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Penn State researchers identify nanoparticle that could lead to cheaper clean energy

A new discovery by Penn State researchers may lead to cheaper clean-energy technologies. The research team, led by Raymond Schaak, a PSU chemistry professor, found that an important chemical reaction that generates hydrogen from water is effectively triggered by a nanoparticle made of nickel and phosphorus.
 
The finding is important because nickel and phosphorus are cheap and abundant. Up until now, clean energy applications that require hydrogen – including some fuel cells and solar cells – have relied upon platinum, which as anyone who has ever shopped for an engagement ring can tell you, is costly and rare.
 
Hydrogen is a great energy carrier, Schaak explains, and to make its production practical, scientists have been hunting for a way to trigger the required chemical reactions with an inexpensive catalyst. "It turns out that nanoparticles of nickel phosphide are indeed active for producing hydrogen and are comparable to the best known alternatives to platinum," he says.
 
For now, says Schaak, there are no immediate plans to commercialize the research, although the team has filed a patent application. But the research continues: "The goal now is to further improve the performance of these nanoparticles and to understand what makes them function the way they do," says Schaak. "Our team members believe that our success with nickel phosphide can pave the way toward the discovery of other new catalysts that also are comprised of Earth-abundant materials. Insights from this discovery may lead to even better catalysts in the future."
 
Source: Raymond Schaak, PSU
Writer: Elise Vider

Mars' Vogel Disposal Services is moving to CNG with a new fueling station

Vogel Disposal Service of Mars, one of the largest independent haulers in Western Pennsylvania, has its first compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station, part of a move to more sustainable operations.
 
Ten new CNG trucks currently fill up at the $1.4 million fueling station, built by California-based TruStar Energy. The station, which went online in May,  has capacity to fuel 70 trucks and Vogel plans to replace diesel with CNG models at a rate of about 10 per year, says Vice President Doug Vogel. The company has a fleet of about 300 vehicles. Vogel also says its long-range plan is to build another CNG station at a location about 40 miles from its Mars operation.
 
At its Seneca landfill, Vogel already captures and cleans methane gas and puts it back in the utility pipeline.  "We're generating about 8,000 diesel gallon equivalent per day and our plan is to eventually fuel our trucks with our own natural gas," says Vogel.
 
Vogel says the decision to move to CNG was partially motivated by engine issues pertaining to new diesel emissions standards, which were cutting productivity. "CNG makes sense for Vogel, both in terms of dollars and in terms of our responsibility to the environment. Eventually fueling our trucks with gas generated from our landfill will be a win-win for Vogel," says Vogel.
 
Vogel is a family company, founded in 1958 with a single truck. The company employs about 500 and has added about 20 jobs, some seasonal, in the past few months.
 
Source: Doug Vogel, Vogel Disposal Service and TruStar Energy

Writer: Elise Vider

Who knew? IMomentous and Bridgeway Academy are best unknown businesses in America

Back in March, Keystone Edge  reported on a competition to name the best-unknown business in America.
 
The results are in and the winners are two Pennsylvania companies.

iMomentous  of Horsham is the grand prize winner. The contest judges cited "its mobile solutions that enable companies to connect with job candidates as well as current employees through the 'always-on' convenience of their smartphones and tablets."
 
"The ability to reach job seekers on mobile devices provides enterprises with a silver bullet for finding the best possible talent," added Stephen T. Zarrilli, president and CEO of Safeguard Scientifics  and a contest judge.
 
Bridgeway Academy in Catasauqua in the Lehigh Valley was named runner up "for its ability to deliver fully customized and accredited home school programs to more than 20,000 families around the world who are seeking freedom in K-12 education."
 
Gregory FCA, a large Ardmore-based public relations firm, and Wayne's Safeguard sponsored the contest, which drew more than 50 nominations. "The judges were looking for great companies, with strong prospects of future success, that were under the radar and would benefit from exposure to help build their profile in the marketplaces they serve," says Greg Matusky, president of Gregory FCA and a judge.
 
Not only is iMomentous the best-unknown businesses, turns out it is one of the most magnanimous. Matusky explains: "As grand prize winner, iMomentous received a $10,000 check. They opted to receive $10K in public relations consulting services and graciously allowed Bridgeway Academy, the runner-up, to have $30K of PR services.  Originally, the winner was going to receive $40K in PR services but this was their option and choice."  
 
