The Cleantech Open Blog
--> Interesting event in Seattle on the Ides of March (15th). A presentation regarding the opportunity for cleantech in military applications presented by a "new kid on the block" here in the Puget Sound -- a partner organization to the Natural Resources Defense Council called Environmental Entrepreneurs, colloquially known as E2.
Sidebar -- One of the founders of our cleantech open, Michael Santullo, is also a founding member of Environmental Entrepreneurs. And an executive at one of Seattle's few 'star' cleantech ventures, EnerG2's BizDev VP Mark Liffman, is the new Northwest chair for Environmental Entrepreneurs.
This E2 event was done in partnership with Climate Solutions. The co-founder of E2, Nicole Lederer, came up from San Francisco. She is now in charge of E2's federal advocacy operations and introduced the panel which included
- TWO local congressmen
- Jay Inslee of the 1st District, now running for Governor
- Adam Smith of the 9th District, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee
- even more important locally with the pending retirement of the 6th District's Norm Dicks
- the lead for 'green' procurement at Naval Base Everett
- a retired Navy SEAL now with a Seattle consultancy, Federal Green Solutions.
Ms. Lederer noted 3 lessons that E2 has learned as it has ramped its engagement with the US Military. First, DoD's energy objectives for national security are nearly synonymous with E2's objectives for energy, economic and environmental security. Second, of course, the Military has unequaled resources both financially, intellectually and logistically.
Third, she noted that the Military is blessed with many tools with which to work the problem including
- they are the single most trusted institution in American society today
- they have significant autonomy outside the morass of civilian government administrivia
- they have a results-oriented execution-focused culture that is the envy of all organizations
I occassionally hear folks talk about cleantech, as they used to about nanotech, as "feeling like semiconductors in 1968". Pity its not semiconductors in 1988 because that's when chips really took off commercially. Back in 1968, semicon's maturation through early generations was largely done on the backs of high-urgency, high-return military programs. For cleantech, despite a brief bubble of civilian commercial exuberance in the mid-000s, it may be that we're back to a model where it's the military that drives the cutting edge.
Indeed, Ms. Lederer opined that, given the massive demand from the military, the Department of Defense could effectively substitute for a national energy and climate policy serving as a market-driver and development partner for new American cleantech. Then, just as happened in earlier eras with semiconductors, RF engineering and ARPAnet, more cost-effective offspring of these products could transition into the broader commercial market offering meaningful growth in the civilian economy.
Congressman Smith noted that over ¾ of all the energy consumed by the Federal Government is consumed by the Defense Department, and that they spend nearly $20B annually just on energy.
Smith stated that the biggest challenge for alt-egy and DoD is "procurement", stating flatly (and with many audience nods) that "no one is harder to do business with than DoD".
For example, almost everything at DoD is purchased as if it were a tank or missle procurement -- detailed specs, hammered out OVER years and years AHEAD of actually delivery, and then almost never able to be modified. The equivalent in the personal-tech space would result in still taking 2012 deliveries of Pentium PCs with WindowsXP because of long-lead, long-term procurements.
Ray Smalling, the Utility and Energy Manager at Naval Station Everett said that laws require him to pay not 1¢ above market for renewables, which also limits flexibility and results in only 1% of NSE's energy being derived from renewables in 2011. Being limited to market price, he is also limited to contracts of less than 5 years. This was instituted to avoid 'monopolies', but an un-intended side-effect is to stymie renewables. If a totally new product, like biofuel is building a supply chain and infrastructure from scratch, large-cap financings often have 10 and 20 year terms, and can't be closed without assured markets in the latter decades of the term.
Still progress is being made, Smalling noted that a majority of new construction at NSE is being done to high-efficiency standards and that most buildings on-base have now been outfitted for real-time energy usage monitoring. Funding is always a scavenger hunt and currently they find must funding coming from
- Naval Installations Command
- ESIP (defin?)
- Bonneville Power Administration
For military folks it's always ALL ABOUT THE MISSION. As noted above, even concern for a melted Arctic relates to mission over-extension and threat exposure. So, your green, sustainable product should be pitched as adding to operational flexiblity, the holy grail of all military.
Marvin noted that his own re-focus on environmental entrepreneurship came from his on-the-ground experience in Iraq, seeing the heavy logistical burden of supplying energy and removing waste streams from forward bases. He also experienced first-hand, what many have cited, that a significant number of casulities in Iraq were not forward combat, but in logistical conveys, most especially fuel convoys.
Marvin reflected Ms. Lederer's comments that, today, you are seeing real progress and active mobilization in the military around green, clean, sustainable and the rest.
- biofuels introduced into maritime and aviation applications
- EVs in non-tactical vehicular roles
- solar and wind power being deployed in Afghanistan today
- bases retrofitted for reduced energy footprint
- hybrid-electric powertrains being introduced into the fleet
Humorous aside -- Inslee mentioned having recently been in Boston and visiting the USS Constitution - "Old Ironsides" - which he noted was a 100% renewables-powered battleship.---
The topic of military cleantech will only grow in the coming years. Further events are planned this Spring hereabouts, reflecting the oft-overlooked fact that the Puget Sound region now has the largest concentration of active military facilities, ex-Hawaii, west of the Rockies (what with all the base de-commissionings in California). So, if there is anywhere in the west that military cleantech will be a stimulus, it's here in WA.
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Originally, a quiet two-village agricultural shipping node at the convergences of the Yakima and Snake Rivers into the Columbia River, it was transformed into an advanced technology hub in the mid-20th Century as one of the centers of fuel development for America's nuclear program, creating the near-instant 3rd city of Richland to support the reactors on the Hanford Reservation.
As the arms race cooled after the 1950s, the research campus was diversified into a wider range of civilian and government pursuits and 'outsourced' to civilian operations management in the mid-1960s -- then and now contracted to the Battelle Institute, the world’s largest independent non-profit R&D organization. This became the "Pacific Northwest National Laboratory" of the Department of Energy that we know today.
As the newly -Tri- Cities area moved beyond military compound to embryonic industrial metropolis, a regional economic development group was formed in 1963, now known as the Tri-Cities Development Council or TRIDEC.
One natural extension for the National Lab involved the technical skills of large-scale regional electricity grids, being at the center of the vast Columbia Valley hydroelectric network started in parallel with the Tennessee Valley Authority during the Depression with construction continuing through the 1960s. Today, PNNL is renowned for it's testbed, simulators and extensive research into the latest intelligent, interactive and adaptive transmission and distribution infrastructures, popularly known as "smart grid".
Now on the cusp of the half-century mark for the Columbia hydro grid, and TRIDEC itself, the Annual Meeting presented a keynote address by Mr. Berst boldly titled "Electricity 2.0".
Sidebar: TRIDEC has a special-interest group for this sector called the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative. A presentation on cleantech open's 4th Northwest season was made to their monthly meeting on March 20 as well as to the TRIDEC Annual Meeting on the 7th.In his Annual Meeting keynote, Mr. Berst noted something I've long thought but not written: that if you look back at middle-class town-life in America in the 1880s it was nearly identical in its physicality, to life during the Roman Empire. All the variance from Rome to today has been mostly within the last 90-100 years and directly or indirectly due to electricity, whose delivery, management and pricing has remained virtually unchanged since before WW2. Berst opened with a picture of the entrance to Union Station in DC built in 1908 which put in marble one of those florid quotes to which the early 20th Century was prone -- but also reminding us what's at stake here: (since electrical resistance is a form of fire, we'll include the full engraving here)
Fire: greatest of discoveries, enabling man to live in various climates, use many foods, and compel the forces of nature to do his work.
Electricity: carrier of light and power, devourer of time and space, bearer of human speech over land and sea, greatest servant of man, itself unknown.
Thou hast put all things under his feet.
