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Regional Cleantech Open seeks next big ideas, entrepreneurs

The search to "find, fund and foster" entrepreneurs with big ideas in cleantech kicked off last week in the North Central region: the 2011 Cleantech Open.

The second annual business competition is a year-long program through which budding companies receive mentorship and training from local experts and gain exposure to investors. Participants compete in six cleantech categories: renewable energy, transportation, smart power and energy storage, energy efficiency, green building, and air/water/waste.

There are prizes for the regional winners, including the chance to compete in the national Cleantech Open for more than $250,000 in cash and services. The North Central region covers Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, new to the region for the 2011 competition.

Last year, the North Central region contestants outnumbered all other regions but California, with more than 30 collaborations and 200 contributing professionals.

All four 2010 semi-finalists received funding, notes Justin Kaster, Cleantech Open North Central regional director. They included Minnesota startups New Water and EarthClean Corporation, whose innovative and environmentally responsible fire suppression earned them the 2010 Minnesota Cup title, as well.

The competition helps "drive innovation, create jobs, foster early-stage investment, and teach a more sustainable way of doing business," says Kaster in a press release.

Entries for the Cleantech Open are now being accepted online, and the North Central region is recruiting professional volunteers to assist as mentors, judges, and program committee members.

Source: Cleantech Open
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Minneapolis among first orders for startupís U of M storm sewer device

It's a simple solution to a widespread problem: stormwater sediment.

The new startup Upstream Technologies is delivering the "SAFL Baffle"--a perforated stainless steel barrier that, once installed inside a manhole, traps debris like leaves and gravel while allowing water to flow through.

Developed at the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory (SAFL) of the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering, the baffle is a more cost-effective measure because of its simplicity.

"The current devices that are on the market have a lot of features that are generally not needed," says A.J. Schwidder, CEO of Upstream Technologies and an MBA student at the U of M.

Schwidder connected with co-inventor and civil engineering professor John Gulliver last summer at the university's Office of Technology Commercialization and soon after began to look into applications and markets for the new technology.

"The market looked big enough to justify starting a new company," says Schwidder.

Now in its third week since a Feb. 1 launch, Upstream has 20 orders for the $3,500 baffle--including four in Minneapolis and others in Prior Lake, Bloomington, and Blaine.

Schwidder, who has a background and degrees in civil engineering, believes cities are interested in long-term implementation. One is considering putting it into their 5-year sewer maintenance plan, he said, while another will use it to as part of their stormwater infiltration process.

Given the heavy winter, Schwidder expects installation to begin in April. In the meantime, Upstream is raising capital and taking in other orders. The company will focus on selling in the Upper Midwest, says Schwidder (particularly Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa), with plans for nationwide expansion in 2012.

At this time, manufacturing is subcontracted to Custom Fab Solutions. Both companies are based in Chanhassen.

Source: A.J. Schwidder, Upstream Technologies
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

U of Mís MnTAP launches web resource for green-curious businesses

In the course of its 25-year history, the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) at the University of Minnesota has helped companies reduce more than 383 million pounds of waste and emissions, with related cost savings of over $29 million.
In 2009, MnTAP responded to more than 1,000 requests from manufacturers in the industries in which it specializes.
But it was the calls from companies outside of its wheelhouse that led MnTAP to launch the new "Greening Your Business" section of its website.
While MnTAP's expertise lies mainly in manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, the web resource offers a more general starting place for the many other industries who came calling, says Assistant Director Krysta Larson.

The section consists of three main pages: Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation, and 12 "Tips for Going Green." Each page includes specific strategies and acts as a portal to case studies, related news, and other organizations and resources.
The 12 "tip" topics span the spectrum of environmental sustainability, including source and waste reduction, reuse/recycling, lean, green, LEED, and engaging in community environmental education.
Larson says the website is intended as a first step for inquiring companies. She ran through examples of some simple solutions, starting with the front-end practice of source reduction.
"While many environmental strategies focus on waste management once it has been generated," she says, source reduction addresses pollution prevention "by stopping the waste from actually being generated in the first place, so it doesn't have to be managed."