Source: Greg Matusky, Gregory FCA
Writer: Elise Vider

Erie's McManis & Monsalve: Growing consultancy named to Hispanic 500

Erie's McManis & Monsalve Associates is a fast-growing management consultant with an ingenious business strategy, an array of high-profile clients and, now, the distinction of being listed in the Hispanic Business 500
 
With an emphasis on risk analysis and mitigation for clients including the federal departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense, much of the firm's work is classified. CEO and founder Marco Monsalve can discuss projects including analyses of threat and risk, and mitigation strategies, for State Department personnel going to Iraq and Afghanistan, and background checks of federal job applicants.
 
Monsalve, a native Venezuelan and Vietnam veteran, established the firm in 2000. Moving to Erie in 2005 for personal reasons, he quickly hit upon a brilliant strategy, acquiring a janitorial services firm that helped qualify the company as a HUBZone Certified Enterprise, a federal job-creation and procurement program for economically depressed areas.
 
Today, McManis & Monsalve employs 116 total, including 45 at the Erie headquarters and 15 in Boyers. Most of the Erie staff work in the ProFloor Care Division and 18 are from the refugee program at the St. Benedicts Education Center, with which the company works closely to provide training and employment opportunities.
 
But many employees are of necessity in Washington and Monsalve remains determined to create more local jobs. "Our one regret," he says, "is that many of [our] job opportunities are outside of Erie. We’re trying to change that."
 
The company is working with the highly regarded Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University in Erie,  and the Congressional delegation to establish a federal Intelligence Center in Erie. Meanwhile, Monsalve anticipates doubling the workforce in Boyers this year, adding 15 new analyst positions.
 
Source: Marco Monsalve, McManis & Monsalve
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse strategically focuses its investments

Established in 2002, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG) has plenty to brag about: 178 investments totaling $19 million in 76 companies, leveraging $840 million in additional capital.
 
Still, a relative scarcity of investment dollars has prompted PLSG to embrace a new focus on later-stage companies. Simply put, says President and CEO John Manzetti, "there's not enough capital to put more fish in the pond."
 
PLSG recently announced $315,000 in investments for the first half of the year to Wellbridge Health, PHRQL Inc.  in Pittsburgh and NewCare Solutions in Warrendale in the growing healthcare information technology (HIT) sector and Alung Technologies in Pittsburgh, ATRP Solutions  in Pittsburgh, MS2 Array and Quantum Ops in Pittsburgh.
 
PLSG is also doubling down on two specific life sciences sectors that it judges have the best growth potential.
 
HIT (which uses technology for needs such as record keeping, managing clinical trials, insurance paperwork, etc.) is especially attractive to investors because, with a simpler regulatory burden, "it is simpler to get to market and returns are faster," says Manzetti.
 
Therapeutics are attractive, he explains, because research and development, once the province of the pharmaceutical companies, is now done largely by small start-ups, which represent potentially lucrative acquisitions for drug makers.
 
Still, Manzetti adds, PLSG "is not abandoning pre-seed and seed companies. We will go back to more early-stage investment when we have more capital." In fact, PLSG has launched its "Think-Q-Beta program" to incubate young HIT companies, providing office space and other services. Its first tenant is Quantum Ops.
 
Source: John Manzetti, PLSG
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 

Made in Somerset, shipped globally: Guy Chemical is SBA exporter of the year

It is only fitting that Guy Berkebile, founder of Somerset's Guy Chemical Company, launched his company after an Egyptian customer asked him to provide silicone produced in the United States.
 
Overseas sales have been the lynchpin for Guy, which specializes in filling viscous materials into metal and plastic squeeze tubes and cartridges, since that 1995 Egyptian encounter, says Berkebile. At first, he adds, exports accounted for more than 90% of his business, so much that "we made a concerted effort to boost domestic sales."
 
Today 70% of Guy's products – all still manufactured in Somerset – are shipped overseas and the Small Business Administration recently named the company Western Pennsylvania's Exporter of the Year. Guy's biggest overseas customers include the former Soviet republics, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
 
Exports have kept Guy less dependent on the local and state economy and helped buoy it during the economic downturn, says Berkebile. In fact, the company has seen huge growth. This time last year, the company's workforce stood at 52; today it is at 85 and Berkebile anticipates adding another 10 or so jobs by year's end.
 