Unlike almost any other segment of society from medicine to typewriters, phones, "mail", etc., today's electric power experience has remained virtually unchanged through all our living ancestors, Berst had a slide saying our grid was:
- Invented in the Age of Edison
- Designed in the Age of Eisenhower
- Installed in the Age of Nixon
Power grids are massive, long-term creatures that we want to be stable, thus they shouldn't change much. But the industry consensus is that we're approaching a rare definitional reset. Such may be only required once-a-century, but that upgrade from Electricity 1.0 to Electricity 2.0 is happening now. I like Mr. Berst calling it Electricity 2.0 rather than Grid 2.0, because, with discussions of new DC-loops in commercial campuses, ideal voltages for massive electric vehicle fleets, redesigning basic connections to accept two-way flows (if houses and farms contribute generation back to the grid) we really are re-imagining the whole idea of electricity. Berst has a good perspective on this, not least as being that rare native-son of the Richland power-engineering community, his parents having moved there in the early 1950s for his father to work on nuclear engineering at Hanford; they still live in retirement in the Tri-Cities. He is also a noted expert and analyst on the Grid, having authored two seminal reports in the early 000s on smart grid's economic opportunity for the Region titled "Poised for Profit".
He did not go into the myriad permutations or challenges of smart grid (as desert was already served), but noted that it shouldn't be so intimidating to us as a society considering that, not long ago, we had rotary-dial-party-line phones, rabbit-ears on our TVs, used carbon paper and posted cheques in the mail. We've moved to dramatically different usage-cases via the same basic elements devices and communications -- solid-state processing and addressable mesh-networks, both swathed in volumes of software to provide interactivity and adaptability.
As with so many things, the main problem is not technological, it's administrative and financial. Electric utilities are in the business of selling a product at a low price. Also, being seen as a basic social need, they are highly regulated. Thus, their whole mercantile ecosystem rewards selling as much as possible and spending as little as possible to do so reliably. Everything required by a more environmentally sustainable and flexible power system would have utilities spend more to sell less . In various ways both are often legally prohibited or restricted. This does not always require a burden on society. Berst noted that Californians, who bear some of the highest utility rates in North America, often have only median net utility charges because of the greater efficiencies in equipment and buildings installed in the State, through various combinations of standards, price signals, voluntary upgrades and some mandates. The challenge of "Electricity 1.0" was easier, because it simply involved "more of everything". Our 2.0 challenge will be to choreograph the economic signals and incentives so as to advance rather than retard the inevitable conversion to "less of everything". Mr. Berst noted that many other advanced and developing economies are moving agressively with smart grid development. It's arguable that given electricity's basic role in moving us beyond Roman lifestyles, America's dominance of the 20th Century stemmed in part from our leadership in its early decades in defining, standardizing, and early-adopting the terms and conditions of Electricity 1.0. The future may well favor those who seize the initiative of Electricity 2.0 before standards get locked in for the rest of the 21st Century.
Last year, CLEEN | NW lead a major SWOT analysis project with local workforce development groups and State "innovation partnership zones" to focus efforts to further cultivate cleantech businesses in the inland Northwest. This was published in Q3.2011 and showed that, as we've seen in CLEANTECH OPEN, earlier business success is being found in efficiency ventures as compared to renewable fuels and that related areas of sustainable design and both smart home and smart farm held great promise.
Another conclusion was that, as always, good ventures had been sprouting up but that stronger, deeper efforts to foster and fund those companies were needed. CTO is one mechanism for doing that, so to start off the calendar year and our 4th competition season, CLEEN | NW and Cleantech Open jointly presented a "Find, Fund, Foster" program including a superb panel of regional financers and businessmen from Spokane, Portland and Seattle (below) and pitches by 4 showcase Inland NW energy ventures (sideblog). Cleantech Open's Regional Director, Byron McCann of Northwest Energy Angels and GSI's Technology Industry Economic Development Manager, Gary Mallon, were joint moderators.
The panel in the first half was direct, practical and pragmatic in its focus on the usual BUT EVER VITAL entrepreneurial fitness advice: really have your (stuff) together, know your market and your team, and have a sound, profitable, capitalist business model assuming no interventions or premiums. Panelists included
- Scott Broder of the Inland Technology Start Fund
- Tom Simpson, a Spokane-based angel investor
- Brad Zenger, partner in Pivotal Investments of Portland (supporter of Cleantech Open)
- Dave Curry, serial entrepreneur, currently leading the successful Demand Energy Networks of Spokane
- Josh diLuciano of AVISTA, a founding sponsor of Cleantech Open NW and CLEEN | NW, testifying to the perspective of regulated utilities.
This puts to mind a quote from, I believe, pundit Michael Shellenberger that "PCs and office-software did not take over the workplace in the 80s because of a typewriter sequestration mandate", -- they just worked better at a good price, and that's what cleantech needs to be and, increasingly, CAN BE..
This is at variance with a researcher speaking earlier in Idaho suggesting energy markets were becoming differentiated like most other goods, with Wal-Mart, Nordstrom and Bergdorf demand tiers (my terms). These more battle-scarred financiers agreed that, especially COMMERCIAL, customers will opt for green but not for 1¢ less on their bottom line. Note below this is DIFFERENT from raw cost-per-joule.
There was a good back-n-forth about what exactly CLEANTECH is and is not. The first thing it’s not is Groupon or Facebook. Unfortunately, typical entrepreneurial funding analysis in north America focuses on the "Bay Area venture capital" model for which most commerce in society is very UNsuited. Further, as Josh D’ago of Avista, Spokane utility and Cleantech Open sponsor, noted, markets underlying many “cleantech” segments are deeply fundamental, pervasive and pre-historic – nutrition, light/heat, shelter – and thus have multi-generation infrastructure, deeply entrenched supply-chains, reluctance to change, and are often highly regulated as cornerstones of the fundamental social order. Thus, “cleantech” suffers an IMPEDENCE MISMATCH. Unlike the internet or fashion, where innovation can be taken up almost overnight, utilities, transport firms, farms, real-estate, etc., through no fault and intrinsically, CANNOT adopt AS FAST AS our society can INNOVATE.
Brad Zenger of Portland-based Pivotal Investments also noted that the term CLEANTECH ITSELF really is a misnomer. As with “dot-com” and “nano” previously, “clean” is not a separate market but an element or flavor to many existing segments which each have their own disparate dynamics. Speakers agreed that, more than novel widgets, a cleantech venture and its resolution of IMPENDENCE MISMATCH is often about changing the ECONOMICS around resource productivity, about financial and go-to-market innovations more than engineering. While cost-per-joule may or may not be higher, total savings or new earnings, combined with capital-conserving financing will drive success. Several examples were given around revenue-sharing installation amortizations, similar to the business model which is the cornerstone of regional poster-child McKinstry’s success.
Because cleantech is often slow, complex, generational and regulated - panelists repeatedly emphasized the need to think long, hard, deep, thoroughly, and "10 steps ahead", as to the milestones and scale of capitalization actually needed to get to ‘general release’. Also the need to accept and plan for the raw fact that reservoirs of capital outside Boston and SF, including Seattle but certainly markets like Spokane, Boise or Portland, IS VERY-LIMITED and ventures get STRANDED right at the goal-line, if they OUTGROW their home market and have not socialized their venture further away. Thus capitalization is another aspect where you may start local, but must THINK GLOBAL.
This was, of course, a panel of financiers -- so the discussion did not delve into social and climate trends, influencing markets or molecular science. I think it was Dave Broder who cautioned sternly that whatever business you thought you started (footprints, lifestyles, socialization), once you TAKE OTHER PEOPLE's MONEY you're SOLE BUSINESS BECOMES GETTING THEIR CASH BACK. While absent the extremities of loans from a shark or the mob, but only just this side of that, when you miss milestones or paybacks a great deal of ugly pain ensues and heads (figuratively at least) do roll and quickly. (Many good scars revealed on the panel, I'll save time and not elaborate) So, rather than visionary futurism (in a question on dos-and-donts, Zenger’s was “don’t be a ‘promoter’”), entrepreneurship is always only about greenbacks. Earning the chance to take other’s money, or being flagged as likely to get that chance by the Cleantech Open competition, is less a matter of periodic tables than cap tables.
