The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a variety of tools for risk management and effective project decision-making. The stage gate decision-making process has been particularly valuable in a biomass technologies project which seeks to merge an existing electrical generation platform with an emerging gasification-based producer gas technology. The larger project purpose is to determine the commercial viability of using biomass-based fuels in existing fossil fuel-fired electrical generators.
The stage gate assessment identifies problems or potential risks associated with the RDD&D process. The tool consists of five phases (ranging from preliminary investigation and analysis to commercialization and information dissemination) separated by four “gates” or key decision points. In this case, the topic is far enough along that the Recipient need only pass through the third and fourth gates, specifically, those intended to demonstrate technical and commercial feasibility.
Upon identification of a problem or risk, the Recipient has one of four possible courses of action open to it, namely, (1) continue forward, (2) stop and retest, (3) modify the applicable procedure, or (4) stop the project. The ultimate “go/no-go” decision is made by DOE management, typically based on criteria developed in collaboration with the Recipient and/or other stakeholders.
This stage gate process is particularly useful in projects that involve multiple Subrecipients, each with different areas of responsibilities and overseeing different technologies. In this case, the stage process is allowing each Subrecipient to progress at the appropriate rate. It is also helping ensure that none of the Subrecipients proceeds with an activity or design development that the stage gate process demonstrates is not necessary.
More generally, the stage gate process is achieving the larger goal of facilitating the movement of innovative, energy-efficient technologies from theoretical concept to commercial deployment in a way that makes best use of available financial, capital, and human resources.