Livermore Looks to Avoid Cleantech “Valley of Death”

In the capital intensive cleantech investment cycle, failure risk is high at every stage. But perhaps nowhere is it riskier than during what Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory biz-dev executive Annemarie Meike calls “the Valley of Death.”

That’s the point, Meike says, when government funding for a project has run out, researchers have unearthed some promising findings, and it’s time for private investors to commercialize the technology. Commonly, breakthroughs wind up languishing in tech transfer offices till they’re outdated or forgotten.

Livermore is taking a new approach to preventing the tech-transfer death spiral. Meike likens the strategy to a mutual fund, though it’s really more like a mini super early stage portfolio. Basically, the lab is grouping together technologies it’s developed that serve a particular clean tech market (transportation, energy storage, etc.), prepping market research, and bringing in a small chunk of private funding to ready them for commercialization.

The amounts of investment are quite small – around $200k per mini-portfolio, of which there are currently three: solar thermal for industrial processing and electrical power, energy storage, and transportation technology. Technologies offered include an electrostatic generator, a modernized flywheel gizmo, and a heat engine for distributed solar thermal power that reaches maximum efficiency at a lower temperature than engines currently available for such applications.

Funds will go to developing prototypes, Meike says, and investors can potentially see in return a royalty share, an equity share, or some combination of both after the technology is licensed.