This panel emphasized a well-known but valid chestnut about wringing as much risk out of a venture as possible before you approach institutional capital. That the technology works, the market exists and there’s some evidence of customer traction should be as known as possible. As one panelist noted, “you want to minimize the number of times I need to hit the ‘I believe’ button” (i.e. take on faith), suggesting that an investor is only going to hit that button once or twice in a venture pitch. Probably if needed 3 times you’re out.
Entrepreneurs should take sacredly those REPRESENTATIONS and WARRANTS on which pledge their pound of flesh, for it may come to that surgery, and their team should be tough, resilient and highly agile to pivot early and as many times as needed to promptly tap a solid vein of revenue. In short, entrepreneurship is always focused on genuine CONSERVATION of RESOURCES, so the best cleantech should do well because it uses less, wastes less, repurposes more to a market-valued return, etc. What could be cleaner?
Illinois Clean Fuels, White Salmon/Bingen WA
Gasohol Systems Technologies, Coeur d'Alene ID
The first presentation by the suburban Spokane company Flyback Energy, Inc. was a great exemplar of several strategic points. First, great business opportunities often come from reprising the old advertising slogan of "not making the products you buy, but making the products you buy better". Components can be a good business. Energy saving retrofit equipment and high value components are a great businesses. Second, we often seek to have less of a desirable output like light, heat, electromotive force because we simply accept what it consumes, when a better question can be -- why should that consumption level be a 'given' ?
FE applies sophisticated and complex electronic switching to address the 'given' that the electromagnetic systems driving lighting ballasts and electric motors -- technically called "inductive loads" -- will always waste a certain amount of energy through the voltage flux of their magnetic fields. If you can significantly recover those heat and EMF losses, the energy savings potential is huge. Inductive loads are all around us and the savings are claimed to be significant. I won't attempt an engineering précis here but will refer you, as a warm-up, to check out these Wikipedia entries on flyback converters, buck-boost converters, and flyback transformers, so, the company's name is based on technical terms, not some anime reference or other.
John Overby, Flyback's CEO gave the pitch. FE’s technology has been in development for years and took advantage of the venture acceleration services of the Spokane Intercollegiate Research Technology Institute (SIRTI)*, where Mr. Overby was a client services Director and senior advisor. As often happens in professional service engagements, Flyback liked John so much, they decided to hire him. And John was sufficiently impressed with the market potential that, 1 year ago, he accepted the CEO position.
*now recast as the statewide agency “Innovate Washington”.
A few quick notes. First, Flyback sees potential to have their widget "applied to every inductive load in the world" by using a four tier business model strategy. But they are taking a wise step-by-step invasion plan that someday, when fully disclosed, I am confident will make an excellent case study.
Secondly, they've decided their first beachhead will be in commercial lighting. That was partly affected by there being a complementary and innovative luminaire engineering company right in Spokane with whom they can partner - Eco-Lite. In these venture forums, one often sees multiple start-ups that, in the old romantic phrase, seem to "complete each other", yet it's frustrating that more of them don't team up to make common cause. It's gratifying to see a good partnership enacted, where Flyback is working with Ecolite in a spare warehouse they're dubbing "EcoLab" to optimize lighting, motor and mini-grid applications. And it's great that they did not even have to leave Spokane County to find each other !
Flyback is part of a long tradition of electro-mechanical manufacturing in the Spokane region from Itron and ReliOn to Schweitzer Engineering. The other natural lynchpin of Inland NW business is biomass (agriculture and forestry), so it's stands to reason that the other 3 ventures presenting to this CLEEN | NW forum all had to do with turning biomass into energy.
From west to east we started with Stephen Johnson's company, currently billed as “Illinois Clean Fuels” –ICF- due to a facility siting, but headquartered in the Columbia Gorge twin-villages of White Salmon and Bingen in Klickitat County, WA, most famously home to the Boeing-acquired InSitu Corporation, a leading engineer and producer of those pilotless drones so much in the news today, also across the river from the wind-surfing mecca of Hood River, OR.
Next we heard from Philip Appel's venture, AgEnergy Products LLC, with operations in Spokane. Both Johnson's and Dr. Appel's companies are developing variations of biomass gasification, generally analogous to Dynamis Energy of Idaho which I heard present earlier February in Boise -- all three are very different from 20th century “incineration” which is more raw combustion than complete chemical breakdowns and conversions into safer, basic elements.
AgEnergy and Dynamis both use the outputs of their gasification processes to drive attached generators to provide electricity to be independent of, or augment, a power grid. ICF is using theirs to fuel a Fischer-Tropsch process to generate liquids that can be direct substitutes for high-density fuels from diesel to aviation. ICF’s process uses coal as an initial feedstock mixed with agricultural biomass and combined with deep-earth-injection carbon-sequestration - primarily because of the cost-effective availability of coal and the lack (so far) of a deep biomass supply chain. As that supply-chain evolves, they can shift, within their existing technology, to an entirely biomass-fed process – their firm long-term goal.
ICF will base its processing facilities on technology used for over half-a-century in South Africa at the world's largest commercial-scale coal-to-liquid-fuel plant: SASOL. And ICF has retained as their Technology Director the former head of technical operations for that SASOL facility ! Johnson, the founder, is a former hedge fund manager from Portland (hence the Gorge business site) and probably the lead strength of ICF’s pitch is his own knowledge in navigating the finance labyrinth necessary to build large scale manufacturing facilities. Johnson would say their lead strength is being competitive with petroleum down to $35/bbl with a claim of producing his fuel for $1.25/gallon. Stay tuned.
While Dynamis in Idaho is focused on municipal rubbish as the raw input to thence generate electricity, Dr. Appel's AgEnergy uses farm-biomass waste, primarily after-harvest stubble or field residue. AgEnergy has miniaturized their gasification/generation equipment to fit a twenty-foot container unit (TEU) to enable their product to move seasonally to the high bio-mass fields. Dynamis prepares both TEU-scale and larger fixed facilities, while ICF is doing only very large fixed facilities because of the scale-economies needed for Fischer-Tropsch.
Dynamis looks at a variety of end-users. True to it’s name, AgEnergy LLC is focused solely on the farm market, especially, those with forced irrigation, where such irrigation pumping alone accounts for 15% to 25% of the farm’s operating budget. Off-season, the power would be sold back to a grid eager to offset urban loads - unlike earlier eras when utilities coveted selling power to farms.
It turns out that consuming the residue or stubble has secondary "sustainabiilty" impacts. Modern grain crops produce more biomass than the soil can breakdown in a single season by sometimes 5x! Plowing all that back into soil actually requires additional tons of nitrogen fertilizer to accelerate the natural breakdown process. By shaving off the bio-mass for AgEnergy's power generator, farmers can reduce 4-6 tillage passes (average) at about $15 per pass per acre savings. And they can also reduce nitrogen fertilizer both a cost and environmental savings.
The traditional method of dealing with excess bio-mass is burn-off, which authorities have mostly banned for sound environmental reasons. AgEnergy's system gives farmers:
- a legal way to "combust" the straw
- reduce tractor fuel
- reduce fertilizer expense
- reduce irrigation expense
- make money on off-season grid sellback
And finally, we heard from two rocket scientists (literally), Pablo Diaz and Don Law who are now based in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and who have developed a new strain of the tropical grass SORGHUM which can survive and prosper in cold, northern climates like... ... the inland Northwest.
sorghum can be
- a good feedstock for biofuel refineries
- is not nutritional and
- this northern strain would often grow where no other crops would be placed
Only in 2010 was a statewide technology-sector trade-association created in Idaho analogous to the Colorado Tech Assc., Tech Council of Southern California, Washington Tech Industries Assc., and so forth. This new Idaho Technology Council (ITC) really filled a vacuum, evidenced by its rapid uptake in membership and program participation. They’ve naturally divided into SIGs, one for software, like Washington’s original WSA, and one for life sciences like the WBBA. Happily, there is a 3rd SIG – the ITC Energy Consortium who co-hosted of this 2nd Annual Symposium. Emergence of ITC/EC, like that of the Ohio Clean Economy Council, Chicago Clean Energy Trust and Washington Clean Technology Alliance, shows that ‘cleantech’ is not just a fluke, boondoggle or passing fugue, but is seen by a spectrum of hard-nosed capitalists as FUNDAMENTAL to America’s economic future.