Source: Krysta Larson, MnTAP
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Pentair sees demand for water reuse systems in fast-growing global markets

Pentair expects water reuse systems like the one it installed at Target Field to be big business in certain fast-growing global markets.

Pentair CEO Randy Hogan spoke at a clean technology and renewable energy conference last week in New York, where he said the company forecasts that water reuse systems will become an $8.4 billion market by 2016.

Marketing drove the decision to install the water reuse system at Target Field, but in parts of India, China, and Latin America where clean water can be in short supply, economics will be the driver of demand.

Hogan compared on-site water treatment to wireless technology. Many newly developed countries skipped over wired infrastructure and focused instead on building wireless phone and internet infrastructure. Pentair predicts a similar trend is going to emerge around water supplies.

"They're going to go pipeless," Hogan said.

The economics of Target Field's water reuse system were good, says Hogan, but the math is far more compelling in places where population growth is outstripping (or already has outstripped) the supply of clean water.

The company is installing a graywater reuse system at a Ritz Carlton in Bangalore, India, that will be used for irrigation and sanitation. Meanwhile, Brazil is planning to incorporate water-reuse systems in seven new stadiums for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Hogan says Pentair hopes to win at least a few of those contracts.

Hogan also said Pentair doubled the number of new products it introduced in 2010, and it hopes to do the same in 2011. R&D grew to account for about 2.3 percent of the company's spending last year, and Hogan says they're on track to eventually increase that amount to 4 percent.

Source: Randy Hogan, Pentair
Writer: Dan Haugen

Peapods natural toy store moves to 3,000 sq. ft. St. Anthony Park location

Peapods, like a lot of its customers, is experiencing a growth spurt.

The natural toy and baby care store moved into a new, bigger space last week in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul.

Co-owner Dan Marshall says when the store's Snelling Avenue lease ran up, they wanted to buy a building instead of rent, in part so that they could make their retail space as environmentally sound as possible.

They settled on a former hardware store at 2290 Como Ave. The 3,000-square-foot store is about 50 percent larger than its previous Snelling Avenue location. It also moves them from a busy commercial corridor to a cozier feeling neighborhood, which they hope will appeal to customers.

"We were really drawn to the idea of being part of a community of small businesses and giving people more than one reason to come to the neighborhood and shop with us," says Marshall.

Peapods, which has eight employees, is known for carrying products like wood toys, cloth diapers and organic clothing. Marshall says they avoid selling things like mass-market plastic toys and instead focus on more environmentally friendly items.

Marshall is also known for his active role in the Handmade Toy Alliance, which is seeking to reform the testing and regulations for small, independent toy retailers and manufacturers.

The new store opened on January 6. Marshall says official grand opening events will be planned after they finish setting up and settling in.

Source: Dan Marshall, Peapods Natural Toys & Baby Care
Writer: Dan Haugen

Sen. Franken: "Green chemistry is the way forward."

Minnesota has an economic opportunity ahead of it in designing, developing and implementing less harmful chemical products.

That's the message of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum, which hosted a conference January 7 at the University of Minnesota covering topics from public health to environmental marketing.

Green chemistry is a term to describe the production of non-toxic or less toxic chemical products. Examples include plastics made with plant material instead of petroleum compounds.

"Green chemistry is the way forward," said Sen. Al Franken, one of several policy-making officials who spoke at the conference. He said Minnesota companies are already proving that we can create safer, healthier products without sacrificing quality.

One example: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, whose CEO Kevin Rutherford spoke earlier in the afternoon about the company's environmental philosophy.

"We really like to uncomplicate things," Rutherford said.

The company employs about 50 people in downtown Minneapolis, and it's managed to grow despite the economy, and the fact that it makes a premium-priced product.

Environmental marketing consultant Georgean Adams, a former 3M employee, spoke about the challenges of green marketing, including confusion about definitions and standards. Worldwide, more than 370 green-marketing logos are currently in use.

Bethany Drake, an environmental scientist with Green Seal, spoke about how its certification requirements evolve. It's designed so that no more than 20 percent of products in a certain category can qualify. So as certain green practices become industry standards, the bar is raised.

Members of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum include: Activeion, Aveda Corporation, Eureka Recycling, Segetis, and Tennant Company.

