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Celebrations Mark Early Achievements Toward New Tri-Valley Jobs and Green Businesses

Livermore Lab and i-GATE initiatives aim at economic development fueled by innovative science and engineering.

At , it is a nondescript modular building. For , the Tri-Valley’s designated business development incubator, it is simply a big open room leading to private offices. But the two facilities were good reasons Thursday to celebrate the achievement of early goals toward a long-term vision of new green industries supporting thousands of manufacturing jobs in the Tri-Valley.

Congressmen John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney headlined a long list of dignitaries on hand for the grand opening of LLNL’s in the morning. Garamendi then drove three miles north of the LLNL campus in the afternoon to join another group of public officials and business people for the launch of i-GATE facilities on Longard Road.

Located on the 110-acre site of the Livermore Open Campus, the 12,000-square-foot innovation center encourages collaborations between LLNL’s super computer experts and private businesses and entrepreneurs. Discussions aim at putting the lab’s engineering talent to work to create private sector growth. 

The facility opens a new chapter in what the LLNL can accomplish beyond its primary role in national security, said McNerney in an impromptu news conference after ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

“Right here on the edge of the Silicon Valley, it is really an innovation hub,” McNerney said. “To exclude the intellectual fire power of the labs from that innovation is a wasted resource. Opening that up here is a real opportunity.”

Garamendi said he was amazed at the speed at which the innovation center moved from a concept, approved by the National Nuclear Security Administration less than a year ago, to bricks and mortar.

Relaxed security allowing freer communications between LLNL scientists and potential collaborators is a key feature of the new facility, noted Frederick H. Streitz, center director.

“Our laboratory people can walk over here and talk with a potential client without needing three weeks to get a security badge,” he said.

Early industrial partners include Cisco Systems, Data Direct Networks, and Talent Technologies, though no formal collaboration has been signed. 

The facility includes a 60-seat classroom that will be equipped with oversized video monitors, cameras, and projectors to facilitate long-distance learning about high-performance computing in classes led by LLNL staff and directed to students at the University of California, other academic institutions, and industrial collaborators. 

High performance computers make hundreds of millions of calculations per second to solve complex problems, such as determining how changes to a proposed electrical engine design will affect its power and efficiency.

Collaboration zones in other parts of the building take a cue from the headquarters at Cisco and Apple Computers in creating a casual environment to encourage seriously creative communications between LLNL staff and collaborators on hand for direct discussions or available for talks remotely via telecommunications.

"Face-to-face contact matters,” Streitz said. “It is about reducing those barriers so dialogue can happen. When dialogue happens, then magic happens, and we have technology transfer.”

Sandia National Laboratories/California added the 9,000-square-foot Combustion Research and Computation Facility on open campus property adjacent to its existing combustion research complex in October. Work conducted at both facilities has been much more open and accessible since that time, noted Sandia spokesperson Mike Janes. 

I-GATE NEST OPENS FOR BUSINESS

The same themes addressed at the innovation center ribbon cutting were also relevant for the grand opening of i-GATE’s National Energy Systems Technology (NEST) incubator. i-GATE was designated in February 2010 as one of six innovation hubs (i-Hubs) in California by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Its goal is economic growth in the Tri-Valley generated by assisting small businesses with promising ideas about transportation and energy development. The incubator will bring entrepreneurs into contact with LLNL and Sandia scientists and engineers to aid product design and manufacturing. i-GATE’s collaborators will also have access to venture capitalists and business consultants for financial help and advice on how to make their businesses grow.

During ceremonies, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said i-GATE aims at creating more than 5,000 jobs and having an economic impact of more than $1 billion on the Tri-Valley in the next five years.

“From the sorts of things that are going on here, we are going to re-establish the American manufacturing sector,” Garamendi predicted.

Four collaborations with emerging companies have already been established, noted i-GATE president Bruce Balfour. All could potentially establish manufacturing and administrative facilities in Livermore and other Tri-Valley communities.

Trikke builds a collapsible, three-wheel electric vehicle. It is designed for short-distance transportation or last-mile computing, for instance being used to cover the distance between a train station and place of business. The vehicle has a range of 28 miles.

i-GATE is helping Trikke with long-term planning and finance. Collaborations with LLNL and Sandia may help improve its battery performance and lead to lighter and stronger chassis materials. The company is based in Buellton, near Santa Barbara.

Electradrive adds an electrical power option to gas-powered trucks, and vans. Its modular power train has about a 30 mile range between recharging for city driving. The vehicle can be switched over to gas for freeway driving. The company emphasizes fleet conversions including a pilot program under way with Alameda County.

Ultracell produces portable methanol fuel cells powering mobile devices used by the U.S. military and for small electric vehicles. Based in Livermore, the company employs 19 people. The company began working with i-GATE in May. Ian Kaye, its chief technology officer, considers the relationship a “great way to interact with local business leaders and engineers at the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia Labs.”

Advent Technology also is involved with fuel-cell technology. Its engineering team now works in Greece. i-Gate is helping arrange a move to the Tri-Valley, Balfour said.

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