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Pittsburgh Zoo brings aquarium walls to life with learning about animals

The Pittsburgh Zoo has unleashed an interactive wall of fun and learning in the aquarium this summer. The kids are on it like seals to sardines. 
“It’s amazing how the little ones know exactly how the touchscreens work,” says Amy O'Neill, development coordinator for the Zoo. “It’s great for all ages, although the kids are probably helping out their grandparents.”
Gone are the monitors of old. In their place is a wall with six 42-inch high-def touchscreens. Children and families are encouraged to touch the map and interact with it as they learn about the animals and the areas of the world where they live. 
Circles on the screens reveal what species of fish live beneath the waters in different parts of the world. Children learn about the zoo’s water conservation programs and tips on how to save water at home.
Another part of the wall features a game similar to "Where's Waldo?" with watery wonders hidden in a floor-to-ceiling mural. The mural was created by local illustrator Dave Klug, a contributor to national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Nickelodeon and Highlights for Children.  
The great thing about advanced technology is it transcends a photograph or a stagnant paragraph on the wall, O'Neill says. “We are able to build learning in layers, drilling down to provide visual information or offer a quick video clips. 
“We hope it will encourage people to take a closer look, maybe go back to see something in the exhibit they may have missed.”
The wall highlights projects and research underway through the PPG Conservation and Sustainability Fund, a program that supports research worldwide that has helped save sea turtles, coral and polar bears.
Garrison Hughes worked with local vendors for the interactive programming and construction of the exhibit, which was funded in part through PPG’s new 10-year, $7 million partnership with the zoo. 

"This exhibit combines technology, education and fun all in one. It appeals to kids and keeps them busy, and hopefully gives parents a little break at the same time," adds Bill Garrison. 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Amy O'Neill, Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium

Idea Foundry launches InterSector, a new program for social enterprises

Working with promising startups like Optimus Technologies and eMetrics got MaryBeth Guzzetta of Idea Foundry to thinking. 

Pittsburgh is rich in opportunities for tech startups. Solid models exist to support them.  But what about the growing number of for-profit companies that have, at their core, a more social mission? 

“More and more of these companies were coming through our door,” says Guzzetta. “When Thread came to us with this BIG idea to turn waste into jobs in Haiti, we thought, well, this is about as big a risk as we'll be presented with.  Let's give it a go and learn as much as we can about how to build a social enterprise. If it works out, we'll pursue this formally.  And that's what happened.”

InterSector was born, an Idea Foundry initiative that supports the growth of the social enterprise sector in Pittsburgh. These are businesses that offer social, environmental and financial benefits to stakeholders that include customers, investors, employees and the communities in which they operate.

The program is a precursor to Idea Foundry’s Idea Transformation Fellowship Program (ITF), which has helped launch more than 90 technology companies in the last nine years through its proven model of hands-on business development, capital investment and business mentoring.

"We're seeing more and more start ups that view profit as good and necessary, but as just one leg of the stool,” explains Guzzetta who has taken the reins as director of the program. “They want to use business to create meaningful change in people's lives. 

“These companies are beginning to be embraced by investors, Impact Investors, who are willing to be patient and measure their return in not just financial terms but also in the impact the company makes socially and environmentally.”

The first startup officially accepted into the program is urban farming and composting company Steel City Soils.

Revenue makes a company self-sustaining, but a successful social enterprise will also provide sustained positive change in areas such as job creation and wealth building, natural resource use and reuse, environmental protection and improvement, education and health initiatives, and sustainable local food systems, Guzzetta adds.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: MaryBeth Guzzetta, Idea Foundry

Consol embarks on a frack water treatment project with Epiphany Solar Water Systems

Southpointe-based Consol Energy has invested $500,000 in Epiphany Solar Water Systems of New Castle as part of a plan to pilot the solar-powered system to treat frack water from gas drilling.

The pilot will take place at one of Consol’s Marcellus gas well locations in Greene County. The investment gives Consol a minority equity interest in the company.

Epiphany, which made its debut at the Pittsburgh G-20 in 2009 when it passed out bottles of treated water drawn from the Monongahela, has been working on the technical aspects of cleaning production frack water for the last two years, says Ron Pettengill, executive vice president of Epiphany.

