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State gives $2M for sodium sulfur batteries meant to replace backup generators

A few years ago Alex Hillman, CEO of Connecticut alternative energy company Environmental Energy Solutions, partnered with a Pennsylvania company called Solar Development Group on a proposed solar panel installation project in Duncansville, south of Altoona. Now they're working with each other again on a venture to develop high-tech batteries that can store energy at places like police stations and hospitals.

That venture, Power Source LLC, is focused on 30-kilowatt sodium sulfur batteries about the size of a compact refrigerator. Customers that use renewable energy sources like wind and solar power will also be able to collect energy when it's windy or sunny out and use it when the weather is less cooperative. "Then you're not pulling it off the grid," Hillman says.

Alternatively, businesses that are closed during off-peak hours, like nights and weekends, will be able to use Power Source's technology to save money by drawing electricity from the grid during those hours and using stored energy from batteries during the day.

It's also notable that these sodium sulfur batteries should be available at one-third the cost of comparable lithium batteries, will be able to store twice the energy, and last three times as long.

Hillman says Environmental Energy Solutions' VP, scientist John Urbahn, designed the new battery technology and plans to move to northeastern PA to work with Power Source. A $2 million state grant will go toward developing these batteries for the market. Power Source plans to start production within three years.

Source: Alex Hillman, Power Source LLC
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Turkey Hill's new wind turbines powering production of beverages and ice cream

Anyone who's seen wind farms sprouting up along Pennsylvania highways can declare that wind turbines are nothing new. But most windmills are clustered in groups of 10, 20 or more.

The new wind turbines near the Turkey Hill Dairy in Lancaster County are different because there are just two of them. Still, the two 1.6-megawatt windmills, paid for in part with a $1.5 million state grant funded by the federal stimulus package, produce about one-quarter of the electricity Turkey Hill needs to produce ice cream, milk and iced tea. (They actually generated 32 percent of the dairy's electricity in February, their first full month of operation.)

The turbines are actually on land the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority owns next to the Susquehanna River. Their construction grew out of a partnership Turkey Hill had with PPL Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of the PPL electric company that serves the area. The authority and PPL had already worked together to develop a system to use waste methane gas from the authority's Frey Farm Landfill, located next to Turkey Hill, and turn it into electricity for the dairy and other customers to use.

Steve Gabrielle, director of asset management and development at PPL Renewable Energy, says it made sense to explore building wind turbines or solar panels nearby. Research showed that the best course of action was to build two wind turbines far enough from the banks of the Susquehanna, in deference to birds that migrate through the property.

Sources: Turkey Hill; Steve Gabrielle, PPL Renewable Energy
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Philly solar conversion company among highlights of Cleantech Investment Forum

Clean technology is a big draw for potential investors. Several hundred people gathered at the Academy of Natural Sciences on March 31 for the 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum. Sponsored by Blank Rome Counselors at Law, the Academy and Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, investor panels discussing the future of renewable energy, clean water, recycling and waste disposal were followed by presentations from area entrepreneurs.

On hand were members of the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings. Williams J. Agate leads the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, developing and managing the Philadelphia Navy Yard, which is now in the process of creating a smart grid energy master plan.

The Fostering Cleantech Investment Panel included Kevin Brophy, of Meidlinger Partners, who talked about the future of clean water investment, and said that while innovation in the field came from the middle cap, the greatest opportunity for future investments is in the huge lower cap market. Also on the panel were Gary Golding, from Edison Ventures, who addressed rapidly improving awareness of water issues, Arun Kapoor of SJF Ventures, who mentioned 100 percent Pennsylvania wind provider Community Energy, and Josh Wolfe, the founding partner of Lux Capital. Wolfe described Lux as an early stage high risk venture fund valued at $100 million, and had a different take on the market than his fellow panelists, explaining that Lux focuses on companies that are long on human ingenuity and short on government rationality. Passing on biofuel, nuclear and natural gas investments, Lux is instead investing in nuclear waste management, calling it the energy industry's biggest unsolved problem.