The other co-host was a new joint-venture between Idaho’s state university system and the Department of Energy termed the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, or CAES, based out of a new 55,000ft2 state-of-the-art research complex in Idaho Falls that just opened in late 2009 literally across the tracks from the DoE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL), but with seconded researchers on each of the university campuses.
It seems, indeed, “there is a tide in the affairs of men”, when you consider that between ’008 and ‘010
|· UW Enviro Innovation Challenge||· WSU Imagine Tomorrow for high-school||· Oregon BEST and BESTFest|
|· Pivotal Leaders program||· new energy programs at WSU-TriCities||· Northwest Energy Angels|
|· WA Clean Technology Alliance||· Cleantech Open Northwest||· Cleantech Open Rocky Mountain|
|· Idaho Technology Council||· Idaho-CAES|
|· Spokane CLEEN | NW||· Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative|
all got started or gained critical momentum. While perhaps not quite Chrysler’s “halftime in America” certainly there’s been a buzzer on the court -- and a new “period” of the Northwest’s game is underway for the 20-teens.
Over a day and a half the Symposium presented an array of local businesses both established and emergent, and researchers from each of Idaho State University in Pocatello, Boise State University and the University of Idaho in Moscow and Boise – DoE’s partners in CAES.
The research and business presentations covered an array of ‘cleantech’ from smart buildings and engineered lighting and power storage to waste-to-energy schemes and grid engineering (see sideblog).
In any energy-frontiers event, two topics which will be special distinctions for Idaho are PROFESSIONAL SYSTEMS ENGINEERING and NUCLEAR.
Engineering Services -------
While we all like to focus on startup activity as a measure of prowess, equally important in a field like energy and environment are professional system-engineering providers, an area of historic strength in Idaho. As much a bedrock of Idaho as potatoes and mining was the global engineering firm Morrison Knudsen which started its first job exactly 100 years ago, and undertook everything from Hoover Dam and Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral to the Chunnel and portions of the transAlaska pipeline. Even as MK got merged and purged towards the end of the 20th century, the culture of global engineering was firmly rooted in Idaho and spawned many strong professional service practices including these attending this conference:
|Power Engineers||US Geothermal||FDJ Engineering|
|Site Based Energy||Critigen|
Included in this group should also be the main public utility in the state, Idaho Power Co. While the Columbia and Tennessee dams and much of Canadian hydro has been government funded, IPC built their Hells Canyon facilities on their own and they remain the largest privately-owned hydro complex in North America. And now IPC is one of few or any other utility to have nearly its entire (99+%) customer base on smart metering devices. The final connections were made in December, and while other utilities have demos - and IPC’s service population around 500,000 is modest -- it is surely one of the most comprehensive roll-outs in the US.
One factoid: those new meters take measurements about once an hour (totaling 26 times per day) compared to once a month ‘meter-readings’, that means IPC has gone from about 500,000 data points per month to about 400-million per month ! Bring in the data miners !! Idaho Power is also starting to roll-out dashboard services to those customers allowing a variety of tracking metrics viewed on a rolling 48-72 hour basis and eventually in real-time!
Interestingly, IPC said that its state regulators helped move it towards an all-smart-metered grid. Some states see their utility commission as a drag on innovation, but it would appear Idaho is fortunate in its regulators, who have helped Idaho Power have one of the smartest grids in the country.
While WA’s Hanford site was more involved with military apps, the following quote is fairly accurate that "The history of nuclear energy for peaceful application has principally been written in Idaho."
That writing was done at the Idaho National Laboratory at the eastern end of the state. The tiny hamlet of Arco, ID was the first in the world to get 100% of its daily electricity from nuclear. Also, interesting as being in the middle of the desert/prairie, INL is a major NAVY site -- having pioneered much of the development of nuclear drivetrains for SUBMARINES. This electromotive expertise has now led INL to be a major DoE site for developing technical standards for electric CARS.
So many reactor variations have been built and tested at INL (and most now decommissioned) that the desert west of Idaho Falls holds allegedly the largest concentration of reactors on the planet. One impressive entrepreneurship story from this engineering heritage is Premier Technology, Inc. in Blackfoot, ID. Their CEO and Founder Doug Sayer made two presentations at this conference. PTI is one of the ‘premier’ global experts in specialized hardware fabrication for the nuclear power industry. Through a strategy of avoiding outsourcing and close-holding their craft skills, intellectual property and equity capital they have bootstrapped sweat and a small cash stake into a >$75-million manufacturing center of excellence covering a variety of energy and commercial industries.
Despite our love of software, and it’s critical role in efficiency systems, a great of deal energy, water and other ‘cleantech’ still involves A LOT of metal-bending and literally cutting-edge manufacturing skills, much more than recent booms in info-tech and then bio-tech. Cleantech brings us back full-circle to hard-core manufacturing and, if good high-efficiency vehicles can now be “Imported from Detroit™”, it’s also good to know that power engineers worldwide are getting their high-grade metallurgical machining and manufacturing "Imported from Idaho".
Manufacturing and ENGINEERING are two sides of the same coin and in the nuclear field, as in the utility grid generally, a disturbing supermajority of nuclear engineers will achieve retirement age during the 20-teens, creating urgency for training a new generation, along with an opportunity given that we’re at a real inflection point of new nuclear designs -- pebble-bed, small-modular-reactors (SMR), pump-less systems and so forth. This need and the response regarding nuclear education was discussed by Jason Harris, a professor at Idaho State University in Pocatello, along the same I-15 corridor as INL and Premier Technology. Nearly a decade ago, the total number of nuclear engineering students in Idaho was 2 or 3 dozen. Today there are nearly 300 in Idaho’s colleges and another 100 or so in related fields such as Physics. Given that the largest nuclear student cohort in North America is around 400 at Texas A&M (who knew?) that places Idaho in the forefront of nuclear workforce development in this hemisphere.
Discussion of the research and business is in this separate entry (see link). I’ll conclude this entry with comments from the luncheon keynote by John Gardner, Director of the Efficiency Institute of CAES at Boise State U., Dr. Gardner proposed that less often are there truly disruptive technologies or chemistries, but more often disruptive IDEAS. Neither Henry Ford nor Steve Jobs really pioneered fundamental new science, but had hugely impactful ideas – about simplicity and accessibility, services and design. He suggested that, barring the unknown unknown, no real mass\energy ‘breakthroughs’ (e.g. cold fusion) seem likely in our lifetimes, so what may be instead be truly disruptive are new IDEAS ABOUT energy.
One of those may be that while we’ve long focused on acquiring CHEAP energy (lower prices every day), there is evidence of an increasing MARKET PERCEPTION that -- not all energy is the same, some is SMARTER and some is BETTER and not all consumption is the same, some is SMARTER and some is BETTER
That is, while previous energy markets may have been, or been seen as, an un-differentiated contest of joules, energy markets are starting to differentiate and de-commoditize in the same way as clothing, cars, furniture and other markets -- some will just demand cheap, others will seek out more “value-added” consumption models. And where there is differentiated demand and support for value-added, product, market and transaction innovation can flourish.
Interestingly, the following week, an article came out in MIT Sloan Management Review about the dramatically increasing number of corporations explicitly citing “sustainability” as a corporate priority.
• In a survey, 70% said it emerged on their agenda in the past 6 years
20% said it emerged just in the past 2 years
It’s main point was that this is no longer about “greenwashing”, but that discretionary consumer demand for “smarter”, “better” products is driving part of this and that another part is driven by cold, hard, calculus that sustainability is proving to increase profitability.
