Got a great idea to change the world, but lenders won’t give you a break? Uncle Sam has $8 billion burning a hole in his pocket, and might be willing to back your plan.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loan Programs Office is geared toward supporting cutting-edge technologies at stages where commercial investors hesitate. Its average loan is $1 billion, but its projects have ranged from $50 million to the recently closed $6.5 billion for the nuclear-powered Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia.

“We are all about deploying new technologies at commercial scale,” said Peter Davidson, executive director of the office, at the recent Platts Crude Oil Americas conference in Houston. In essence, it’s about giving that crazy notion a chance at the start.

“The way in which we are different than a commercial lender is that we finance new technologies and new innovative processes that many times cannot be financed by the commercial sector,” Davidson said. “So it’s a first, second or third deployment of a new commercial technology or a new innovative process. Our mission is to demonstrate these new technologies at commercial scale, not demonstration scale. And by proving out the technology, we encourage the lending community and the investing community to get involved in that sector of the industry.”

The office is currently has $8 billion available to support advanced fossil fuel technologies. Qualified technologies must:

• Be innovative;

• Utilize fossil energy;

• Reduce greenhouse gas emissions;

• Be located in the United States;

• Show that they have a reasonable prospect of repayment;

The sweet spot that the office occupies is that of original financial risk-taker.

“The gap we have in the capital structure is the senior lender,” Davidson said. “They do not want to be the first lender in on a first or second deployment. They’re all happy to lend to the third project or fourth project but we have a real problem of lending to the first project. So we actually have significant amounts of capital solely to fund exactly at that intersection.”

The office, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Stimulus Act”), started lending that year with $16 billion. It has since pumped $32 billion into energy technology projects, but the DOE is not new to the business of backing promising technologies. Almost four decades ago, DOE threw its money and scientific muscle behind a strange new idea called hydraulic fracturing.

“In 1975, hydraulic fracturing was a brand new technology, developed at the Department of Energy,” Davidson said. “It was developed through our labs and went through the migration process and was demonstrated through grant programs and the applied-science programs. It was really launched out of the Department of Energy into the world and has had a great transformational impact that we all know.”

Applications for loans can be found online.