The only presenting entrepreneur based in the immediate Philadelphia area is solar power conversion company Alencon Systems, Inc. Now in the research and development stage, Alencon addresses the problem of energy efficiency with large scale photovoltaic systems, which are currently created by aggregating multiple small systems. Alencon, which was borne of research at Rowan University, aims to simplify solar and wind power systems from distributed harvesting to centralized conversion. With a prototype already built and tested, Alencon slates projected sales of its streamlined systems at $45 million by 2014.

Source: 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum
Writer: Sue Spolan

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PPL will pay customers to help them use less power on hot summer days

How would you like to get paid a little extra to use less electricity?

If PPL Electric Utilities is your power supplier, you can do just that. But there's one catch: you have to give the electric company the ability to turn off your heat pump or air-conditioning unit.

Customers who enroll in the E-Power Peak Saver program will have a digital device connected to their air conditioning units or heat pumps. When energy use hits peak demand on hot summer days, the device will tell the compressor on a customer's unit to run half the time it normally would. The units are operated remotely and receive a signal commanding the reduced consumption when demand on the grid hits a critical point.

PPL spokesman Joe Nixon says the difference in temperature is a negligible degree or two. In return, customers will be paid $8 per month. E-Power Peak Saver is available to residential customers, as well as some businesses, in PPL's coverage area in parts of central and eastern Pennsylvania.

Nixon explains that the program is part of the company's push to comply with a state law requiring a 4.5 percent reduction in utilities' peak demand by June 2013. Other utilities, including the Philadelphia area's PECO, offer similar programs.

Source: Joe Nixon, PPL Electric Utilities
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

New program at Clarion University's Oil City campus to train natural-gas workers

Forecasts from one study say that natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation will be responsible for 111,000 jobs in Pennsylvania by the end of this year. But as people who live in northern, central and western PA can tell by looking at license plates in their communities, plenty of those jobs are now being done by workers from heavy drilling states like Oklahoma and Texas.

Dr. Bill Hallock, chairman of the applied technology department at Clarion University-Venango Campus, says that if more Pennsylvania residents were trained for natural-gas jobs, energy companies could hire them rather than importing workers from the country's midsection and putting them up in hotels. That's why the Clarion University campus in Oil City is launching a new associate's degree program in natural gas technology.

The first classes in the program will start in June and will run through December 2012 without a summer break. That means students will be able to earn their degrees in 19 months rather than two years. Chances are they'll be able to land jobs right away, starting at $20 per hour.

"These guys can make some serious money if they're willing to work," Hallock says.

While developing the program, Clarion worked with the Precision Manufacturing Institute, a Meadville school that teaches skills for manufacturing.

Since the program at Clarion's Venango Campus combines practical and academic coursework, Hallock says they'll be prepared to move up to supervisory jobs as they gain experience in the field.

Source: Dr. Bill Hallock, Clarion University
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Could an electric-car charging station be coming to a supermarket near you?

It turns out that Pennsylvania has a big potential market for electric cars, and a San Diego firm plans to build stations where drivers can plug them in.

350Green, which designs and runs networks of electric vehicle charging stations, is preparing to build a total of 66 of these stations in Pennsylvania. At least in the beginning they will be in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and surrounding areas. Co-founder and CEO Mariana Gerzanych says exact locations haven't been decided yet, but the charging stations will be at grocery stores and shopping centers, where people park their vehicles long enough to charge the batteries.

The company estimates that about 33,000 electric vehicles will be on Pennsylvania roads by 2015. Those numbers are based on U.S. Census data, studies by automobile companies and academic research. Right now 350Green plans to start building Pennsylvania's charging stations in the second half of this year. Gerzanych says a more specific date hasn't been set because 350Green wants the stations to come online around the time that electric cars show up, and the vehicles tend to become available once charging-station plans are announced.

350Green currently has projects underway in Chicago and the San Francisco area. Its work in PA is its first venture on the East Coast, and Gerzanych says the state could be great for establishing a presence throughout the mid-Atlantic. "At some point, I envision being able to connect to New York and Maryland," she says.

350Green's proposal also calls for a Philadelphia-area office that would employ six people to manage the network.

Source: Mariana Gerzanych, 350Green
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Allentown startup putting zero-emission electric utility trucks on American roads

In this year's State of the Union address, President Obama said he wants America to have 1 million electric vehicles by 2015. And nothing is stopping medium-duty trucks from being counted among those electric vehicles of the future.

