Federal or State entity. There are rules that govern each of these processes. We can help you identify the best option. Use our contact form to ask a question, or you can email us at EnergyStorage@lbl.gov or contact our Innovation and Partnerships Office at IPO@lbl.gov
How long will this process take?
Process time for Standard or Short-form CRADAs or SPPs will vary* and could depend on the scope of work or collaboration. Berkeley Lab has also entered into a CRADA with CalCharge. The CalCharge CRADA Task Order process can allow U.S. companies to begin working with Berkeley Lab battery researchers in as soon as eight weeks. The CalCharge CRADA is pre-negotiated with DOE and is available to CalCharge members. For more information about CalCharge membership go here.
What is the typical cost?
Costs will vary with scope and the length of the project. Costs will also be affected by "who" will work on the project (PI vs Postdoc.) Although national labs may have a reputation for being expensive due to high overheads, Berkeley Lab's overhead is lower than many other national labs. As a partner member of CalCharge, the California Battery Ecosystem, we are committed to collaborating with both small start-ups and larger, established companies to develop that ecosystem. Contact us to find out if your needs could be addressed in a cost efficient manner. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Is there any guarantee that I will get the solutions I need?
In research, there is no way to guarantee that the technique we employ will work on the specific problem that you have. We can, however, minimize the risk to your company by utilizing a brand new program funded by the Department of Energy. This program allows us to perform a few preliminary experiments/calculations on your specific problem with only a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in place at no cost to you. If preliminary experiments work, it reduces the risk as we move to the next stage. Contact Us to find out if you can take advantage of this benefit.
Can you give us a couple of examples of companies you have engaged with?
We have projects that span the spectrum. You can see a few examples listed by category in the Projects section. We have two companies that fund postdocs at the Lab and work with us on a regular basis to make sure that their work is relevant. We have three projects where the company employee is “embedded” with us and works on the project under the guidance of a scientist. The latter approach has the advantage of restricting information to a very small group. And we have two companies that have engaged with us on the preliminary proof-of-concept experiments.
What about the requirement to publish? Do all results get published and therefore remove all value for my company?
Berkeley Lab does not engage in any proprietary research in part because there are students who work at the Lab. There is, however, a specific exception for projects performed under the CalCharge CRADA.
Will my confidential information be protected?
Berkeley Lab is extremely sensitive to protecting confidential information, either received from a company or generated during the course of a project. Confidentiality is the cornerstone to a successful engagement with industry. We have implemented a set of procedures and tools to ensure each project is completely airtight and isolated from isolated from other projects. For example:
- Each industry project must be specifically different from other projects in a PI's lab to eliminate "fuzzy border" effects.
- Only the PI and the staff (typically a postdoc) involved on the project are to participate in any discussion involving the project. In some cases company engineers or scientists are the ones to carry out the project so in that case only the PI is aware of the contents or his/her project.
- Staff participating to the project must sign a specific document acknowledging the complete confidentiality of the project.
- The project sponsor controls the timing of what materials are to be published or patented. Alternatively, under the CalCharge CRADA, the company can elect to work under the Protected CRADA Information clause and keep all material as trade secret for a period of up to five years.
Where can I get more information?
Please use our contact form to obtain more detailed information. You can also reach us by email at: EnergyStorage@lbl.gov. We look forward to hearing from you.