“This is harder to deal with and has more waste stream than the immediate flowback water,” conceded Pettengill. “Overall this means less risk, less pollution in the atmosphere and fewer trucks on the road.” 

The process is two-stages. The Epiphany process removes minerals and heavy metals from the fluid in the first stage. Solids will be contained, dried and disposed of according to state regulations. 

Clean brine that remains is processed in the second stage using concentrated solar power (heat). The by-products, distilled water and salt, may be reused. The treated water is "drinkable," although it's distilled, flat and has little taste says  Pettengill.

The process will be powered by direct solar energy. Exton, Pa.-based PMC Biotech will assist Epiphany with bio-filtration during the first stage of the process, which involves a bacteria that eats and traps waste products in industrial applications, says Pettengill. 

Epiphany has hired five people and expects to double in size by the end of the summer with a total of 15-20 employees, he adds. The process is expected to reduce costs for Consol, reduce the number of trucks carrying waste product from the site and reduce the amount of water needed for drilling.

"The exciting thing is it’s a real business application for Consol. This could be scaled up. There's so much opportunity to the extent we can mitigate a number of issues that people are concerned about."

"We view Epiphany as another facet of our water management growth strategy, and are very excited about the potential of this green technology and its application to multiple water treatment opportunities," said Nicholas DeIuliis in a prepared statement.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ron Pettengill, Epiphany Solar Water Systems

Drilling and Drinking Water: Projects monitor the health of local streams and private well water

Water testing of streams and tributaries that fed the Mon is underway in response to mounting concerns surrounding groundwater contamination by the gas drilling industry and other sources.
Easy-to-follow guidelines for monitoring the drinking quality of private water wells located near drilling sites is now available too.
The Mountain Watershed Association in Donegal has received two grants totaling $201,000 from The Pittsburgh Foundation and Colcom Foundation for the purchase of 51 dataloggers to monitor streams in Westmoreland, Fayette, Somerset and beyond.
MWA is collecting data on an ongoing basis to establish baseline readings for streams in the watershed. If the readings raise a red flag, further testing will determine the chemical nature of the contaminants, which will go a long way toward identifying the exact source of the pollution problem.
"Keep in mind that the water from this area feeds not only the Yough but the Mon," says Beverly Braverman, executive director of MWA. "If the tributaries here are contaminated, it will end up in the public drinking water supply in Pittsburgh." 
In addition, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPAEHP) has released guidelines for monitoring and testing of private wells in the region.   
While private water well quality is not regulated in the U.S., the wells should be tested annually. Wells located in close proximity to active gas drilling should be tested before activity begins and weekly while the drilling is taking place, says SWPAEHP. 
The report, “Well Water Contamination: SWPA-EHP Ranking System and Monitoring Strategy” offers residents a inexpensive monitoring strategy as well as guidance on what to do when a problem is indicated. 
Residents may also sign up with the PA DEP e-notice program to receive an alert notice when drilling permits have been issued in your area so you will know what activities are taking place near your homes.
“Compliance with state and federal standards is not sufficient to assess the safety of drinking water from private wells near natural gas industrial activities,” said SWPA-EHP toxicologist, Dr. David Brown. “The large number of chemicals used and the lack of knowledge of the compounding effects of multiple chemicals in the water points to the need for a much more thorough strategy.”
SWPA-EHP is funded by The Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Claneil Foundation. 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Beverly Braverman, MWA, SWPA-EHP

How green is your business or company? Sustainable Pittsburgh tells all June 21st at Phipps

Looking to build a cleaner and greener business or company? 
“Smart Energy Use for a Healthier Business Climate and Clean Air” will be held in one of the most environmentally friendly places on the planet, Phipps Conservatory, on Thursday, June 21, from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The event, part of Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Champions for Sustainability (C4S) business network, will bring together local and national industry leaders who will share insights and practical advice on smarter ways to use energy and save money.
In addition, attendees will receive an update on the Leaderboard of companies engaged in the Green Workplace Challenge. Keynote speaker, Jon Creyts, program director for the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), will discuss how business-led solutions are creating a sustainable energy economy in a talk entitled, “Reinventing Fire.” 
The Breathe Project will also be featured, a coalition of residents, businesses, government and other groups in southwestern Pennsylvania who are working together to clean up the air for the health of families and the economy.
 “The private sector has been a leading force in Southwestern Pennsylvania’s transformation from its industrial past to a present-day diverse economy and improved quality of life," says Matt Mahalik of Sustainable Pittsburgh. "One remaining challenge is the region’s air quality.  The good news is that there are short-term, bottom line economic benefits to implementing practices that simultaneously save money and improve air quality."
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Mahalik, Ginette Vinski, Sustainable Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh company building a $250 million trash-to-energy plant in Haiti