He also offered a separate and engineering-related comment that was quite provocative. Which was to simply remember that every energy storage device is, implicitly, a BOMB. Pent-up energy in a compact space. Released suddenly and without control, that’d be the basic definition of an explosion. I’ve long thought that in some distant, all-electric-transport future, our grandchildren will marvel that we all drove around in Molotov cocktails and parked hundreds of ‘bombs’ under skyscrapers each day. So when you worry about the Chevy Volt, or putting a fuel cell under your patio/deck, just remember those explosive devices which sit in your garages each night, and surround you daily on the gridlocked freeway. Certainly food for thought !
And there was much food for thought and excellent “plugging in” at this conference which the local community had the audacity to call “Second Annual”. It's also always interesting to see how people successful in other fields are drawn into the cleantech field (see sideblog).
Two data points make a tradition, so I look forward to the now-traditional Idaho Energy gathering next winter. Having these strong new organizing catalysts of ITC and CAES will certainly help draw global attention to the strong pool of innovation growing in Idaho.
IVUS Energy Innovations, Moscow
Inovus Solar, Boise
Power Engineers, Hailey
US Geothermal, Boise
FDJ Engineering, Boise
Site Based Energy, Hailey
Dynamis Energy of suburban Boise has an impressive story about a more complete combustion of rubbish than “incineration”, which CEO Lloyd Mahaffey considers versions 1 and 2 of W2E.
Dynamis’s alleged “version 3” is what they describe as a starved air gasification process, which thermally converts waste products into a combustible gas, actively mitigating many potential emissions. With additional thermal recovery equipment, they can generate power in multiples of 5, 10, or 20 megawatts of electricity for small communities. They claim they can document a wider spectrum of municipal solid waste types successfully consumed than any other process in the world, including TIRES, auto "fluff", and medical waste, each one a huge civic challenge.
One of the clever developments of Dynamis is a highly modular design which, in addition to bespoke built-in-place systems, has been ‘miniaturized’ into a version that fits within a standard ocean-shipping container, the so-called Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit or TEU. This allows the gasification unit to, among other things, be trucked or shipped around as a gypsy garbage disposal, hot water generation and power creation for remote missions, rural farm communities and small islands.
Ultracapacitors and Total System Design-----------
IVUS Energy Innovations had its genesis in engineering students brainstorming at the University of Idaho, and remains headquartered and growing in Moscow. The core element is the ultracapacitor - an energy storage module analogous to “batteries” but with very different characteristics. It’s key attractant is the ability to recharge in seconds rather than hours. But they tend to store less total energy and have unsteady voltage through discharge.
IVUS’s clever twist was this: instead of trying to contort an ultracapacitor to be more like a battery, they took a total-system-design approach to a routine product/usage scenario (the flashlight) to adapt it to ultracapacitors’s strengths and weaknesses.
They took high-efficiency LEDs to avoid needing the gross energy reserve of regular batteries. And they designed circuitry to offset the voltage drop. With a standard flashlight, one would need three-dozen-or-more ultracaps to provide the end-usage-service of 1 battery. The re-imagined IVUS system had an ultracap ratio of only 3:1 compared to regular batteries in a regular flashlight. That put them within field-goal range because one can tolerate a lower endurance time if re-charging can be accomplished in mere-minutes (while making a cup of coffee or draining the last one) so the customer usage-impression would be one of perpetual availability.
They also aimed at the public safety market which would put a premium value the near-perpetual availability and fast turnaround, vs. the price-sensitive consumer market. And their go-to-market decision was to license a public-safety specialty vendor rather than be an OEM.
Convergent System for Solar Lighting------------------
Inovus Solar sells solar-powered street-lights, allowing roadway illumination to go off-grid where desirable or urgently necessary. As with IVUS (unrelated despite the commonality of spelling), their strength is leveraging a series of capabilities unavailable just a few years ago
● the increased efficiency of thin-film photovoltaics (allowing vertical pole-mounting)
● the increased efficiency of batteries, allowing sufficient energy to be stored within the pole
● the increased efficiency of LED lighting, requiring less storage and less sun conversion per lumen
Strength in Engineering Service Firms-----------
Power Engineers is an international leader in industrial control systems, power grid and geothermal engineering with engineering centers all over the nation and based near Sun Valley in the center of the State. They have recently enjoyed dramatic growth, entering the top-100 of all engineering firms only in 2006 and now on the cusp of entering the top-50 this year or next.
US Geothermal is a full-fledged developer and utility, designing, building and operating geothermal projects that sell wholesale power in s. Idaho, e. Oregon and n. Nevada
FDJ Engineering’s practice includes a wide range of built-environment efficiency evaluation, monitoring and design services.
Site Based Energy, founded by some original partners at Power Engineers, and also based near Sun Valley, who I shall roughly and incompletely describe as “the McKinstry of agriculture”, focusing on efficiency engineering for agricultural operations, not only in Idaho, but increasingly nationwide and around the world, as well as commercial and urban projects.
Critigen is a former division of CH2MHill which develops ‘smart’ information systems for water and geological processing facilities
Green Buildings and Smart Grid-----------
Two good pitches, showing Idaho is right in the thick of smart building developments. The University of Idaho has their building design lab in the city of Boise (link). Lab Director Kevin van den Wymelenberg spoke on their research into the holy grail of intelligent energy management toolsets and user interfaces, sensors meshes and the rest, and their practical collaborations with architects and building owner-developers throughout the intermountain West regarding development of metering-monitoring-telemetry schemas for more efficient, lower cost, healthier buildings in line with the milestones of the Architecture 2030 carbon-neutral built-environment challenge program.
Then, Steve Taylor of brand-new Boise start-up SMARTdwell discussed a very clever variation of the ubiquitous “energy dashboard”, a type of residential extension of the work Kevin’s U-of-I lab is doing for commercial buidlings. SMARTdwell intends to provide in an iPad-like format, a complete “owner’s manuals” for homes. Most people, when they buy a house, are intimately familiar with the marble and granite finishes in the powder room, but could not tell you where the water cut-off, furnace filters or circuit breakers are to save their lives (which such knowledge often can !)
Conversely, every car, tractor, flat-screen monitor and washer/dryer come with a complete illustrated “owner’s manual”. Why not the house (or building) itself?
SMARTdwell’s idea is to combine basic diagrams, fact sheets and FAQs with energy audits, reports, variable pricing, green-ness of energy inputs, calculators, links, and instructional media in a manner that would pull together in a single UI the equivalent of existing paper instruction manuals, one dimensional energy calculators, single featured appliances and home area networks.
One of the repeating themes I find in this market space is seeing people who have been great winners in other ‘tech’ sectors, choosing their next career as ‘cleantech’. It’s like those old Disney ads, “now that you’ve won the Super Bowl, what’s next? Disneyland!”.
In this past year’s Cleantech Open, one of our National Finalists from Oregon was a renewable cellulosic coal-substitute venture led by a guy who had, 40 years earlier, pioneered a basic process for semiconductor wafer fabrication and then went on to found two different bio-technology ventures. What do you do for an encore after chips and genes ? Cleantech !
Similarly you saw this twice at the Idaho conference. Clay Young, CEO of Inovus founded a business intelligence database software venture in Idaho which he sold to Microsoft in 2006. Could’ve retired on that, but instead, Cleantech !
And Lloyd Mahaffey, CEO of Dynamis was an early employee of Apple Computer and was asked by Steve Jobs to do something with the idea of an “educational” market and turned Apple Education into the multi-billion dollar dominant player in the school computer market which it has become today. After that, he lived the life of a Silicon Valley venture capitalist for years. His family then made the lifestyle decision to move to Idaho in the mid-000s and he looked for new business projects. What seemed like the biggest play ? Cleantech !
Impatient shorts will bet on “the next Groupon”. But, the strong, patient money is going to what pundits consider the new strategic areas for the 21st Century -- energy and water (the core of Cleantech Open) as well as civic-security.