So says Rich Serio of ZeroTruck, which is moving into the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center business incubator in Allentown.

ZeroTruck's vehicles use a lithium ion battery pack instead of a standard internal combustion engine, so they have no carbon emissions. The company is targeting those who use medium-sized trucks, like utilities, delivery companies and municipal customers. Since they can last up to 100 miles on a charge, Serio says his company's vehicles are perfect for customers who drive trucks around populated areas where they're never far away from a place to recharge.

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania recently gave ZeroTruck a $250,000 investment, which Serio says will go toward developing a prototype for a new, more energy efficient transmission. Over the next year or two ZeroTruck plans to produce and test this prototype and bring it to market.

It's also fitting that ZeroTruck's new home, the Bridgeworks, is a former Mack Trucks plant. The company, which has three employees now, hopes to hire at least another dozen by summer. Given its proximity to Mack, Serio predicts Allentown will be a great source of workers experienced in truck manufacturing.

One of ZeroTruck's vehicles is already on the road in Santa Monica, Calif., where the city bought one for its air quality and water department. The company is working through other orders and talking with other potential customers, Serio says.

Source: Rich Serio, ZeroTruck
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Voila, it's Veolia: Philly's steam loop provider changes name, maintains efficient heat processes

Philadelphia is a steamy city, and the proof is issuing out of all those vents. This week, Veolia Energy North America announced the completion of the transition that renames Philly's steam loop provider from Trigen to Veolia. The Center City steam loop is a green idea from way back in the late 1800s, when the Edison Electric Light Company (now PECO) realized it could repurpose exhaust steam from its plant at 9th and Sansom Streets to heat the nearby Irving House on Walnut Street. The system grew to a total of 26 miles of underground pipes.

The synergy was such a success that cities around the country adopted the steam loop concept. Currently, 300 Philly buildings utilize Veolia's steam heat. The highest profile building, literally, is the Comcast Center. According to Mike Smedley, Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic Region for Veolia Energy North America, the tower's "utilization of district energy was one factor that contributed to its status as the tallest LEED-certified building in the US."

Why the name change? Smedley says that the Trigen brand name is only known for district energy, while the Veolia name is synonymous with creative environmental solutions. Not only does Veolia supply steam heat, but it's also pretty chill: the company also "built, owns and operates a 7,000-ton chilled water facility for Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital."

Traditionally, says Smedley, the production of heat and power are separate processes that are energy inefficient because a large portion of fuel burned is lost as waste heat. In contrast, Veolia's combined heat and power (CHP) plant recycles waste heat, and converts it into useful thermal energy. By combining the processes using CHP, says Smedley, Veolia can produce thermal and electrical energy using up to 40 percent less fuel than if the two forms of energy were produced separately.

Source: Mike Smedley, Veolia Energy North America
Writer: Sue Spolan

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Survey of businesses in and around northwest PA to show transportation needs

Erie owe much of its role in history to its port on the Great Lake, but importers and exporters in the region are more likely to use the port in Baltimore – roughly seven hours away by truck.

So far that's one of the most surprising findings from a survey being conducted by those behind the Erie Inland Port initiative, a project aimed at improving transportation and shipping in a 12-county area covering parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. So far more than 200 businesses in Pennsylvania have completed the online survey, and the Economic Development Corporation of Erie County is now asking those in New York and Ohio to complete it.

One of the project's main goals is to reduce the time and money manufacturers have to spend to get their goods to market (northwest PA exports five shipping containers for each one it takes in). As it turns out, Pennsylvania's top three exports appear to be lumber, metals and small manufactured goods.

So far it appears that one piece of this initiative, a 400-acre industrial and logistics park with connections to three railroad lines, would go a long way toward making the ports in Erie and nearby Conneaut, Ohio, more attractive. And, as project manager Rachel McCreary points out, improved access to ports and rail takes trucks off the highway, reducing carbon emissions and impact on roads.

Organizers are also in the process of building the Erie Shippers Association, a group of those involved in shipping and logistics in the region. McCreary says this group will address workforce and education issues.