Source: Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum
Writer: Dan Haugen

Growing green jobs: Center for Energy & Environment adds 19 new jobs in 2010

The growth of a Minneapolis nonprofit in 2010 suggests that despite the rough economy there was still a market for helping people save money.

The Center for Energy and Environment added 19 new jobs last year. The organization specializes in managing energy-efficiency programs, a service they've seen increasing demand for, says program and policy manager Carl Nelson.

"In the last three to four years it's really been ramping up, and we've been doing it for 30 years," says Nelson. "We have a lot of the institutional knowledge, capacity, and ability to do these programs. We've been ready and able to meet this demand."

As a result, the Center has been a frequent partner for state, federal, and community energy-efficiency programs.

The 19 positions added in-house tell only part of the story. The full impact of its programs extends to several contractors that help implement efficiency upgrades. Using federal government guidelines for job creation estimates, the Center supported roughly 130 jobs through its largest program, a small-business lighting program it runs with Xcel Energy.

Nelson says the Center plans to calculate a more detailed job estimate later in 2011.

Source: Carl Nelson, Center for Energy and Environment
Writer: Dan Haugen

Green chemistry forum to spotlight Minnesota's current and future role in field

Minnesota is sprouting a green chemistry industry, and a forum at the University of Minnesota this week aims to fertilize it.

The Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum will host a conference on Friday, Jan. 7, called Adding Value Through Green Chemistry.

The event will feature speakers from 3M, Aveda, Ecolab, Segetis, Mrs. Meyers Clean Day--all companies that are using or developing products made with materials that reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous chemical substances.

"We're looking at this as a chance to profile what's going on in the state of Minnesota," says Tim Welle, renewable energy program manager for the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, a member of the Green Chemistry Forum.

Minnesota is at the forefront of the young green chemistry industry. It has academic and private sector expertise, with several companies already producing products made from green chemistry, many of which utilize plant materials as an alternative to petroleum-based chemicals.

The state has the potential to become an leader in the field because it has the expertise as well as the natural resources to support an industry, such as forestry and agriculture products.

The goal of the forum, says Welle, is to showcase what's happening today, as well as to get people thinking about the potential applications and long-term opportunities in Minnesota.

Source: Tim Welle, BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota
Writer: Dan Haugen

U of M's first-in-nation indoor solar simulator helps pull in $2.4M in research funds

A new, first-in-the-nation indoor solar simulator at the University of Minnesota is already pulling in millions in research funding for the school.

The equipment is set up in a roughly ten-by-ten-foot space in a windowless room at the College of Science and Engineering. It uses seven high-watt bulbs, the kind you'd find behind a movie theater projector, and focuses them with a set of special reflectors.

The light that comes off the reflectors can match the intensity of 3,000 suns.

"It's really a 'wow' kind of thing, to see that you can put a plate of steel in front of it and burn a hole that's about an inch in diameter pretty quick," says Jane Davidson, a mechanical engineering professor and one of the lead solar researchers.

Davidson and others will use the simulator to try to develop new methods and technology for capturing and storing the sun's energy with chemical reactions. The extreme heat can be used to convert water and carbon dioxide into synthetic hydrocarbon fuels. The challenge is finding ways to do so that are both practical and economical.

"The power of the facility and the ability to control it are really amazing, and it's going to be a wonderful way for us to proceed, in a very controlled laboratory setting, to develop these solar reactors," says Davidson.

The simulator cost about $450,000, but it's already brought in a couple of big grants. University researchers have won nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation and $1.4 million  in grants from the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Source: Jane Davidson, University of Minnesota
Writer: Dan Haugen

Vast Enterprises to turn recycled tires into Firestone roofing pavers

Vast Enterprises is best known for turning scrap tires and other recycled materials into composite masonry products. Now, a company best known to most people for its brand of tires is going to be turning Vast's products into a line of commercial roofing pavers.

Firestone Building Products, one of the world's largest suppliers of commercial roofing materials, announced last month that it's selected Vast as the exclusive manufacturer of its new Firestone SkyPaver composite roof pavers.

