of Technology Partnership Activities


ORNL is a key participant in DOE’s national effort on electric power applications of HTS. ORNL has formed effective teams that combine the resources of the Laboratory with the entrepreneurial drive of private companies. New technology partnership mechanisms, a feature of the ORNL Superconducting Technology Program for Electric Power Systems since its inception in 1988, have resulted in 33 superconductivity “pilot center” cooperative agreements and 5 cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs). In addition, licensing agreements, joint inventions, and joint publications with the private industry partners have ensured that there is technology transfer throughout the program.

Technology partnering on Laboratory-industry teams may occur in several ways. Spinoff technology partnering involves the licensing of patentable Laboratory inventions to industry, continued product or process development to the point of demonstration of precommercial viability, or both. Spectator firms can participate in this national program by licensing Laboratory spinoff technologies. However, this type of technology partnering is the traditional one-way variety in which the Laboratory invents and private industry applies. In the ORNL program the cooperative development level of technology partnering is emphasized: joint industry-Laboratory teams work on a problem that (1) requires combined resources and expertise and (2) has a clear objective of precompetitive research and technology development. For the project to succeed, each partner depends on the success of the other.

Most of the cooperative projects with private industry and the Laboratory precompetitive research and development projects are developing key technology in which commercialization of the results is expected to occur after a minimum of 3 to 5 years. Some activities are also of a higher-risk, longer-term nature for which new markets, or a shift of markets, to embrace HTS are expected if the project succeeds. For example, the ORNL RABiTS process represents a new way to produce strongly linked YBCO wires using an industry-scaleable process. This wire may still be the only option for practical performance levels in high magnetic fields at liquid nitrogen temperatures (65–77 K).


The ORNL program mission is that of its program sponsor, DOE’s Office of Utility Technologies, Superconductivity Program:  to develop the technology base necessary for industry to proceed to commercialization of electric energy applications of HTS. HTS will enable new energy-efficient motors, transformers, and transmission lines and will also provide electric power equipment manufacturers with strategic technology for global competitiveness. Electric utilities can defer acquisition of new transmission rights-of-way with successful introduction of superconducting cables. System stability and protection will be enhanced with the introduction of fault current limiters. Distributed utility systems in the future, which will include distributed generation systems, will benefit from the small size and weight of the next generation of electric power equipment.


DOE funding for the program, subcontracting activities in 1996, and a summary of funds-out cooperative agreements are shown in Tables 3.1 and 3.2 and in Fig. 3.1.

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Our interdisciplinary approach uses all resources available at ORNL to meet the program goals for joint industry-Laboratory development of HTS technology for electric power applications. Our superconductivity agreement mechanism interlinks research and development projects with industry and universities that optimize utilization of facilities, expertise, and program resources for the benefit of all participants. This program also coordinates the ORNL activities with the other national laboratories, government agencies, university centers, and industry groups.

Cooperative agreements ensure that technology development is industry-driven. The Office of Science and Technology Partnerships and patent counsel work together to place these agreements. Where appropriate, these efforts are coordinated with projects within ORNL that are funded by the DOE Office of Energy Research, as well as Work for Others and ORNL Director’s Research and Development Fund projects. Effective funds-out to industry is used to supplement industry cost share. In FY 1996 nearly $1.6 million in funds-out to industry and universities was provided through cooperative agreements and subcontracts. To keep industry involved from the start of the program and to ensure commercialization potential, these technology partnering mechanisms are augmented by CRADAs, user agreements, and licensing activities.

Responsiveness to American industry has high priority in this program. An ORNL ad hoc technical review committee, consisting of a program manager, a scientific coordinator, a manager for conductor development, and a manager for applications development, reviews all inquiries from industry and recommends a project for possible funding. This review ensures that (1) the proposed work fits the program mission, (2) the work is collaborative, (3) there is legitimate commercial interest, and (4) the work is feasible. Substantial private-sector cost share is required on cooperative agreements.

ORNL provides support to the DOE Headquarters (DOE-HQ) Superconductivity Program for Electric Power Systems by identifying, guiding, and monitoring research and development at ORNL and ORNL subcontractor sites and by performing coordination, analysis, and planning of activities related to the national program.

     Fig. 3.1. ORNL FY 1996 funding allocation by project.

Some of the various activities performed as part of this task include the following:

ORNL works with the other program laboratories to address issues such as communication among program participants, workshop and meeting implementation, planned competitive solicitations and superconductivity agreements, and coordination of technical and economic assessments.

An Industrial Overview Committee is charged with reviewing program activities and advising Laboratory management as to program progress, policy, and direction. The committee consists of representatives of electric utilities, original equipment manufacturers, and HTS wire manufactures. This committee meets twice a year at ORNL, Argonne National Laboratory, or Los Alamos National Laboratory.


Four new cooperative agreements were executed during FY 1996: American Superconductor Corp., Southwire Company, American Magnetics, and Midwest Superconductivity/Westinghouse. New Statements of Work were negotiated, and agreements were extended with IGC and Oxford Instruments. Twelve new invention disclosures were submitted by ORNL or industrial principal investigators. These are listed in Table 3.3 together with all others for the program.


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