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NM labs crucial in tech transfer


Jetta Wong, DOE Acting director for Technology Transitions, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Sen.Tom Udall, D-N.M., listen to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., during a roundtable discussion on technology transfer in Albuquerque on Wednesday, October 14, 2015. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — The U.S. Department of Energy is markedly stepping up efforts to promote commercialization of new technologies from DOE laboratories nationwide, and New Mexico’s labs are playing a critical role in the process.

Jetta Wong, acting director of the DOE’s new Office of Technology Transitions, said she and other federal representatives have been meeting with executives from the DOE’s 17 national labs to learn more about tech-transfer programs at each and to explore ways to reinforce technology commercialization.

Wong was in New Mexico on Wednesday with three senators — Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and New Mexico Democrats Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich — to participate in meetings and tours at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.

The group participated Tuesday morning in a roundtable discussion in Albuquerque with Sandia and LANL leaders, technology transfer professionals and local companies that are working on bringing lab technologies to market.

“Technology transfer is a mission of the DOE and of all our national labs,” Wong told roundtable participants. “It’s an important mission that enhances all we do to meet our national security, energy and environmental missions.”

Udall organized the roundtable and other activities to help DOE strengthen its commercialization programs, something Udall and Heinrich have aggressively pursued in the Senate.

They invited Mikulski, past chair and now vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to generate more support in Washington, D.C.

“We’re here to see how we can get more of the great things we’ve worked on at the labs out into the private sector,” Udall told the roundtable. “Technology transfer is crucial. It means jobs and economic growth, and we want to keep pushing it to see more results.”

Udall is pursuing legislation that would increase public-private partnerships to develop new lab technologies and provide more funding for cash-strapped startups.

Heinrich worked to incorporate targeted legislation in the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to strengthen tech transfer at the labs.

That includes a “Microlab Technology Commercialization Act” so that DOE facilities could open off-campus centers that would promote lab interaction and work with local businesses, universities and others.

It also includes an increase in Laboratory Directed Research and Development spending, from 6 percent to 7 percent of each lab’s budget. That’s discretionary spending that often leads to new, potentially marketable technologies.