Pittsburgh-based International Electric Power (IEP) has signed an agreement with the Haitian government to build a $250 million plant that will convert waste into energy, create 2,000 skilled local jobs and supply the residents with a greener source of electricity.
This marks the first major public/ private partnership with the government of Haiti since the devastating 2010 earthquake, says Edward Rawson, vice president of development for IEP. 
Called Project Phoenix, the operation will not only help to clear the waste-strewn streets of Port-au-Prince, a major health problem, but supply the country with a renewable fuel source, jobs and cleaner air. 
It will also protect the aquifer and coastal waters in the region from contamination.
IEP has assembled a world-class team of Haitian and international companies to complete the project. Two operations will be established. 
Ros Roca of Spain, the largest manufacturer of waste collection systems in the world, is a partner in the effort to remove trash in the seven municipalities of greater Port-au-Prince, with the assistance of the government and private collectors. 
IEP will build the state-of-the-art, waste management and power facility on 400 acres of land about 18 km north of Port-au- Prince, providing 30 megawatts of electricity to residents.
Only 40% of all trash in the city is currently collected, resulting in high rates of tuberculosis and related health issues, says Rawson who has spent years in Haiti as both a volunteer and IEP team member. 

Rawson's Pittsburgh family has been involved in helping the people of Haiti for years. His father, Ian Rawson, is the managing director of Hopital Albert Schweitzer. His mother raises funds for the Hopital and is involved with a project to plant millions of trees in Haiti. His grandparents, Larimer Mellon Jr. and Gwen Grant Mellon, established Hopital Albert Schweitzer in 1956.
"When you drive around Haiti, the trash in the street causes traffic jams," he adds. "About  1,600 tons of trash are produced in Port-au-Prince every day. Much of it is burned in people's homes, or ends up in canals. No one can keep up with it."
Not only will the trash issue be addressed, but a recycling program will be established, existing landfills will be lined and a composting system will sell to local farmers. The project will employ 2,000 people directly and another 8,000 indirectly.
IEP, a for-profit, privately held energy company based downtown in Gateway Two, has strong ties to Haiti and other developing nations, such as Pakistan, where it does business. A five-member team from Pittsburgh has been working on the project for the past two years.
"Our motto is doing well by doing good," says Rawson. "We are working in countries where most people don't want to work because of the risk. Our goal is to create and do things that are good for the country."
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ed Rawson, IEP

Image of waste strewn streets in Haiti courtesy of IEP

Pittsburgh as a startup? Join Pop City at CEOs for Cities conference in Cincinnati

In a January opinion piece in TechCrunch, entrepreneur Jon Bischke suggests that the most successful urban leaders are those who view cities like startups.

CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders dedicated to creating next generation cities, will explore that premise at its 2012 Spring National Meeting: The City As a Startup--Creating Demand, Attracting Talent, Taking Risks and Going to Scale. And Pop City will be there.

The meeting is set for May 17-18 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Former AOL Chairman and CEO Steve Case will deliver the morning keynote and will appear on a panel conversation about Startup America.

CEOs for Cities will also release its latest City Vitals report, a framework for measuring the success of cities. Look for more info in Pop City to follow.

Other panels include considering Songdo, South Korea as the planet's smartest city and using the collective impact approach to catalyze social change. There will also be tours of Cincinnati attractions and examples of urban success.
View a draft agenda here and then register here .

The conference is made possible with support from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.