Source: Rachel McCreary, Economic Development Corporation of Erie County
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Seven NEPA companies take home combined $875,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners

The BioCookie, streaming audio, mobile language translation and electronic trucks are among the technologies supported by the $875,000 round of funding raked in by seven companies from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to a news release issued on Wednesday.

Investments made from Ben Franklin's operating funds went to BioSample Solutions ($70,000) in Bethlehem, Pivitec LLC ($70,000) in Coplay, Prova Systems ($35,000) in Carbondale, and RantNetwork Inc. ($50,000) in Bloomsburg.

BioSample will use the money to complete development and begin commercialization of its BioCookie, a new proprietary sample preperation technique for DNA and RNA extraction technology. Pivitec will complete design of four hardware products and one software control application for developing audio streaming and distribution products. Prova manufactures a wireless diagnostic device that allows real-time field management of vehicles. RantNetwork will expand marketing and development initiatives of its Communicator application for language translation in mobile phones.

Ben Franklin made three investments through its Alternative Energy Development Program--Electrikus Incorporated ($150,000) in Bethlehem, Hydro Recovery ($250,000) in Blossburg, ZeroTruck Corporation ($250,000) in Allentown.

Electrikus will use the funds to produce an initial batch of up to 100 refrigerator power backup units and begin marketing. Hydro Recovery will establish a manufacturing plant in Tioga County to treat water used in natural gas exploration. ZeroTruck will complete develoment of its proprietary continuous variable transmission for medium-duty, all-electric trucks.

Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Ben Franklin funds $2M to seven Southeast PA firms on heels of Early Stage Venture Showcase

The visionary folks at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA have been as busy as the companies they support.

The highly successful economic development program announced on Monday a total of $1,975,000 to seven early stage companies with promising technology innovations. The companies included Ambler's Bioconnect Systems Inc. ($500,000), Glen Mills' Holganix LLC ($250,000), Devon's LiftDNA Inc. ($250,000), West Chester's LoSo Inc. ($125,000), Bala Cynwyd's Orion Security LSP, LLC ($200,000), Malvern's Quanta Technologies, Inc. ($250,000), and Malvern's Valence Process Equipment ($400,000).

Last Thursday, 21 other companies strutted their stuff in front of potential money as Ben Franklin partnered with Greater Philadelphia Venture Investors and the University City Science Center to host its annual Early Stage Venture Showcase at the Navy Yard. The event was open only to investors; angels, venture capitalists, and individual investors packed the room. Upstairs, the highly popular IT/Physical Science/Clean Technology track companies presented; downstairs, Life Sciences entrepreneurs told their stories to a much smaller crowd.

Ryan Caplan, of ColdLight Solutions, opened with a strong presentation highlighting his company's impressive proprietary Neuron platform, which offers automated data analysis derived from artificial intelligence, leading to highly targeted recommendations for retail, pharmaceutical and communications applications. Another standout was the aforementioned Holganix, an organic fertilizer company which is already servicing some massive lawns in its first year of business, including Longwood Gardens. The Holganix process unlocks already existing nitrogen from the soil and air through biological means and dramatically reduces the need for pesticides.

Downstairs a smaller but tougher crowd checked out Science Center tenants BeneLein Technologies, which uses a bioprocess to create generic antibiotics, and Vascular Magnetics, which hopes to develop a magnetic nanotechnology treatment for peripheral artery disease.

Doug Leinen, founder of BeneLein, says that he has not received direct feedback from investors. Richard Genzer, who attended the Venture Showcase on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Angel Group, reports that he has taken further action with three companies.

Source: Doug Leinen, BeneLein, Richard Genzer, Mid-Altantic Angel Group
Writer: Sue Spolan

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Clean Technology Resource Center provides guidance for alternative energy use and commercialization

Small business owners statewide have heard a lot about alternative energy, but it can be difficult to figure out how they might best be able to use it.

Enter the Clean Technology Resource Center, run out of the Penn State Small Business Development Center. The center, which opened last April, helps businesses across the state that want to use alternative energy sources like geothermal or wind power. The center's director, Heather Fennessey, says it's able to point business owners toward government subsidies for alternative energy use and provide guidance on the best sources of clean power. Businesses benefit from working with an organization that isn't interested in selling a product, Fennessey says.

