Research and development has always carried some level of risk. Advanced technology projects involve significant unknowns, and may need to resolve complex scientific questions before a new technology can be brought to market. Recognizing this, EERE regularly evaluates the financial assistance projects in its portfolio and uses a variety of techniques to identify and respond to sources of risk. Sometimes this even means pulling the plug on research that begins to reveal less favorable results, in favor of those projects that can deliver better results faster.

One EERE financial assistance Recipient, a US research and development company, is developing critical technologies required for cost-effective production of hydrogen from sunlight and water using thin-film silicon-based photoelectrodes. Making low-cost hydrogen available is a key step in enabling hydrogen fuel cells for use in widely used products, like cars and commercial vehicles.

The Recipient focused on developing improved materials for two different components of photoelectrochemical (PEC) production technology.  Finding new materials for these two components was considered important to the development of PEC systems which can meet EERE technical targets for efficiency, cost, and durability.

A routine project review was conducted to consider the continuation of the project from phase 1 into phase 2 with a specific discussion of the project’s go/no go decision points.  Go/No go decision points are a project management technique, in which stakeholders set criteria that tasks within a project must meet in order to continue. For EERE, this is a mechanism to manage risk and help ensure that only more promising or productive research continues to receive funding. The Recipient provided results which showed that they had exceeded or nearly met the quantitative go/no go criteria for one of the two components, but were far short of the targets for the other.

Using a combination of technical progress to date, including programmatic considerations and status against the go/no go decision criteria, EERE staff collaborated to determine how best to continue this project into the second phase.  

Based on the go/no go review, EERE determined that the other material is not a likely pathway to reach technical targets for cost competitive hydrogen production.  The Recipient agreed with the plan to continue development of more promising component, and the project continues to move toward deployment of a key hydrogen production technology.