Join Sandra Steingraber for "The Whole Fracking Enchilada" this Earth Day

It was Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" that pushed Sandra Steingraber from the lab to the realm of science writing.
While the book was her father's armistice, it was Steingraber's call to arms, she says. Today she is an internationally recognized ecologist, writer and cancer survivor who travels the continent addressing the connection between the environment, cancer and human health. 
She's also a Lorax of sorts, a voice of reason in a world that needs more scientific advocates who can intelligently address these issues. Chatham College, Rachel Carson's alma mater, chose Steingraber as the 2001 recipient of its biennial Rachel Carson Leadership Award. 
So it is with a nod to Earth Day that Steingraber comes to Washington & Jefferson College for a lecture at the Olin Fine Arts Center April 24 at 7 p.m.
Steingraber rose to national prominence with her book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, which looks at  cancer as a poignant human rights issue. The book, now a documentary movie, follows the author for a year as she travels across the continent addressing audiences on the science of health and the environment. 
She is outspoken on the topic of Marcellus Shale drilling, calling hydrofracking the environmental issue of the 21st century in a well written piece for Orion magazine, "The Whole Fracking Enchilada.
"It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads," she writes. "It's worth setting down… whatever instrument you're holding and looking out the window."
She has received many honors for her work as a science writer. She was named a Ms. Magazine Women and The Sierra Club has called her "the new Rachel Carson" in addition to the nod she received from Chatham College, Carson's alma mater.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Sandra Steingraber; Washington & Jefferson

Image courtesy of Sandra Steingraber

Pittsburgh's Energy Innovation Center breaking ground this summer

The Energy Innovation Center overlooking downtown Pittsburgh from the Hill District is a study in sustainable enterprise and community-wide partnership. 
Formerly known as the Connelley Trade School, the EIC is moving forward with plans to become a hub for green workforce development and a test lab and demonstration area for sustainable technologies. The LEED-Gold project is estimated at $45 million.
Development plans were in a holding pattern while issues were resolved involving the building's status on the National Register of Historic Places, an important component given the $6 million-worth in "historic" tax credits.
After negotiating and compromising on several architectural elements, the NRHP signed off, paving the way to complete construction documents this May; bids will go out in June and construction should start in July says Tom Bartnik, executive director of Pittsburgh Green Innovators.
The building is presently in the first phase of deconstruction. Trainees and volunteers have helped to keep about 540 cubic yards of material, fixtures and furnishings out of the landfill, says Bartnik. The material is being resold through Construction Junction and donated to Storehouse for Teachers and ACTION-Housing Pittsburgh Greenhouse in East Liberty.
"It's been a win-win situation all around," says Bartnik. "We're not only saving money on dumpster costs, but we're providing furnishings for other nonprofits."
On the programming side, Bartnik is working with local unions and educational institutions to line up tenants. Local 95 engineers are taking classroom and lab space and plan to use the building itself as a teaching tool to experiment with building systems and technologies.
Pittsburgh Gateways has received "serious letters of intent" for 60,000 square-feet out of the 80,000 square-feet available in the first phase of the project. Several educational institutions and private companies, including Eaton, CMU and CCAC, have indicated interest in lab and teaching space. 
"We're not looking to recreate the wheel and brand new programs," says Bartnik. "The idea is to bring resources and programs together; the building's success will revolve around how much synergy there is in the building." 
Pittsburgh Gateways Corp. purchased the 233,822-square-foot building from the Pittsburgh Public Schools in July 2011.  The project has the support of numerous organizations, agencies, leaders and Pittsburgh nonprofits.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Bartnik, Pittsburgh Green Innovators

Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Green Innovators

Google Pittsburgh's rooftop garden offers workers exceptionally green eating

Google Pittsburgh's rooftop terrace is a garden of planter boxes of herbs and tomatoes flourishing alongside cucumbers and sweet potatoes. Nearby, an apiary swarms with 30,000 bees harvesting honey. 
"How local can we get?" asks Craig Robbins, director of dining services for Parkhurst Dining in Pittsburgh. "We're growing terrace lettuce 20 yards away."
Google is a global company, but it depends on the local growing community to stock the company's five micro-kitchens with vegetables, healthy snacks, organic dairy and fruits for the more than 200 employees who eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on the job. 
Not only is nearly everything locally grown, but the kitchen is working towards zero waste, says Lee Keener, executive chef. 
"Pittsburgh is an important place for our food programs team because the office really sets the gold standard," says Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg, senior communications associate with Google. "The office boasts the highest local purchasing percentage in our entire company."   
The poultry and beef is part of the “Never Ever” program, protein that has never been touched by antibiotics and hormones, and are humanely treated and humanely slaughtered. 
Farms and vendors include: Logan Family Farms, Turner Dairy, Penn's Corner Farmer's Alliance, Laurel Hill Trout Farm, Red Ribbon Soda, Gluuteny (Pittsburgh’s Gluten Free Bakery) and Coffee Tree Roasters. 
All food and oils are composted and recycled when possible, working with AgreCycle and ReFuel Pittsburgh. Surplus food is donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Foodbank. 
Zero Waste Pittsburgh and Duquesne University also conducted a study of the Google office to determine the chances of getting a food service facility to zero waste. Google was among the first to receive Zero Waste certification. 
"We control everything we need to control" says Keener. 
"Our goal is to provide the highest quality food we can, nutritionally balanced, authentically prepared, while encouraging employees to collaborate amongst each other and talk," adds Robbins.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Lee Keener, Craig Robbins and Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg for Google