The company is also growing physically, breaking ground next month for a new 30,000-square-foot warehouse on its 85-acre campus, near the 40,000-square-foot manufacturing plant.
 
Berkebile says the company is also expanding its focus on research and development in order to develop more of its own products for the market. A new line of silicone greases is in the works.
 
Source: Guy Berkebile, Guy Chemical Company

Writer: Elise Vider

Matchmaker, matchmaker: PSU Learning Factory's accepting proposals

Like an industrial matchmaker, the Penn State Learning Factory is once again preparing to pair teams of engineering students with companies, large and small, on semester-long projects.
 
It's a win-win-win, says director Mary Frecker, a professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering. "The students can apply all the theory and all they've learned to real-world problems with real-world clients," she says, getting feedback and mentoring from working professionals. Students propose solutions and are responsible for budgeting, managing design, identifying potential customer needs, prototyping and testing. It's a chance "to interact with professionals and behave as professionals," she adds, comparing it to a "semester-long job interview."
 
Larger sponsoring companies often view the Learning Factory as part of their recruiting process. For smaller companies, the Learning Factory provides a low-risk and low-cost way to engage a semester-long engineering workforce.
 
PSU doesn't keep track of how many jobs have resulted, but reports that since the Learning Factory's inception in 1995, more than 1,250 projects have been completed for nearly 350 companies. Past projects include the refillable Evive water station in Pittsburgh, an improved "intelligent" walker for TPC Innovation and Design in Hummelstown and an amphibious boat dock dolly for Narrow Valley Engineering.
 
The Learning Factory is now soliciting proposals from potential company sponsor, a one-page submission of project goals and which types of engineering majors are needed. The deadline is Friday, August 9.
 
Source: Mary Frecker, PSU Learning Factory
Writer: Elise Vider

Let the games begin! PA Energy Games get underway September 7

 
Pennsylvania Energy Games, an all-volunteer nonprofit, is hosting an all-day, family-friendly shindig showcasing homegrown energy production, delivery and conservation. 
 
The event, set for September 7 at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville, celebrates all forms of energy: clean, coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, biodiesel and biomass. The goal, says Todd Stager, a State College engineer and board member, is to encourage "a better awareness for the public of the vital role energy plays in our everyday lives."
 
The idea grew from an informal networking group of engineers and others involved in energy-related industries.  
 
PA Energy Games includes a heavy equipment rodeo, safety/obstacle course competitions, truck show, children's games and activities, exhibit booths, energy industry educational displays, food vendors, fireworks and live music. Recording artist Clay Walker is the headliner and country artists Oilfield Cowboy, Chris Higbee and Morgan Myles will also perform. Proceeds will go to Wounded Warriors and The United Way.
 
Stager says the organizers expect this to be an annual event and have set an ambitious goal of 10,000 attendees, though their more realistic expectation is about 5,000. They are also actively seeking sponsors, with a goal of 100.
 
Source: Todd Stager, PA Energy Games
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh's Kroff expanding its markets and hiring

Pittsburgh's Kroff, Inc.,  already a fast-growing, full-service specialty chemical company, is investigating expansion into new industries outside water treatment and expects to add as much as 20% to its workforce in the next 12 months.
 
Kroff was founded in 1988 by Keith Kronk and Fred Potthoff who identified a need for a water treatment chemical company that hires only experienced consultants and provides them with independence and state-of-the-art analytical equipment to do a professional job. 
 
The company's primary focus remains water and wastewater treatment.  "With patented chemistry, experienced consultants and a commitment to innovation, Kroff engineers solutions for clients that ensure environmental compliance and save money," says spokesman Jeff Donaldson.
 
Kroff prides itself on being green, adds Donaldson. "Consider our approach to water treatment as it relates to natural gas exploration … Kroff Well Services has engineered an innovative process that enables natural gas companies to reuse 100 percent of the flowback water for subsequent fracturing.  Through sophisticated testing and a highly scientific chemical treatment process, natural gas drilling companies can ensure the water they are using is safe and effective.  Kroff’s strategy reduces the amount of fresh water withdrawn from natural resources. Most importantly, our strategy ensures that companies are compliant with strict state and federal environmental regulations," Donaldson says.
 
