Honors Gallery

NREL and Shell leverage unique partnership agreement to create clean-energy accelerator

Award: Technology Transfer Innovation Award

Year: 2022

Award Type: National

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Clean-energy startups have raised more than $50 million and made significant progress toward commercializing their technologies thanks to a new type of partnership agreement implemented by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The Shell GameChanger Accelerator Powered by NREL (GCxN) is a multimillion-dollar partnership between NREL and energy giant Shell that is managed under a Department of Energy (DOE) Agreement for Commercializing Technology (ACT) that was executed in 2018.

The DOE created the ACT pilot program to address industry concerns about partnering under Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) or Strategic Partnership Projects (SPP). Whereas SPP agreements and CRADAs tend to be tailored for two-party agreements between one company and a lab, an ACT makes it easier to develop a multiparty research and development partnership and programs. Groups of companies, universities and other entities may come together with a laboratory to address complex technological challenges that are of mutual interest and privately funded.

The GCxN program is an example of how the ACT agreement option has helped NREL attract potential partners. The agreement has allowed NREL to expand its research activities with Shell while providing technical assistance to startups through the accelerator.

Instead of simply addressing a small problem with a one-off solution, NREL and Shell designed a system of solutions — a pipeline to address both partners’ desire for energy-technology diversification.

GCxN searches for companies with early-stage energy innovations related to industry-focus themes. Past themes have included energy storage and grid integration, fast charging and grid integration, electrosynthesis for fuels and chemicals, and e-mobility and industrial electrification.

The agreement has allowed NREL to expand its research activities with Shell while providing technical assistance to startups through the accelerator.

GCxN identifies promising startup companies through a Channel Partners ecosystem of clean-tech business incubators, accelerators and universities. Over 18 to 24 months, three to five invited companies per cohort receive up to $250,000 in non-dilutive funding in the form of technical expertise and facilities to overcome barriers in moving a new energy technology from an idea on a chalkboard to a commercial product deployed in the marketplace.

Participating companies execute an Intellectual Property Agreement (IPA) with NREL that provides an option to secure rights to any subject intellectual property (IP) that may be developed by NREL while providing technical assistance to each company.

The first companies to complete their GCxN projects graduated from the program in 2021. Aggregate program benefits include more than $52 million raised by cohort companies at the time of award submission, which translates to about $21 raised for every dollar of Shell funding. Additionally, at least 51 new startup hires have occurred.

In addition, NREL anticipates the continued development of IP during the technical assistance process and has agreed to make this IP available for licensing to the GCxN companies.

Team Members:

Richard Adams, Megan Ballweber, Erin Beaumont, Rachelle Ihly, Johanna Jamison, Tonya McCabe, Anne Miller, Katie Richardson, and Haibin Xu

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