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DOE's Inventions Program Saves Money, Energy, Environment

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Feb. 10, 1995 — A federal government program for stimulating energy-related inventions has generated commercial products that are saving Americans energy and money, creating jobs, boosting tax revenues, and slowing global warming.

That's the conclusion of a recently published report prepared by Marilyn Brown and four coauthors with the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The report, "Economic, Energy, and Environmental Impacts of DOE's Energy-Related Inventions Program," examines the results of the Energy-Related Inventions Program (ERIP), which has been jointly operated since 1974 by DOE and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This program solicits and selects invention ideas; from 1975 through 1992, it provided $41 million in grants to inventors to develop the most promising concepts.

"The value of sales of ERIP inventions is 19 times the value of ERIP grants awarded and seven times the appropriations for the program," Brown said. "In 1992, the last year covered by our evaluation, ERIP technologies launched new businesses, created more than 650 fulltime jobs, and provided the U.S. Treasury with $2.7 million in individual income taxes.

"The commercial success of three ERIP projects has saved more than half a billion dollars in energy expenditures over the past decade," Brown said. "In addition, the energy savings cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly one million metric tons of carbon." Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, which may have undesirable environmental effects.

The three highly successful ERIP projects were (1) replacement rings for steam turbines, which prevent the gradual loss in efficiency that characterizes conventional packing rings; (2) an ignition control system for automotive internal combustion engines; and (3) a high- efficiency gas-fired water heater for industrial applications.

ERIP has brought prosperity to some inventors. "By the end of 1992," says Brown, "at least 129 of the 625 inventions recommended by DOE for support had entered the market, generating total cumulative sales of $763 million. In 1992, ERIP inventors earned an estimated $1 million in royalties. Over the lifetime of the program, royalties have totaled $18.6 million."

The authors obtained the report's information by designing and distributing a 16-page questionnaire to the 557 inventors who had been recommended for program participation by NIST prior to October 1991. (It was judged that more recent participants would not have had enough time to complete their projects and develop a successful new product.) They measured an invention's progress primarily in terms of market entry, level of sales, and length of time in the market.

The other authors of the report are C. Robert Wilson, Charlotte A. Franchuk, Stephen M. Cohn, and Donald W. Jones, all of ORNL's Energy Division.

ORNL, one of the Department of Energy's multiprogram research laboratories, is managed by Martin Marietta Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.