"Free" Equipment and Instruments: How universities and other non-profit organizations can utilize DOE's ERLE program.
Under Construction 9/29/2004
Professor James P. Hamilton, University of Wisconsin-Platteville
Department of Chemistry & Engineering Physics, College of Engineering, Mathematics & Science

I decided it was time to share and give back now that I've gotten so much nice equipment. We have been the fortunate beneficiary of numerous, valuable lab instruments and pieces of good lab equipment through the Energy Related Laboratory Equipment Program ERLE and DOE's Office of Science.  In the last 3-4 years I have received grants for nearly $5-700k worth of equipment that we use routinely in our labs. Some is used, but other is new or like new equipment and you just have to pay for packing(sometimes) and shipping. It is a magnificent program, run by nice people and with a newly revamped website that makes the application process easy. However, there are some very important hints and tips one needs to know that are only evident after years of working with the system and learning the hard way. The purpose of these pages is to help eligible groups to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and obtain good equipment instead of paying shipping for an instrument or something that's only good for a boat anchor.

The ERLE Program is available at: http://erle.osti.gov/erle Click Here to see it.

Here are some quick links to some sections in this document.

The Gist of the Program from the ERLE Web Homepage

Mechanics of How ERLE Works

Partial List of Equipment Obtained

Some Hints and Tips

Mechanics of How ERLE Works: When a DOE project or facility is closed or terminated, the equipment used therein trickles through the various levels of DOE, offerings starting locally and then moving progressively further from the source. Once no one in DOE wants it, it automatically drops onto the ERLE list and is available for us. Sometimes it has already been taken, even though it's on the list. To use the system effectively, I've compiled some hints and tips below.

The Gist of the ERLE Program:

Eligible nonprofits request a piece of equipment on the list. You pay just shipping. You occasionally get something not useful, like junk. You rarely get manuals and sometimes can be missing important parts like cables, boards etc. Federal facilities also often take out the hard drive (for security) and won't ship software off site to you. If you're good with instruments, you're golden. If not, be very careful and talk to the previous user at DOE to check if it works.

The Program from the ERLE Web Homepage:

  1. The Used Energy-Related Laboratory Equipment (ERLE) Grant Program was established by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to grant available excess of used energy-related laboratory equipment to universities and colleges and other nonprofit educational institutions of higher learning in the United States for use in energy oriented educational programs.
  2. An institution is not required to have a currently funded project with DOE to participate in this program.
  3. Applications for the grant of available equipment should be submitted only by an eligible, non-profit educational institution of higher learning via the application form on this web site. The responsible DOE operations office will receive and review the application.
  4. The listing of equipment available through the ERLE Grant Program is accessible at no cost on this web site on the "Search Equipment" page. The equipment listed in this database is available for grant; however, specific items may be recalled for DOE use and become unavailable through the program.

Some Hints and Tips:

Hint 1: The list seems to update early in the morning, Tuesday through Thursday. I've never seen anything come on the list Friday thru Monday. (Maybe it happens however). You have to check in the morning for the "good stuff". If it's really good, like a microscope or laser in "condition 1" which means new, you've got to grab it and apply right then, sight unseen or else it will be gone! If it's really not as advertised, you can reject it later. you can always reject stuff later, but be careful making a habit of it or the people who fill out the paperwork or pack it & ship it at a sight might get mad at you or something.

Hint 2: Always verify how much the objects weigh before authorizing shipping. Sometimes what might be a small item is included with a 300lb instrument rack! See if you can take what's there and search the internet using the make and model (Google seems to find the most useful equipment pictures etc). Print the item description and then call the contact person and ask for/verify the make and model number, acquisition date and weight. Many times you can get a digital picture emailed. Be careful, because occasionally an old item is transferred and the acquisition date for an old junker is recent!

Hint 3: The computer systems that talk to each other as equipment progresses through different excess programs in DOE do not speak the same language, you might say. Consequently, the title or description that comes on the ERLE list may mean little or nothing. For example, one day I saw "microscope" on there and decided I'd check it out. It turned out to be a fully functional SEM, under service contract that was being replaced. the service engineer serviced the old one, installed the new on and packed the old one up to send to me!! Awesome.

Hint 4: Certain Facilities usually just surplus old junk, probably because it's been carefully picked over. Others have awesome stuff, sometimes new, unused in the original box. If it comes from Fermilab, FloFernald Ohio or NREL Colorado, for example, be careful and verify the objects carefully. NREL labels things correctly as "needs repair" or salvage, but others don't.

Hint 5: People. Usually, it seems that the equipment is packed up by maintenance people with little or no regard for getting all the parts and certainly, very few times are manuals included. You're on your own here and you really need to be pretty handy with electronics, computers and instruments to get some things working. We have repaired/rebuilt ion laser power supplies, SEM x-ay detectors, microscopes and assorted meters and got things working nicely. Other times stuff literallly comes new in the box.

Hint 6: It's a good idea to try to contact the acutal "User" of the equipment or someone in the lab where it was because they often have the manuals and spare parts etc for the equipment. The ERLE contact person at the sight has this info. The ERLE contact person is not usually the end user, but rather someone in an administrative capacity like an administrative assitant or shipping person. Many times they won't be able to help much with details like "does it work" or "is anything missing".

Hint 7: More People: Some of the contact people are knowledgable and have common sense. Others don't. You've got to figure out from talking with them who can tell junk from good equipment. Once, at the beginning, one person told me a couple of Mettler balances looked great and seemed pretty similar, so I said Ok, send them. When they arrived, one was a decent digital pan balance and the other a vintage 1960 50lb metal junker! Caveat Emptor.

Hint 8: Shipping (and packing):

Hint 9: Bookmark it! Actually, I have a short cut on my desktop right to the equipment listings page(not the ERLE Homepage) (right click on the screen as your viewing the page in the browser and select make shortcut). This saves alot of time. Each morning and a couple times through the day, I just click on it and then hit CNTRL-F on my keyboard to search the displayed page and enter the date (e.g. 9/30) to look for new listings. The URL for the equipment list itself is http://erle.osti.gov/erle/equipmentList.asp. Click here to see it.

Hint 10: Combine shipments. Since shipping a big thing is often on a pallet and payment is by "dimensional size" and not just weight, after you request one item you want, look and make sure


Partial List of Equipment and Instruments I have been granted over the last few years:

SEM and EDAX(EDS) System
Perkin Elmer 9600 96 Well PCR Thermal Cycler
MARS 5 Microwave Digester w/ 2 Racks of Digestion Chambers
Multiplate PCR Thermo Cycler
ThermoJarrellAsh Model 400 ICP
2 Ar Ion Lasers
Coherent Surefire ns YAG (200mJ@355nm) with BBO OPO and VUV Doubler
2 Intensity Stabilized Oriel Hg Arc 150W Arc Lamp Systems
2 SPEX Imaging Spectrographs with CCD Camera and Controller
4 CVI DM110/112 Computer Controlled Mini Spectrometers
f/1.8i Kaiser Optical 785nm Holospec Spectrometer
Kaiser Optical Holoprobe Raman Spectrometer with SDL Frequency Stabilized Diode Laser
Forma Scientific Incubator
Assorted vacuum pumps, gauges, fittings and controllers
Assorted Tank Regulators and Fittings
Multiple Assorted Handheld Digital Multimeters
Multiple Dionex Ion Chromatographs, pumps and misc. parts
Profilometer - Tencor Alphastep 200
Spec20 with UV capability and Cuvette Sample Chamber
SD1000 Ocean Optics T-Regulated Dual Channel Fiber Spectrometer
Peak Simple Data Acquisition System
Petrothin glass/mineral Diamond Cutting Saw
Rudolph AutoEL 3 Ellipsometer
CEE 100B Spin Coater with Vacuum Hotplate
Neslab Chiller
Several Microscopes: Toolmakers, Inverted, Stereo
Labsphere 6" Integrating Sphere
Microscope Ring Light
High Pressure IR Cell
Princeton Model 124 Lock-in Amplifier
Electrophysics Infrared Viewer
Miscellaneous Function Generators, Counters, Amplifiers etc.
Parr Bomb Calorimeters and Automatic Housing
Falling Ball Viscometer
2 Digital Mettler Balances
Laboratory Hood
Perkin Elmer DSC7 Differential Scanning Calorimeter
YSI Multiparameter Water Quality Meters
RI Detector for LC
Fluorescence Detector for Dionex IC Systems
Several 5890 GC's
Molectron Optical Power Meters
Multiple Radionuclear Sources/Buttons alphas, betas and gammas
2 Druck Precision Digital Electronic Pressure Controllers
Vacuum Wavemeter
MiniFiz Fizeau Interferometer
Shimadzu LC Fluorescence Detector
2 Vacuum Ovens
12 Orion pH meters with probes (still in fisher catalog at $1200ea. )

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