"If you call a vendor and say, 'I want solar panels,' and they're a solar vendor, of course they're going to say 'OK,' " she says.

Since the center opened it has helped about 45 business owners, including a Snyder County turkey farmer who is now able to generate heat from the birds' bedding.

The center also works with Pennsylvania companies that want to introduce new clean energy technologies to the marketplace, although Fennessey says she can't give any examples.

Next month the resource center is hosting an educational event called the Pennsylvania Clean Technology Forum in Harrisburg. It's also planning informational webinars in the future, Fennessey says.

Source: Heather Fennessey, Clean Technology Resource Center
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Upcoming hearing will give senators information about windmills in Lake Erie

Various wind turbine developers have expressed interest in building windmills off of Pennsylvania's Lake Erie coastline, and they would have to secure leases from the state allowing them to do that. Problem is, right now there aren't any standards for what these leases would involve.

That’s why two state senators are hosting a public hearing about wind energy off the Lake Erie shore. Sens. Jane Earll of Erie County and Mary Jo White, whose district includes pieces of six northwestern PA counties, will put on the March 14 hearing at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center near Presque Isle State Park.

Regina Smith, Earll's special projects coordinator, says the hearing will give lawmakers information about the possible effects of offshore windmills before they start the process of writing legislation to allow them. A bill concerning offshore wind turbines was introduced before the current legislative session started in January, but it died before becoming law.

The full slate of speakers hasn't been confirmed yet, but Smith expects there to be representation from industry groups, environmental activists and state agencies. People who want to express their opinions on the issue can also send their thoughts by e-mail or postal mail.

"We’d like to hear from all sides," Smith says. "We do want to know how people are feeling about this."

Source: Regina Smith, office of Sen. Jane Earll
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Craigslist for manure: Free website connects buyers and sellers of biomass and compost

Have some manure to get rid of? In the market for switchgrass to convert to fuel? If you're in the Keystone State, you might want to bookmark the Pennsylvania Biomass Trader on your Internet browser.

The free website is a sort of classified ad service for people looking to buy or sell materials that could be turned into energy or compost. It's run by the state Small Business Development Centers, which also run a similar website, the Pennsylvania Material Trader, a resource for those in the market for everything from scrap paper to medical supplies.

The Biomass Trader grew out of another website just for those looking to buy and sell animal manure. "A lot of people were interested in manure not just for fertilizer, but as an energy source," explains Nancy Crickman, who runs the Small Business Development Centers' Environmental Management Assistance Program.

The site has been up for about a year, but Crickman still considers it a new initiative because it's not useful unless enough people take advantage of it.

"It's a free resource, and the more it's used, the better for everyone," she says.

So far the Biomass Trader has about 160 members, and it has hosted about 150 listings. Users include a Juniata County buyer in search of scrap wood, a State College supplier looking to sell switchgrass and several farmers with horse manure to give away.

Source: Nancy Crickman, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

New energy-focused continuing education programs coming to Luzerne County

CAN DO, an economic development group in Hazleton, already has a service to help businesses in Luzerne County and the surrounding area cope with rising electricity costs. Through its Energy Solutions program, CAN DO has screened energy auditors, wind power firms and other providers before recommending them to prospective customers.

Now, the Energy Solutions initiative has resulted in a partnership between CAN DO and Penn State's Hazleton campus, which recently started offering a bachelor's degree program in general engineering.
Unlike other engineering programs in the Penn State system, Hazleton's focuses on alternative energy and electricity generation. The idea is to train students to work in fields with increasing local prominence, like renewable energy and natural gas drilling.

Along with the bachelor's degree curriculum, CAN DO and Penn State Hazleton are offering continuing education programs. The first two, scheduled for March, will focus on pumping systems and the basic principles of electricity.

"We're training the existing workforce and preparing the future workforce," says Bernie DeBias, director of the Energy Solutions program.

In the future, DeBias says Penn State and CAN DO will develop education programs based on regional companies' training needs.

Source: Bernie DeBias, CAN DO
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen
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