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U.S. Government Opens Energy Patents to Benefit World
February 22, 2012

February 21, 2012

A man cooking on a small wood stove
Some 3 billion people rely on wood, coal, crop waste or animal dung for indoor cooking and heating.

The technology to improve access to fuel, electricity and clean water for some of the world’s poorest people may already be in the patent portfolios of the U.S. Energy Department’s national labs. The challenge, however, can be finding dedicated organizations willing to develop the technology and bring it to market, which can mean bringing energy technology to the most remote parts of the world.

As part of President Obama’s Global Development Policy, announced February 8, a new licensing agreement opens a number of Energy Department patents to qualified nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations. The announcement mirrors a previous offer to innovative startups with America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Challenge, in which selected organizations pay an upfront fee of only $2,000 and a royalty of up to 2 percent of gross sales of licensed products, according to an Energy Department press release.

Through new technology, the goal is to accelerate progress in improved health, energy sustainability and economic growth in some of the poorest countries in the world, many of which are in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Many organizations already have a presence in these countries educating populations, caring for the sick, and improving standards of living by advancing the technology used to perform domestic tasks, like how they cook their meals.

In 2005, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory launched a pilot program providing people in Darfur with an inexpensive, durable cookstove. Like an estimated 3 billion people, or half the world’s population, many Darfuri cook their meals over an open fire. The heaps of burning wood, dung and other biomass are too inefficient and dirty in a country where deforestation is rampant and respiratory disease from soot is on the rise.

With these specific needs in mind, researchers developed a cookstove that gets hotter more quickly with less fuel and produces less soot. Stemming from a partnership with Technology Innovation for Sustainable Societies, there are currently 20,000 Berkeley-Darfur cookstoves distributed in Sudan.The same organization has helped get stoves to nations facing similar challenges such as Ethiopia and Haiti. This cookstove project exists independent of the latest White House initiative, but showcases an important instance when the labs have opened their intellectual property to a nonprofit organization.

Berkeley is also home to the newly created Institute of Globally Transformative Technologies to work with existing partners, such as Technology Innovation for Sustainable Societies, to deploy more sustainable technology in the war on poverty.