The private-label partnership is a big sign of acceptance for Vast's technology, and it also gives the company broad entry in the growing green-roof market. Vast CEO Andy Vander Woude says they'd like to see the Firestone work be a $10-million piece of business by 2015.

Vast was founded in 2006 and introduced its first line of products a year later. It makes deck and landscaping pavers from 95-percent post-consumer recycled material, largely plastic and tires. About a year ago it started seeking out customers to use its pavers on rooftops.

"We've had two very diametric market forces out there," says Vander Woude. "The first is explosive growth of green building. The other diametric force is the complete bottoming of the construction industry."

Vast has managed to grow throughout the construction downturn, through not as fast as it may have under better conditions, says Vander Woude. One bright spot has been green roofs; the market for them grew by more than 15 percent in 2009, and it's not just for environmental reasons. Building owners are also trying to maximize usable space by making roofs habitable.

These projects require a walkable surface be installed on the roof. Clay brick and concrete pavers are heavy and can be difficult to work with on rooftops. Vast's pavers weigh about one-third as much as conventional masonry products, making them a compelling option for green roofs.

The company, which was founded in 2006, employs nine people at its headquarters in Northeast Minneapolis and another six at its manufacturing facility in Crystal. The company is nearing completion on a round of financing and will likely hire more employees next year.

Source: Andy Vander Woude, Vast Enterprises
Writer: Dan Haugen

Deluxe Corp. ranks No. 3 on U.S. EPA list for green-power purchases

Deluxe Corp. is writing a check for renewable energy.

The Shoreview check printer and business services company recently turned up at No. 3 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of top green power purchasers in the printing industry.

In the 12 months ending Oct. 5, Deluxe Corp. bought wind energy certificates to cover 25.5 million kilowatt hours, or about 41 percent of its total electricity usage. Put another way, the green power purchase covers the electricity used to produce nearly all of its checks for financial institution customers, says Pete Godich, vice president of fulfillment for Deluxe Corp.

The credits were purchased through ConEdison Solutions and Renewable Choice Energy, which are similar to  Xcel Energy's WindSource program in Minnesota. Godich says purchasing renewable energy credits is the second piece of its two-pronged green energy strategy. The first was simply reducing energy consumption at its various facilities around the country.

 It's paying a little extra to buy electricity generated by wind farms, but its electricity bill is still shrinking because of energy conservation efforts. "Our investments in reducing our overall consumption across the enterprise far outweighs whatever nominal premium we pay for renewable energy," says Godich.

On one hand, it's just the right thing to do, says Godich. But there are also financial benefits to reducing energy use, and supporting renewable energy is something many employees and customers want.

"It's good for the community. It's good for Deluxe, in terms of our profit, and it's good for consumers and our employees as well," says Godich. "It's not often that we can find win on top of win on top of win, but that's what happened."

Source: Pete Godich, Deluxe Corp.
Writer: Dan Haugen

Stratasys 3D printing technology used to prototype ultra-green smart car

An Eden Prairie company has helped build a prototype of futuristic gas-electric hybrid car that gets better than 200 mpg.

Stratasys, which manufactures 3D printers and rapid-prototyping systems, printed all of the exterior components for Urbee, an ultra-green vehicle being developed by a Winnipeg engineer group called Kor Ecologic.

The car is the first to have its entire body created by a 3D printing process. The companies are showing off the prototype in Las Vegas this week at the 2010 SEMA Show, an annual automotive trade show.

Urbee aims to be one of the world's greenest and most fuel-efficient vehicles. The hybrid vehicle reaches better than 200 mpg highway and 100 mpg city. It runs on electricity and either gasoline or ethanol.

Jim Kor, president and chief technology officer for Kor Ecologic, said in a press release that Stratasys' technology made the design and prototyping process more efficient by eliminating tooling and machining steps.

Statasys is a public company with about 360 full-time employees. Its machines are used by designers and engineers in the aerospace, automotive, medical device and consumer product industries.

The company's technology was also used to help create another experimental green car, the T.25 City Car, which was unveiled in July.