The finalists and past alumni from the various regions coast-to-coast continually amaze me. I not only learn about PROBLEMS I had never even considered or thought addressable, but learn that already folks have come up with workable, achievable answers to those problems. Last year, one of the leading finalists was a company from Minnesota that had developed a non-toxic fire quencher. Did anyone know that when you see films of those horrific forest fires in the west, and there is always a big jumbo jet dropping orange liquid on the fire, that it's toxic, and that unless you're officially fighting an official forest fire it's about a dozen different ways illegal to spread that material on open soil ? Who knew this was a problem and who knew someone ALREADY HAS an answer to that problem. Ref: EarthClean, St. Paul MN
Recent discussion in the cloud regarding cleantech investment has focused on an alleged shift from longer-range "game changer" "breakthroughs" to shorter-term tactical plays. Cleantech Open has always struck a good balance among those poles. It shows some technologies that are rather significant uplifts, but many are indeed incremental in the best sense -- most civic and corporate progress has always been made incrementally through step-wise continuous improvement.
The ventures in the Cleantech Open succeed by having immediate tactical, and hence investable, applicability. Significantly, this also means they DON'T REQUIRE POLICY INITIATIVES to succeed. Many 'green-oriented' citizens agonize that the policy paralysis which afflicts not only the USA but most of the world (on the whole, broad brush) is keeping us stuck in bad habits. Daily, and often, it seems that way. Yet to see the parade of ventures at Cleantech Open's Global Forum is to be inspired and encouraged that change can be wrought immediately and on our own. It’s these ventures that are the change we've been waiting for. We don't need to wait for our dear leaders, who never do.
The rundown is impressive and it's just a tragedy that it's not an insert into the Sunday New York Times, or a special episode of 60-Minutes, on Fox Business or Thomas Friedman's next column, which would give more exposure to a mainstream civic audience nationwide. I think it would make our citizens feel better about America’s innovation and business climate to know so many folks, across all corners of our nation, are grinding away at such surprising engineering and succeeding even under the constrained circumstances we face today.
So, this is going to be a long blog. It was a big Forum. Come back with a cuppa coffee and some off-duty time and listen to this amazing community of capitalists.
Combustion for power -------
From Oregon, we saw technology for roasting scrap cellulosic material to turn forest waste into a direct 1:1 substitution for coal, so that power plants planned-for-shutdown can continue operating, cleaner and more sustainably. But if you need to use coal, we saw from Colorado advanced nanotechnology to remove nasty toxins from coal (it's worse than just carbon) allowing coal to be 'scrubbed' far more efficiently than afterburn scrubbers do. That nano-coal company was the overall winner in the Rocky Mountain region. We also saw a laser-based gas analyzer from Minnesota that enables far more efficient combustion of feedstocks in industrial processes as well as for raw energy generation. This is the company that won the top honors, Cleantech Open’s quarter-million-dollar championship for 2011!
We also saw two ventures, one from each coast, making oil for combustion yes, but making it from recycling of other waste streams in a clean and responsible manner: a venture from California with proprietary microbes to recycle waste biogas and captured CO2 into clean oil and a Boston venture with a sophisticated catalytic process to recycle plastic into clean and efficient liquid fuel – the latter was the New England overall winner and national category winner in the Air-Water-Waste segment.
None of these eliminate combustion, but each is a major advance towards far more efficient and thorough combustion with fewer by-products, often using a waste recycling component, and such ‘incremental’ improvements can put us miles ahead compared to the status quo. Combined and widely implemented, such ‘incrementals’ can add up to be a game changer.
Also, much as the Oregon company side-steps coal with cellulosics, a company from Arkansas can produce lignin film as a substitute for plastic, sidesteping the expanding “bans on grocery bags”. Grocery stores can now have it both ways -- offering a light floppy bag that is actually paper-based and biodegradable. “Would you like paper or paper?” That Arkansas bag won top honors in Cleantech Open’s South Central region.
· HM3 Energy(OR)
· Veritek Coal Processing(CO)
· ARI Atmosphere Recovery, Inc.(MN)
· PK Clean(MA)
Please note right here (and there’s more to come) the geographic diversity of the award winning cleantech innovations. Frankly, in the tech-geek world, you don’t see a lot of IDs from Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota and Arkansas. OK, one of the above is from San Francisco, and we love you, too. But such geo-diversity has become commonplace in Cleantech Open since the first year it expanded beyond the SF Bay Area. HQs of other recent alumni include Logan, UT; Missoula, MT; Plateville, WI and Grand Rapids, MI. The Cleantech Open’s results in finding, fostering and funding across such geographies should be highly encouraging to those who doubt that a "Green Economy" will "lift all boats" or at least many MORE boats than in just a few enclaves. Here is a story where America’s strength IS its breadth.
One speaker noted that when folks gush about how electric the 21st Century will become, it’s amazing to consider that, from a 19th Century perspective, our just past 20th Century was when society got utterly revolutionized by electricity, with the oft-maligned “power grid”, erected in just a few decades on every continent, one of the true all-time wonders of civilization. And yet, per The Carpenters, we’ve only just begun.
This year, we saw a company from Massachusetts with advanced measurement and simulation tools to make it far easier and more efficient for utilities to add in renewable sources to the grid, a company from Nevada that uses embedded signalization to provide better energy accounting for small businesses; and a company from Houston that provides real-time energy consumption detail to office tenants with human factors engineering that motivates users to compete to be “the biggest loser” of consumption. A company from Utah combines a number of electricity conditioning functions with far lower cost and greater efficiency to regulate voltage, mitigate harmonics, and filter surges and spikes, allowing all electrical equipment to run cooler and more efficiently. This company won the triple-bottom-line Sustainability Award for the Rocky Mountain Region. And we saw a company from Seattle that integrates telemetry and predictive tools to tell end-users when their flow of electricity is more renewably-sourced and less renewably-sourced so they can voluntarily shift their loads to suck up more renewables and demand less non-renewables. This idea, cleverly called “Color of the Electron”, was sought out by GM as a critical partner in their EV developments and was the National Category Winner in the “Smart Power” segment of Cleantech Open.
An alumni venture from Oregon is now successfully rolling out charging kiosks for Truck Stops across the country. Some of the dirtiest air between the coasts is in the middle of the prairie at truck stops hosting hundreds of long-idling diesel engines. Electrification of trucks’s ‘rest mode’ is a huge answer to a little-known problem. And a venture from Los Angeles is providing tools to help calibrate electric car charging stations. EVs are a great achievement. Three ventures from Oregon, two National Finalist Alums, are all in the electric space -- an electric car, an enclosed electric tricycle style vehicle and a folding electric bicycle. Yet, often the unsung hero in tech development are the measurement, development and simulation tools needed to implement the more visible end-product, so the LA EV kiosk calibration venture became a segment winner in the California region this year.
· Qado Energy (MA) • Shorepower Technologies(OR)
· LoadIQ(NV) • GridTest(CA)
· Smart Office Energy Solutions(TX) • Green Lite Motors(OR)
· Dragonfly Solutions (UT) • Arcimoto(OR)
· GridMobility(WA) • Conscious Commuter(OR)
But, wait, there’s more !
Heat and Light, First Heat -------
Thermal engineering doesn't get as much attention in the press, but it was on display at this Forum. A Silicon Valley company using solar energy not for electricity, nor domestic hot water, but for concentrated heating of industrial processes including drying, cooling, and refrigeration. That made them the overall winner of the California Cleantech Open contest. And a Nevada company is developing a novel thermally-driven refrigeration/heat pump cycle -- if you look around, that's one of the core mechanical systems across all aspects of modern civilization -- that can provide up to 80% energy cost savings for heating and cooling processes in industrial, commercial and residential applications. That and their integrated triple-bottom-line business operations won them the Sustainability Prize for the California region.
