by: Chris Shapard, Executive Director, Colorado Cleantech Industries Association
The cleantech industry is on the move. Having weathered growth challenges common to all new industries, cleantech is busy expanding its reach and influence across more traditional industry sectors. In Colorado, we are seeing unique partnerships between cleantech and traditional energy companies as they work together to lessen the environmental impact of fuel and energy production. We’re watching cleantech move into agriculture and manufacturing to increase efficiency while decreasing waste. Long the proponent of advanced energy solutions, the State’s immense defense installations are proving their cleantech leadership in off-the-grid thinking. With advanced industries looking for creative, energy and earth sensitive opportunities to increase profits while respecting the environment, we’re finding cleantech at a technological and collaborative crossroads.
Colorado is one of the principal states leading this evolution, demonstrating that the combination of expert business leadership, innovative technologies and creative insights across several industries creates the largest impact. Cleantech is now at a crossroads, where the industry is intersecting with other advanced trades including information technology (IT), engineering, agriculture, traditional energy, defense and manufacturing. Essentially, cleantech is becoming an enabling technology, similar to IT in the past.
Cleantech and Traditional Energy
Instead of separating renewable energy and fossil fuels into silos, the two industries are now working together to make traditional energy cleaner and more efficient than ever before. Since this mindset has shifted toward collaboration, many companies have stepped up to help move this new segment forward.
One Colorado cleantech company is working with the natural gas industry to develop a better water monitoring process for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations. OptiEnz Sensors makes this process faster, cheaper and more efficient for oil and gas companies by bringing the lab to the fracking site and testing organic chemicals in water real time. The standard practice for water management and reuse in the oil and gas industry is what OpitEnz Sensors Vice President of Business Development Jeff Lints calls “very old fashioned,” as it can take weeks to get results from water samples sent to separate laboratories.
“I am a huge believer in the potential of the energy sector, specifically oil and gas,” said Lints. “But the industry can do a better job of earning our communities’ social license to operate. I believe that many of the problems with field operations — if not all of them — can be solved with straightforward engineering solutions that allow risks to be regulated and improved to meet the communities’ needs and expectations. OptiEnz can aid in that effort and help people trust that these field operations are safe.”
As a pressing issue for the U.S. and especially Colorado, the water retrieved from oil and gas wells that has been used for fracking needs to be properly purified to be put back into the environment or used in other productive ways. This contaminated water is very controversial within the traditional energy space. Avivid Water out of Longmont, Colo., is looking to more effectively clean that water.
Avivid’s technology uses a chemical-free method of continuously treating water to rid it of suspended solids, heavy metals, oils, gas and hydrocarbons at a rate of 50 to 500 gallons per minute. The company’s process is highly effective in the fracking industry but is also used to clean water from abandoned and active mines, which has, for many years, been a detriment to the environment.
Cleantech and IT
With the amount of new energy entering the power grid, it only makes sense that IT companies play a role in managing energy use and expenditure. Spirae is one of the companies working to manage the power grid to better manage various new energy sources and integrate large amounts of renewable energy. Its technology manages energy resources such as solar photovoltaics and energy storage devices (large-scale batteries), to optimize resources and ensure reliable electricity supply.
Spirae’s technology was a vital part of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, which was one of the largest smart grid testing projects in the nation. Eleven utilities collaborated with several technology companies to integrate new energy sources and use their capabilities to benefit the power grid. “Spirae’s primary benefit is that it helps utility companies integrate large amounts of renewable energy and manage distributed energy resources with minimal disruption to utility operations,” said Julie Zinn, the chief operating officer at Spirae.
Similarly, wireless controls company Fabriq is working to manage electricity usage with cloud technology. According to Fabriq’s CEO Mark Verheyen, a company can reduce up to 65 percent of its lighting energy consumption by automating lighting. Fabriq provides a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service solution for commercial office buildings, that enables an affordable retrofit of a building’s lighting system. “Once this technology is installed in a building to automate lighting, it is very easy to connect other energy loads to the same system. We are basically providing a platform for full building energy management,” said Verheyen.
Boulder-based Tendril provides a cloud-based Energy Services Management (ESM) Platform to help utilities deliver personalized energy services to their customers. The Tendril ESM Platform provides the infrastructure and analytics required for utility companies to better communicate with their customers, and help them understand and reduce their energy usage.
With Tendril, energy providers gain access to a wealth of customer data, such as demographic data, past program participation, home audit information, and energy consumption and generation data. Tendril’s platform leverages all of this “big data” to help utilities and their customers save about two to three percent of energy use, which is equal to 20,000 to 30,000 homes being completely off the grid, according to Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck.
Cleantech and Agriculture
The agriculture industry is one that many people have not previously associated with clean technology, however it can benefit substantially from principles of reduced waste and cleaner water supplies. Agribotix, for instance, uses drone technology to evaluate agricultural properties in an effort to identify plants that are stressed by too little fertilizer, too little water, insect infestation or weeds.
The drones can identify plant stress about two weeks before farmers can see it from the ground. The drones can also help a farmer better target where fertilizer or weed abatement activities are needed. This targeted knowledge allows the farmer to use fewer chemicals, which, down the road, means fewer chemicals in the ground and in our water. When farming hundreds to thousands of acres of land, this view from above can be invaluable.