Source: Joe Hiemenz, Stratasys
Writer: Dan Haugen

Vikings, Packers among Aurora Naturally's cold-weather skin cream customers

When the Vikings and Packers line up Sunday night at Lambeau Field, and temperatures are plunging toward 40 degrees Fahrenheit, both teams will likely have a made-in-Minneapolis product in their locker rooms to help them stay warm.

Aurora Naturally counts both teams as customers of its Warm Skin product, a cream that moisturizes and insulates skin, helping the body retain its own heat.

The small company came up with the product 25 years ago. At the time it was making a popular udder cream used by farmers on their cows. With a few alterations, founders Kathryn Frommer and David Schanfield were able to turn it into a product for people.

Since then, the product has been used by everyone from arctic explorers to offensive linemen. Ann Bancroft used the cream to help stay warm on trips to both the North and South poles. Mountaineer Neal Mueller used it on a climb of Mt. Everest.

"We have a lot of bragging rights," says Frommer.

The product is used in less extreme settings, too. Frommer says customers include outdoor photographers, high school ski teams, and other outdoorspeople.

Aurora Naturally employs five people in the Southeast Como neighborhood of Minneapolis. It just added a second distributor, natural product wholesaler Lotus Light, and was considering whether to add a national sales manager to its team.

The recession has had an impact on sales, says Frommer. Much of the companies revenue comes from packaging private label, natural personal care products. Warm Skin's success has largely been on word of mouth, which is why 25 years later they're still educating people about the product and finding new customers.

Source: Kathryn Frommer, Aurora Naturally
Writer: Dan Haugen

EarthClean adds $30K Cleantech Open prize to its trophy case

Another prize should help extinguish any doubts about EarthClean's potential.

The Minneapolis startup, which produces a non-toxic, biodegradable firefighting gel, was one of three winners named last week in the region's first annual Cleantech Open competition.

Other winners for the Cleantech Open North Central region were Xolve, a Platteville, Wisc., company that makes nanocoatings for energy generation and storage, and Silicon Solar Solutions of Rogers, Ark., whose technology improves silicon-based solar power cells.

NewWater, a startup that's using University of Minnesota technology to develop an atrazine filter for municipal water treatment plants, won given a regional sustainability award.

EarthClean (which we've previously written about here and here) was also the grand prize winner in this year's Minnesota Cup entrepreneur competition.

The field for the Cleantech Open North Central competition also included companies from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

"That's a really important part of the program, to connect all these different geographies and create this ecosystem across the entire Midwest," says regional director Justin Kastor.

The three winners will receive a prize package that includes cash and services worth up to $30,000. They'll also compete for a $250,000 prize at a Nov. 17 national competition.

Next year's North Central competition is likely to include companies from Ohio and Illinois as the Cleantech Open prepares to launch a separate Midwest division in 2012.

The organization aims to help create 100,000 green-collar jobs in the United States by 2015.

Source: Justin Kastor, Clean Tech Open
Writer: Dan Haugen

St. Paul solar installer says sales are up 50 percent from a year ago

A Twin Cities solar installer hit a growth spurt in 2010 thanks to lower prices and new rebates.

Innovative Power Systems
, which installs solar electric and solar thermal panels, as well as wind turbines, says sales are up about 50 percent compared to this time last year.

The company's growth had previously been averaging about 15 percent to 20 percent.

Sales manager Jamie Borell says the cost of solar electric panels has been cut in half over the past few years. Meanwhile, new state and federal incentives are covering more upfront costs.

The changes are making solar projects more accessible to middle-class budgets, he says.

"I think there's a growing awareness, as well, about where our electricity comes from, and people want cleaner options for their electricity," says Borell.

Since this time last year, the company has grown from 14 employees to 23 (including outside sales reps) and moved from southeast Minneapolis to the western edge of St. Paul. The new office and warehouse space gives it better freeway access and more room to grow.

Meanwhile, there's more competition for the 20-year-old solar pioneer. Borell estimates the number of solar installers in the Twin Cities has grown from about half a dozen a few years ago to more than 50 today. One factor besides the prices and rebates: the recession has pushed some electricians to update and diversify their skills with renewable energy.

Source: Jamie Borell, Innovative Power Systems
Writer: Dan Haugen
63 Green Jobs Articles | Page: | Show All
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