· B2U Solar(CA)
· May-Ruben Technologies(NV)
And Windows of Light -------
Artificial and natural light is a constant struggle. The scope of Cleantech Open is demonstrated in that, in addition to coal, plastics and transport ventures, this year’s competition also included clever innovations in natural lighting and windows. From the heart of Silicon Valley was a venture that combines photovoltaics with ceiling skylights and defraction lenses to condition and diffuse natural illumination through the skylight while also using the sunlight to generate electricity for other lighting. Another venture from Colorado enables (my gross oversimplification) a controlled form of “Transitions” darkening sunglasses for building windows, and an earlier semifinalist from Oregon had a design to combine window awnings and carefully faceted foci for photovoltaic generation with LED luminaires on the inside wall.
And a Finalist from Oregon racked up a host of laurels with a product addressing windows as the enormous energy leaks that they are. With both patented sealants and clever use of cloud-based IT, they can custom shape window inserts (as most residential windows, surprise, are off-square!) that provide antique windows, especially in our large stock of pre-WW2 homes, with insulation as good as thermopane windows, and can farm out production to multiple small businesses close-to-site, to increase employment and reduce the footprint of trans-shipment. This venture, Indow Windows, was tapped as the National Champion for Sustainability business-planning (3BL), the
1st Runner-up for the overall National Champion, the National winner in the Efficiency category, and the overall winner and sustainability winner of the Pacific Northwest region.
· EnFocus Engineering(CA)
· US e-Chromic(CO)
· Innovative Invironments(OR)
· Indow Windows(OR)
Constructive Construction -------
The building erected around the windows is not ignored by Cleantech Open either. This year, the locus of green construction was Wisconsin and Oregon, as befits the historic origins of America’s lumber industry. Two ventures adapt wood for more efficient construction and two other ventures have new materials.
One Semifinalist, with a factory opening soon in Oregon, uses advanced computer-aided manufacturing to prepare stick-built construction with significantly less wood-waste, dramatically faster erection time due to precision fit, and hence overall lower energy footprint. While a Wisconsin venture literally takes whole trees which are tall and strong and loaded with sequestered carbon, but not suited to commercial lumber harvesting and, again with sophisticated IT, turns parts or ALL of the tree into structural components for construction.
Another Oregon semifinalist and the Wisconsin-based North Central Champion both have ventures aimed at commercializing fast-assembly building construction using advanced materials that are lightweight, recycled or recyclable and improve building operations efficiency.
And start-ups aiming at energy management dashboards-in-a-thermostat are well represented on both coasts. Followers will recall that the 2009 Grand National Champion was EcoFactor of the Bay Area. This year an earlier winner, Energy Hub of Brooklyn was honored as co-Alumni of the Year, for their $14 million Series B funding, led by Acadia Woods and the New York City Investment Fund, as well as for adding nearly 50 new jobs.
· Whole Tree Structures(WI)
· FortEco Lightweight Structures(WI)
Water Everywhere -------
Green technologies are often associated in the public mind with carbon emissions or consumption of energy, but another rapidly growing area of 'clean' concern and opportunity is WATER. From inception, Cleantech Open included a category termed Air-Water-Waste to cover a range of fascinating technologies. In 2009, a Rocky Mountain venture reached the Finals with green chemistry to convert plant sugars into, among other things, detergent-builder replacements for water-polluting phosphates. Last year, many top-ranking Cleantech Open Finalists were in the “water” category including a strong Finalist from Utah marketing patented electrobiochemical reactor technologies to mitigate arsenic, selenium, mercury, nitrate, and other inorganic contaminants; the National Sustainability (3BL) Award winner from Colorado which develops suites of microorganisms to biologically treat waste water pools, and the overall 2010 National Champion, a company from Oregon using sophisticated photonically activated nanotechnology to efficiently purify water, with both an electro-mechanical version and a low-cost passive version for 3rd world applications. This year, a finalist from Arizona applies bio-technology to efficiently purify water for food and beverage companies. And the winner of the Global Ideas Competition was a nifty venture from CHILE that uses red worms to clean up sewage water -- the busy, gluttonous worms consume the organic material and their excreted 'castings' can be used as a complementary fertilizer which catalyzes nitrogen binding to sharply reduce surplus nitrogen run-off from farms.
· Rivertop Renewables(MT) • Puralytics(OR)
· Inotec(UT) • ARBsource(AZ)
· BioVantage Resources(CO) • BioFiltro(Chile)
Silicon in the Valley -------
We often think that traditional mechanical systems are made slimmer, simpler, lighter footprint by "digitalization", yet the lay consumer may not realize that the submicroscopic realm of silicon components and IT systems has its own low hanging fruit of wastefulness. People who stay at home and work or play "in the cloud" may not realize that "the cloud", as actually instantiated in monumental data centers in the prairie, can be more of an energy hog than the Hummer you're keeping on blocks while telecommuting. One of the niftiest answers is Bay Area-based software that allows all the miles of blade servers in a data center to be reflexively hibernated which can immediately lop off up to 1/3 of energy consumption at an all-always-on data center. That 2008 Category Winner was awarded co-Alumni of the Year at this Forum for its recent $13.5M Series B round led by ABB and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Last year, a Cleantech Open Finalist from New Jersey showed highly efficient memory chips which significantly reduce energy consumption in large data farms. This year a company from Boston showed a dramatically sized-reduced and energy-reduced power converter for mobile devices. And another company from Arkansas showed sophisticated process chemistry that can generate panel-sized ultra-large-grain single polysilicon crystals, especially for photovoltaic applications.
· Power Assure(CA)
· Silicon Solar Solutions(ARK)
SO - if you have time, go back and scan all of these companies again, nearly 40 in all. Apart from the Global Ideas guys, these Cleantech Open competitors are all-American, from every time zone, and all have real prototypes (if not general shipment product) out in the public domain. And, by and large, these are not digital avatars, these are real physical products that involve metal-bending, chemistry and engineering and actual MANUFACTURING. They are aggressively courting customers, winning business and EARNING private un-subsidized investment. If anyone is discouraged that American industry has lost its mojo, go back yet again and review these eager young aspirants. The ventures showcased by Cleantech Open are a mojo-restorative for those who care about the American economy, who should be nearly all of us. Pass it along.
Cleantech Seattle guy, John Martin, ventured down to Boise, Idaho, drawn by a conference named "Harvesting Clean Energy." Metroguy that he was, he thought of Idaho as agricultural and wanted to learn about clean tech in an ag land. His eyes were opened, and here's his story.
By John Martin, Operations Chair, Pacific Northwest Cleantech Open
At Climate Solutions’ 2011 Harvesting Clean Energy Conference in Boise in October, emcee Dale Dixon opened with an amusing and apparently true story: Nearly a hundred years ago, Enzo Ferrari was having trouble putting together one of his early race cars, particularly the "transmission". A maker of farm tractors thought he had a really good idea for a transmission, but Ferrari thought farm haulers had nothing to offer his refined thoroughbred. The tractor-maker was named Lamborghini and went off on his own. The theme repeated throughout the morning: Cosmopolitan metros may have much to learn from the rural/ag society, much as Ferrari could have -- not least being that out-in-middle-of-nowhere has much more interest in self-sufficiency and does not survive for generations on the farm by not being literally 'sustainable'. My conclusion: A lot of cutting-edge cleantech practices, technologies and ventures may find early adopters in places like Idaho.
Keynote Speaker Governor Butch Otter noted that the biggest challenge to alternative energy is transmission lines, both having them in the right place and also permitting and public acceptance. He points out that we should not be discouraged with solar, wind, thermal and biomass just because prior demos have not worked out well. Thomas Edison had a lot of false starts but eventually prevailed despite the fact that he received strong pushback from businessmen asking that he not pursue commercializing his electric lightbulb. Why? Because it would put 140,000 candlemakers out of work. Governor Otter's point: Short-term adjustments should not hinder longer-term breakthroughs.
One of the speakers was Clay Young, who built proClarity business intelligence software into a highly successful global business with exit acquisition by Microsoft, and is now in solar-powered LED streetlights. His new venture, Inovus Solar (http://www.inovussolar.com/), is partnering with Portland-based Verticus to develop high-efficiency parking-lot systems. Verticus manages the variable on/off switching, Inovus builds the luminaires and integrates PV support and over-gen feedback to the grid.