“The pressure on farmers has intensified dramatically over the last several years as the costs of seeds, water and fertilizer continue to rise,” said Wayne Greenberg, co-founder of Agribotix. “The demand for increasing yields is also on the rise, so the need for farmers to closely monitor their crops is imperative.”
In the livestock business, the cleanliness of water plays a vital role in the health of dairy cows, cattle, swine and poultry. Silver Bullet Water Treatment’s patented technology harnesses nature’s own process to condition water and improve its performance for animal farming operations. This leads to the reduction of harmful bacteria in drinking water for livestock and improved performance and lower maintenance of the water distribution system. Silver Bullet’s technology is used on some of the largest farming operations in North America.
“Our mission at Silver Bullet is to deploy our water conditioning technologies that save water, energy and life to positively impact the world. In agriculture, this translates to treating and conditioning animal drinking without the use of toxic chemicals in order to create safer work environments, minimize the negative impact of environmental toxins, create a healthier herd and help make farming operations more productive in order to feed more people,” said Murray Smith, chief sales and marketing officer at Silver Bullet.
Cleantech and Defense
Large military bases often house their own power grids, water supplies, governance and population. This is true for Ft. Carson Army base in southern Colorado, which is so large that it is the state’s 14th largest city. Ft. Carson was one of two installations working to achieve total Net Zero status in three areas — energy, water and waste — by the year 2020. Net Zero means that the Army base can produce as much sustainable energy on site as they use.
This is a huge endeavor for the base, which is growing at a rapid rate. In the last 10 years, Ft. Carson has gone from 16,000 to 26,000 troops, and at its peak requires 39 megawatts of energy for a total of $2 million in monthly utility bills. “It’s about security — economic security, environmental security and national security,” said Vince Guthrie, utility programs manager at Ft. Carson. “These are the factors driving this program. Energy is a big part of our budget. We need it to achieve our mission, and we realize that it has environmental implications. That is why the government realized that the U.S. Army needed to lead this effort.”
To achieve Net Zero, the base is focused on efficiency first, including energy efficient lighting and LEED construction on several of its new buildings. Their goal is to reduce energy usage by 37.5 percent by 2020. Fort Carson is on track to meet this goal and has already reduced their energy usage by 17 percent. In addition, the base has one of the highest concentrations of LEED buildings anywhere, including 30 LEED Silver, 34 LEED Gold and two LEED Platinum buildings.
Cleantech and Manufacturing
Colorado’s manufacturing and cleantech industries cross paths in important ways. The actual manufacturing of clean technologies – from wind turbines, to efficient lighting to solar inverters is a key growth area for Colorado companies. In addition, the development of cleaner, more efficient manufacturing processes and facilities is proving to be an opportunity to improve the bottom line and enhance employee morale.
TerraLUX manufactures advanced LED technologies with the goal to replace existing fixtures with more energy efficient ones. One hundred percent of the company’s focus is on general illumination markets, with specific expertise in commercial common areas where lights burn 24 hours a day. This includes the floor lighting and sconces for hotel chains, hospitals, municipal buildings, multifamily housing and university campuses. As hallway lights use 40 percent of all energy at a hospital, advanced lighting technology can have a major impact on budgets and conservation.
“In just the last few years, LED technology has advanced so far when it comes to efficiency, efficacy and cost,” said Steve Hane, president and CEO at TerraLUX. “These advances motivate companies to turn to LED, as the advantages are very apparent from an economic standpoint.” TerraLUX can achieve 50 to 80 percent energy savings by retrofitting LED lights in existing buildings.
Limtronik USA, Inc. is the domestic arm of an international contract manufacturing solutions provider headquartered in Limburg, Germany. Based in Aurora, CO, Limtronik USA, Inc. specializes in complex, electromechanical assembly provision of sub-systems and turnkey products for multiple industry verticals. Limtronik provides contract manufacturing, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing services.Operating from a 45,000 square foot facility, Limtronik primarily services the energy sector, specifically renewable and clean non-renewable companies, with advanced manufacturing expertise.
“We are an authorized de-manufacturer of electronic assemblies and devices,” said Kris Roy, general manager of Limtronik USA. “Additionally we place significant focus on clean and sustainable practices within our manufacturing processes by minimizing and recycling manufacturing waste, utilizing sustainable methodologies across all areas of our operation and implementing energy saving devices in the factory.”
Executives in these industries are leading the way in cleantech collaboration. Those who have backgrounds in traditional energy, IT, manufacturing and other areas understand the importance of making those industries cleaner and more efficient with less impact on the environment. By partnering with cleantech firms, these executives are bringing new energy management, use and reuse ideas to the table.
Key to any industry, large or small, is the ability to find and implement creative partnering strategies that are vital to growing in-house innovation and seizing new market opportunities. Whether through entrepreneurs with fresh ideas, research laboratories introducing novel technologies, or the evolution of existing products, industries of all types are looking to cleantech as a way to incorporate innovation into new and legacy products or processes while generating new revenue sources. Through collaborative relationships between cleantech and IT, engineering, agriculture, traditional energy, defense and manufacturing, cross-industry opportunities are developing to help drive new revenue sources while making advanced industries cleaner, more efficient and more effective.
Author: Chris Shapard, Executive Director, Colorado Cleantech Industries Association