Sandia LabNews

Annual report highlights value Sandia’s long-term industrial partners find at Labs


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The Industrial Partnerships Annual Report highlights the Labs’ technology transfer work with these companies and others during fiscal year 2009. The National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989 made tech transfer and partnering with industry a formal part of Sandia’s mission.

 The foundation of these industrial partnerships is the long-term relationships — some lasting more than 15 years — that Sandia has maintained with companies, says Hal Morgan, senior manager for Industrial Partnerships and Strategy Dept. 1930.

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Many of Sandia’s partners are well-known companies. They include Boeing Co., IBM, Procter & Gamble Co., Intel Corp., Raytheon Co., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and General Motors Corp.

During the past year, Sandia completed a prototype hydrogen storage system for GM vehicles. Sandia researchers designed and demonstrated key features and performance of the storage system, which uses a complex metal hydride material. Sandia’s design tools now allow the 100-year-old worldwide auto manufacturer to save significant costs and time when developing hydrogen storage systems for vehicles.

And, the two partners collaborated on the 90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study, which found that plant and forestry waste, along with dedicated energy crops, could sustainably replace nearly a third of US gasoline use by 2030, assuming continued investment in technical and scientific progress.

The long-term partnership began when GM executives visited the Labs in the mid-1970s, after they heard about the Labs’ concept for the Combustion Research Facility (CRF) at the Livermore site. The alliance operates through various cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs), Work for Others (WFO) agreements, and government funding through programs conducted primarily at the CRF.

A two-way street

Industrial partnerships enhance Sandia’s ability to execute the Labs’ core national security missions in nuclear weapons, supporting the warfighter, energy security, and homeland security. At the same time, they enrich the technology and research and development base of the partner companies and strengthen them financially, according to the annual report.

In a partnership that started in 1996 and grew in 2008, Sandia and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) are now exploring ways to improve the Lynx® synthetic aperture radar (SAR). Future upgrades could allow the radar to image seaborne targets, to conduct three-dimensional imaging and for radio-frequency tagging — both for combat identification and precision strike applications. The partnership bolsters the US economy and national security.

Sandia’s partnership with General Atomics and its affiliate GA-ASI began in 1996, when the San Diego-based company set out to develop an advanced, lightweight SAR system. At that time, GA-ASI was producing the MQ-1 Predator UAV for the Air Force, equipped with an older, less capable non-Sandia SAR radar.

Under a WFO agreement, Sandia and GA-ASI focused on building a SAR that could be integrated better with the Predator’s sensor systems and provide higher-resolution images. The Lynx SAR provides unmatched performance for reconnaissance and surveillance in adverse weather conditions, enhancing the surveillance capability of the Predator and other reconnaissance aircraft, according to the annual report.

Each year, Sandia enters into 30 new industrial partnerships on average and some of these partnerships evolve into long-term collaborations. In fiscal year 2009, Sandia’s new partnerships included: Air Products of Allentown, Pa.; NG Electronic Systems Division of Linthicum, Md.; Forest City Residential Group of Cleveland, Ohio; Ultramet, Inc. of Pacoima, Calif.; and Verdant Power, Inc., of Burlington, Vt.

One of these new partnerships was with eSolar of Pasadena, Calif. On the company’s executive management team are Craig Tyner and Jim Pacheco, who spent a combined 33 years at Sandia designing, building, and testing concentrating solar power (CSP) systems at Sandia’s state-of-the-art National Solar Thermal Test Facility. Tyner retired from Sandia and Pacheco left the Labs through the Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology program to join eSolar.

Last June, El Paso Electric signed a power purchase agreement for the full capacity of a 92-megawatt CSP plant to be developed in southern New Mexico by NRG Energy, a national Fortune 500 energy provider, and eSolar. When fully operational, the plant is expected to be the first commercial-scale solar thermal project in New Mexico.

The project is part of NRG and eSolar’s plans to develop up to 500 megawatts of solar thermal power in California and across the Southwest. eSolar also has development partnerships with other companies to build large-scale plants in India and China. The company is also pursuing agreements in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and South Africa.

Notable accomplishments in 2009

  • The Industrial Partnerships report gives a snapshot of the program’s accomplishments in fiscal year 2009
  • Sandia’s industry partners paid the Labs $56 million, up from $43 million the previous fiscal year.
  • The Labs entered into 20 new agreements with CRADA partners.
  • Sandia’s WFO activity rose to 83 new agreements.

“I’m pleased that we’re managing to maintain this level of agreement activity given the economy. I consider it a real compliment to Sandia’s technical organizations delivering critical value because industry is making incredibly hard financial resource decisions right now,” says Deborah Payne, manager of WFO/CRADA Agreements Dept. 10012.

Deborah believes the economic recession has meant that Sandia’s principal investigators and tech transfer professionals have had to work faster to reach agreements to respond to the changing needs of companies that work with the Labs.

 “It appears that because of the economic situation, there’s a heightened sense of urgency, of being agile and quick,” she says.

International partnerships

Deborah also works on international partnerships that help the US fulfill its national security missions.

“There’s certainly an acknowledgement — not only at Sandia, but also at the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy — that global security is a critical component of national security,” she says.

 One successful international partnership has been Sandia’s work with the Singapore Water Resources Management Organization (PUB) and the Energy Market Authority (EMA) that provides expertise, software tools, and educational components to address future energy strategies.

Sandia has helped develop a water quality monitoring system called CANARY for Singapore to test for accidental introduction of poor quality water into municipal water systems, as well as intentional injection of chemical, biological, or radiological agents. The software package was first made publicly available in May 2009.

With EMA, Sandia is working to develop dynamic simulation models to determine the trade-offs between cost and greenhouse gas emissions for future electrical generating options for Singapore.  The annual report reflects the traditional technology transfer role for industry partnerships, in which industry comes to the Labs for technical help to be more competitive or for the opportunity to commercialize technology from the Labs, Hal says.

However, from another perspective industrial partnerships play an even bigger role in mission success.

“The national security problems that Sandia is addressing are so complex that one institution or national laboratory cannot solve them on its own. Partnering with other labs and industry is required,” Hal says.

Industry is ultimately responsible for delivering products originating from research and technology at the Labs to the government or consumer, and industry also owns the infrastructure for delivering the products, Hal says. Thus, partnering with industry early on can help set the direction for research and provide insights on what it takes for Sandia’s technology to have the greatest impact, he says.

This broader role is becoming more and more prevalent in new research models. These include: the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a partnership of three national laboratories, including Sandia, and three research universities in the San Francisco Bay Area; energy innovation hubs; and the National Institute for Nano Engineering (NINE), a national hub for nanoscale engineering and education, which will all be reported in future annual reports, Hal says.