Kroff's growth and expansion is driving its anticipated hiring of up to 20 new professionals in a variety of disciplines in the next 12 months. The workforce currently stands at more than 100.
 
Source: Jeff Donaldson, Elias/Savion Advertising, Public Relations and Interactive for Kroff, Inc.
Writer: Elise Vider





Innovation Works invests nearly $3.7M in the first half of 2013

In the first half of 2013, Innovation Works (IW) put nearly $3.7 million to work for Southwestern PA technology companies through a variety of funding programs.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, ten new companies joined the portfolio and another ten existing portfolio companies received follow-on investment.  In total, the portfolio companies received nearly $2.7 million in investment from the IW seed fund during this time period. In addition, IW provided more than $565,000 in funding to commercialize promising technologies, including four Technology Commercialization Initiative projects for robotics and electronics companies and six grants made to universities to bring innovations out of their labs and into the marketplace.

AlphaLab, a program to fund and develop capital-efficient companies that can launch a technology product within a 20-week timeframe, completed two cycles of investment and intensive mentoring.  IW invested $400,000 in 16 AlphaLab companies in the first half of 2013.

Finally, the Innovation Adoption Program, which helps existing manufacturing companies use technology to gain competitive advantage, provided $31,000 to help a mature company specializing in industrial and commercial water treatment systems to develop a new product. 


First-Time Portfolio Company Seed Fund Investments:
Accel Diagnostics, LLC  
BoardBookit, Inc.
Digital Dream Labs, LLC
Inteligistics Inc.
Liquid X Printed Metals, Inc.
MyMedCoupons, LLC
PECA Labs
PoweredAnalytics, Inc.
The Efficiency Network, Inc. (TEN)
Wexford Farms Pet Food LLC

Portfolio Companies Receiving Follow-On Investment:
8020 Select
CommunityVibe Inc.
Cognition Therapeutics, Inc.
FutureDerm Inc.
HeadRight Games, LLC
LoyalTree
NewCare Solutions, LLC  
NoWait, Inc.
Propel IT, Inc.
Voci Technologies Incorporated

Technology Commercialization Initiative  
Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
Nanophoretics, LLC
Qualaris Healthcare Solutions, Inc.  
Rewyndr.com

Existing Manufacturers Innovation Adoption Program
All Water Systems, Inc.  

AlphaLab Winter/Spring Cycle
Digital Dream Labs, LLC
Meaningfy, Inc
NetBeez, Inc.
PoweredAnayltics, Inc.
Sole Power, LLC
Woo with Style
Workshirt, Inc.

AlphaLab Summer/Fall Cycle
AthleteTrax, LLC
BudgetSimple
Collected Inc.
Crowdasaurus  
Dropkicker  
MegaBits, LLC
ProfilePasser, Inc.
Spacefinity, Inc.
Wing Ma’am, LLC


Penn State invention covers multiple agricultural bases

Cover crops offer multiple agricultural benefits. But farmers have typically had to wait until after the fall harvest to plant among their primary crops – not ideal. "You wouldn’t be planting flowers around your house in November," says Corey Dillon, a grad student at the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
 
Now Dillon and Chris Houser, who recently completed his ag sciences master's, have made a significant contribution to the field with the invention of a machine that helps reduce the time, energy and costs of planting cover crops amid corn and soybeans. Their device plants cover crops, fertilizes the primary crop and sprays weeds, all in one pass and much earlier in the growing season.  (The pair is at work on a fourth, still secret, functionality.) 
 
Cover crops, often grass or clover, are increasingly recognized as a key element in sustainable agriculture. They help protect soil quality, prevent erosion, improve moisture retention, suppress weeds, boost yields and minimize runoff.  
 
With a patent pending, Dillon and Houser are moving towards commercializing their invention. They have built nine units, working with a Pennsylvania contract manufacturer. The so-called interseeder is being tested by the US Department of Agriculture, Cornell University, Penn State and elsewhere. 
 
With early coverage in trade publications, top prize of $7,500 at the recent Ben Franklin TechCelerator@StateCollege Boot Camp  and another $25,000 from Penn State's Research Applications for Innovation (RAIN) grant program, they have already sold two units to farmers in Clarion County and in Missouri and expect to launch a company, still unnamed, by fall in order to fill orders in time for spring planting. 
 
 
Source: Corey Dillon and Chris Houser
Writer: Elise Vider
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