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Q&A with ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisor Carlton Reeves

January 11, 2017

Preparing early stage technologies to make the leap from lab to market is a key element of ARPA-E's mission. Every project team must prepare a Technology-to-Market Plan, which serves as a roadmap for planned activities to assess and advance the commercial viability of their technology. ARPA-E’s Tech-to-Market (T2M) team assists teams in constructing and carrying out these plans with the goal of developing the knowledge and skills they need to prepare for and expedite private-sector deployment of their technologies.

ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisors are commercialization experts that have a critical blend of technical, business, and entrepreneurial experience that they draw upon to prepare project teams and technologies that are too early for private sector development for commercial success.

Hear from Tech-to-Market Advisor Carlton Reeves about his experiences on the ARPA-E Tech-to-Market team: 

Reeves

Dr. Carlton Reeves is a Technology-to-Market Advisor at ARPA-E and is responsible for leading the path to market approach for several programs including the Traveler Response Architecture using Novel Signaling for Network Efficiency in Transportation (TRANSNET), NEXT-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated on-Road-vehicles (NEXTCAR), and Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems (NODES). He also assists a wide variety of other ARPA-E Tech-to-Market efforts, preparing breakthrough energy technologies for transition from lab to market. 


Prior to joining ARPA-E, Reeves worked with President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Reeves is a tribologist by training and holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Business Administration from Carnegie Mellon University.

1. How did you first learn about ARPA-E and what drew you to become a Tech-to-Market Advisor?

I first learned about ARPA-E while at the White House. I had been introduced to various Department of Energy programs through their inter-agency liaison office. ARPA-E stuck out due to its entrepreneurial culture and innovative mission. I was drawn to the Tech-to-Market Advisor position because I had been an entrepreneur previously, founding my own financial technologies company. I had also worked within a university to commercialize academic research, and I had my recent experience at the White House with “policy entrepreneurs” who operated on a national level. Based off these experiences, I was looking for something that would give me the latitude to interact directly with the entrepreneurs and innovators building the technologies that shape our future and work with the funding agencies, both public and private, who aid in the commercialization of these technologies. ARPA-E was a natural fit, and I could not have made a better choice to join the agency. Additionally, the work at ARPA-E is high-impact and truly transformational, which made it easier for me to say, “Yes!” Each day, I am excited to go to work knowing that I am contributing to the future of energy technologies for the betterment of America and all of its citizens.

2. As a more recent Tech-to-Market Advisor, what has been the most valuable experience you’ve had so far? 

The most valuable experience I’ve had so far might sound cliché, but it has truly been working with our amazing awardees on our TRANSNET, NEXTCAR, and NODES programs. The projects in these programs have afforded me the opportunity to work with industry experts and aspiring energy entrepreneurs in two of the hottest topics around transportation and the electrical grid. As many know, these industries provide the fundamental infrastructure for America, affecting how we travel and providing the underlying network that powers our lives. Transportation and the electrical grid will evolve more rapidly in the next 10 years than they have in the previous 100 years, and being able to participate in this evolution is incredibly rewarding. When I think of a future with an optimized multi-modal transportation network with connected and automated vehicles driving around, I get very excited. More still, working with our projects to bring more renewables on the grid and changing the dichotomy of our transmission and distribution power networks is equally impactful and pretty amazing!

Carlton at 2016 Summit 
Photo: ARPA-E Director Dr. Ellen Williams, World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisor Carlton Reeves chat while touring the Technology Showcase floor at the 2016 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit 

3. What technical areas or challenges do you hope to explore more during your time at ARPA-E?

The technical area that I want to explore during my time at ARPA-E is gaining a deeper knowledge about how systems consume energy at the component-level and how the field of tribology, which is the study of friction, lubrication, and wear play a vital role. It has been estimated that almost 11% of the energy used by the transportation, industrial, and utilities sectors can be saved by new developments in tribology. That’s almost 10 Quads of energy! It is impressive how much energy savings can be gained by incorporating state-of-the-art tribological technologies into everyday components to improve overall system energy efficiency and performance. The effects of lubricants to lower friction and wear have been known since the ancient Egyptians, however, in the modern context, tribology plays a significant role in the reliability and durability of many of our complex biological & mechanical systems. 

Tribology is an interesting topic because it affects nearly everything from contact lenses to cardiovascular stents and from wind turbine gearboxes to internal combustion engine efficiency. In the future, the effects of tribology will becoming increasingly more important because it will affect the reliability, durability, and safety of a growing number of automated systems including self-driving cars that may be continuously in operation. As our computational efficiency increases, we will continue to optimize at a system level, yet we cannot forget that gears, bearings, and many fundamental components remain. These components need to be continually improved with modern tribological approaches in mind to ensure we achieve our desired operational efficiency, system reliability, and performance goals. 

4. What things are you learning now that will prepare you for your next opportunity? 

I’m currently learning how to assess market opportunities that are the result of technological breakthroughs, policy changes, regulatory adjustments, and other market forces. Due to the vast number of projects I work on, the steady flow of new projects, and the rigorous travel schedule, I needed to learn how to prioritize my time, set realistic expectations, and say “no” sometimes (this is easier said than done when ARPA-E has so many super-interesting projects that one could work on) when my plate is full. Additionally, I needed to learn how to absorb information quickly. Information at ARPA-E comes at you like a firehose and you must be a sponge to absorb as much as possible without getting too caught up in the weeds.

My unique position as a T2M Advisor has forced me to think outside the box and see things from multiple perspectives (e.g. government, entrepreneur, investor, customer, and industry stakeholder). As a result, I am observing and learning from various business models, tactics, and strategies for successful commercialization, which I love! It’s great when you and a project team can reframe a business opportunity, engage stakeholders, and strike a deal that keeps the project moving forward. I’m not sure where I will go after ARPA-E, but I’m sure the skills I’ve acquired and the others I’ve honed will translate well in my next endeavor. My experience at ARPA-E has truly opened my eyes to the amazing scientists and innovators we have in America, and I am so proud to help translate their technological innovations to market, so we can provide more affordable clean energy resulting in a more secure energy future. The brilliance of ARPA-E is that you work with a group of deeply passionate and knowledgeable “energy nerds” who are excited to come to work every day, knowing that if we successfully do our job, we can impact the lives of all Americans and create a more sustainable energy future. 

Learn more about ARPA-E's Tech-to-Market program in this video from the 2016 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit on "Celebrating the Energy Entrepreneur":  

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Interested in learning more about becoming an ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisor? Click here to view more information and application requirements.

Read last month’s blog “Behind the Scenes with Nate Gorence, ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisor”