An Introduction to Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) in the early 70’s as a means of assessing whether emerging technology was suitable for space exploration. By the 1990’s it was in use across many US Government agencies, including the Department of Defence (DOD) and Department of Energy (DOE).  TRLs are now in common use across various funding programmes, including Innovate UK and Horizon 2020. The different levels are based on a scale from 1 to 9, with 9 being the most mature technology:

The use of TRLs enables consistent, uniform discussions of technical maturity across different types of technology. Some key messages to remember when discussing the TRL of your technology include:

TRLs are a measure of technical risk where the proposed technology is being introduced into an operating plant at the present time, but TRLs, by themselves, may not always relate to risks, cost and schedule. For instance, a technology at a low TRL can mature more quickly than those at higher TRLs, and it is also possible that TRLs can go down as well as up if the environment of the project changes. Therefore, before drafting your proposal, we highly suggested you to analyse your TRLs with care, considering also external factors that might affect them.

TRLs relate to individual plant items. They do not suggest that the individual plant items can be integrated and will work together. When it comes to any R&D funding, then, it is possible that the innovative technology is actually the sum of different individual items. A valuable suggestion would be, then, to assess the TRLs of  each of the parts composing the technology, so to have a more precise idea of the best competition for your technology

Remember, TRLs indicate how far the technology is from commercialisation; they do NOT indicate, on their own, whether it is eligible for a funding application. Although being fundamental, TRLs are not sufficient to guarantee an innovation's eligibility: they indicate whether your technology is ready for that particular application, but they do not indicate whether the innovation is in scope. Therefore, when  you are approaching a funding competition, it is absolutely important to always read the scope first, and then use the TRLs in support.

Talk to the team about TRL's today