Another speaker was Pete Johnson of Dynamis Energy (http://www.dynamisenergy.com/), which develops high-efficiency incinerators for eliminating landfill of municipal solid waste (MSM) by burning the rubbish to generate energy. Johnson said that while Northwest energy costs are among the lowest in the world, and demand for incineration power is low here, Brazil will be prohibiting MSM landfill by mid-decade and has skyrocketing energy demands. There, the market for responsible incineration is strong.
There was discussion that Idaho has no consistent economic development policy around cleantech, but the state does have some strong raw advantages. It has a strong base of expertise in Information and Communications Technology, coupled with a very large Ag business and expertise in power engineering. Then there is the other NW Department of Energy lab (https://inlportal.inl.gov/portal/server.pt/community/about_inl/259) managed by Battelle, which is a big player in clean energy, including being the national expertise center for battery and EV testing as well as power storage technology.
So, I congratulate Climate Solutions for drawing the attention of this cosmopolitan Seattle metroguy to the incredible cleantech resource of Idaho and the importance of the Ag community as an important test-bed for cutting-edge advanced-energy technologies.
The nation’s biggest clean-technology competition finds entrepreneurs with big ideas for transforming their markets and creating jobs.
by Lisa E. Davis | Posted: August 14, 2011
Sometimes called the Academy Awards of clean technology, the Cleantech Open is a national competition between start-up companies that aims to “find, fund and foster” the best ideas in clean technology.
Since the first competition in 2006, the Cleantech Open has given out $5 million in cash and support to promising start-ups. These ventures have gone on to raise more than $300 million in outside funding and to create more than 2,500 jobs. These young companies are sparking innovation in energy efficiency, green building, renewable energy, transportation and other areas of clean tech.
For Executive Director Rex Northen, the key word in describing standout entrants is “disruptive.” The Open is looking for companies that will make an impact, he explains. “The Cleantech Open’s goal is to maximize the chances of an important, disruptive, environmentally sound technology succeeding in the market.”
That’s crucial, says Ashley Grosh, Project Manager for Environmental Affairs at Wells Fargo, which is a national sponsor. The United States, she says, is losing the cleantech race — and the jobs that go with it — to China and other countries. The Cleantech Open helps combat that. It “pulls from private-sector, venture-capital and private-equity dollars to support entrepreneurs that have these wonderful ideas, but they don’t have the resources and the marketing skills to commercialize.”
The big picture on cleantech
Global new investment in clean energy in 2010 rose 30 percent to $243 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The pace has slowed so far in 2011, but it seems clear that the future for clean technology is bright. In an Ernst & Young survey, 44 percent of executives say their companies expect to spend more than $50 million in 2011 on cleantech. Nearly 75 percent said their companies plan to increase their cleantech budgets between 2012 and 2014.
Cleantech isn’t riding a wave of hype, says Trish Fleming, Executive Director of MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, a technology-entrepreneur network that assisted the Open’s start. “I think the ‘bubble’ mentality has left the industry, which is a good thing,” she says. “When you aren’t in a bubble, there are a lot of people willing to get down to the work of building really fabulous companies.”
Wells Fargo sees the opportunities and the relevance for itself and its clients. In addition to greening its own operations, Grosh says, it is also “working with customers to help them save energy and money, investing in renewable energy projects, as well as providing financial services for green business and clean-technology companies.”
In 2011, the Cleantech Open had fewer than 300 applicants. Every applicant got access to an extensive network of mentors around the country. Among those mentors were bankers, marketers and communications specialists from Wells Fargo.
The growth of the Cleantech Open
The Open got its start in Silicon Valley, when a group of successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople saw the demand rising for cleantech and wanted to make sure the best technologies won out. Every year the competition’s footprint has grown, from Silicon Valley to all of California to now seven regions covering 31 states.
While high tech tends to congregate in hubs, cleantech can come from anywhere, Northen says. New agricultural technologies are coming from the Midwest, advances in clean coal are coming from the Rust Belt and new energy ideas, particularly in oil, are coming from the Southwest.
In June 2011, the Cleantech Open announced its semifinalists. About half the 300 applicants made it to this level, an unusually high number owing to a strong field this year. The semifinalists — whose products range from biofuels to reusable dry-cleaning bags — attend training workshops and conferences in their regions, then hone their ideas, aiming to make it to the finals.
A Cleantech Open success story
Becoming a finalist was Jim Sanfilippo’s goal back in 2006. “I entered on a lark,” he says; he was just hoping to snag access to the valuable workshops. He was a film and television technician trying to develop a business around environmentally sustainable LED lighting fixtures. He’d been using LEDs for visual effects lighting for years, but with the advent of high-brightness LEDs and the exponential growth in efficiency and quality, he started to realize that LED lights had the potential to replace all traditional studio fixtures.
He wanted to tap that potentially huge market, but he didn’t have any business experience. He needed help and knew that at the very least he had a shot at accessing the Cleantech training workshops.
He got much more, however. His company, Altadena, Calif.–based Nila Inc., placed as runner-up in energy efficiency in 2006; in 2007, Nila entered again and won the category. “The networking involved was very instrumental,” Sanfilippo says. “They had individual mentors for legal patent work, business development, CFO types. Anyone I could get to and pull some information out of I was more than willing to do that.”
Less than two weeks after winning, Jim Sanfilippo found himself in London demonstrating his LED lights to the makers of the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, who bought all the product he had, plus more.
What the Cleantech Open participants get
1. Big networking events. “One of the crucial things we realized,” Executive Director Northen says, “is that if you are going to put technology in the marketplace, people need to be aware of it.” The Open runs two major events a year, the National Investor Conference, which was held July 14, 2011, and the Global Forum, which will be held Nov. 10, 2011.
2. No business plan. This is the first year that the Open has told its companies to put their business plans aside. Says Northen, “We’ve long said we are not a business-plan competition but a competition that helps companies turn ideas into businesses.”
And, often times, early business plans fall apart once companies encounter the real world. “The Cleantech Open encourages companies to get out and talk to real customers early and make sure they test, validate and iterate, rather than get deeply involved in wordsmithing a plan.”
3. Training sessions big and small. The Cleantech Open gathers as many people together as possible, including mentors, in two academies — one on the East Coast and one on the West. “A very special dynamic goes on when you put a lot of people from different parts of the country together and put fantastic speakers on stage and have breakout sessions,” Northen says.
California selects six finalists, each in a different industry category. The other regions select three. The finalists, who receive $20,000 in cash and services, come together for the selection of regional winners, who receive an additional $10,000. The grand-prize winner will receive up to $250,000 in cash and services such as legal, marketing and channel distribution.
But as good as winning is, it may not be as important to most Cleantech Open companies as tapping into its rich network of contacts, even long after the competition has ended. The Open runs an investors’ forum, for example. Last year 72 investors sat at tables as alumni and semifinalists rotated through every seven minutes. “It’s like an investment speed-dating process,” Northen says.
A Cleantech Open founder sits on Nila’s board, says Jim Sanfilippo. And he regularly relies on Open contacts for advice. When he went to visit business prospects in Washington, D.C., well outside his Hollywood purview, he emailed his network for recommendations of whom else to call. Those calls led to others, and soon Nila was installing LED lights in committee rooms in the Senate office building and is in talks to replace the lights in the main Senate chamber.
“It’s great because I’m not an MBA. I’m doing this on the fly,” Sanfilippo says. “And with the help of this network of people, we have been able to grow. From our first shipment of product in 2008 to last year, we did over $1 million in revenue. This year, we are targeting $3 million in revenue.”
What the Cleantech Open is about, Northen says, “is understanding that entrepreneurs are the people who make a big difference. If you want to have a large number of jobs, if you want to see a shift in technology, then you need to support the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur is the engine for economic growth.”
Lisa E. Davis is a writer in Charlotte, N.C., specializing in business and finance topics.
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