Duquesne professor's invention churns plastic bottles into thatch for roofs

Imagine a simple machine that turns plastic bottles into a thatch-like roofing material in sun-baked, developing countries.
Duquesne University business professor David Saiia has invented a tabletop lathe, similar to a hand-cranked apple corer, which shreds empty plastic bottles into long coils of plastic. The plastic is then straightened and layered like thatch from bamboo rafters on the roof. 
It could be a transformative project in developing countries, says Saiia, associate professor of strategic management and sustainability.  Saiia was investigating sustainable enterprises for the small farmers of the Macquipucuna region in Ecuador when he hit on the idea, sketching it on the back of a napkin.
Plastic thatch not only reuses virgin plastic efficiently, it will create jobs and is a far superior roofing material. 
Unlike the corrugated metal or fiberglass roofing found in the southern hemisphere, plastic thatch is porous, allowing hot air, heat and smoke to escape, creating a cooler environment inside the home. It's also quieter during heavy rainstorms, lets in light and last 10 times longer than organic thatch.    
Saiia raised an initial $60,000 through the Lemelson Foundation to produce a prototype in Ecuador with the help of students in Duquesne’s MBA Sustainability program. The students conducted an analysis for launching the product.
A nonprofit was created, The Reuse Everything Institute, through which Saiia hopes to raise additional funds. The next step is to hire an engineer to build the next generation of the machine.  
"It's a very low tech design now, but it works," he says. "I'd like to make it mobile, mount it on a truck and run it on biodiesel." 
Potentially, it could be used to create roofing for emergency relief work and in areas recovering from disaster. The project could also create business opportunities for local entrepreneurs in regions like the fragile cloud forest of Ecuador. 
Source: David Saiia, Duquesne University

Image courtesy of Duquesne University

East End product designer Daedalus growing, hiring

Innovator Daedalus has tackled and designed an impressive range of projects.
Consider Bilichek, a handheld medical device developed for Philips Healthcare. The device and incorporated graphical interface is used by hospitals to accurately screen and analyze newborns for jaundice without the need for an invasive blood test.   
There's a sustainable water bottle machine, advanced by local startup Evive, which washes standard stainless steel water bottles and fills them with clean water, eliminating the need to purchase pre-packaged bottled-water. Daedalus was behind the research, design and engineering and is now building pilot prototypes; the machines will be placed on college campuses. 
Daedalus has worked with local startups and global Fortune 50 companies. An Alcoa aluminium car jack. The Cleanwater Infant Tub by 4Moms, which monitors the temperature of the clean water streaming into the tub on an LED screen. Medical injectors for Medrad that are state-of-the-art,easy-to-use and improve the state of healthcare. 
The work is a process that incorporates engineering and science, art, and careful observation, explains Matt Beale, president. The firm's work tends to focus on safety products, industrial tools, scientific instrumentation, home health care and medical devices, improving the function and appeal of products that make everyday life safer and more efficient.
Daedalus was founded in 1979 by Tim Cunningham and has grown steadily to 21 people today. The firm merged with Excel Technologies (a spinoff of Thermo Fisher Scientific) in 2000, jump starting the growth of the engineering side of the business. Beale joined Daedalus in 1988 and runs the firm with two partners: Drew Degentesh and former Excel president Rob Parks.

The company is currently experiencing significant growth and hiring, looking for industrial designers, interface designers, mechanical engineers, software engineers, electrical engineers.
"Local and national clients like to know that we can take care of a project from start to finish, or just help out if they are short-handed," says Beale. "The economy in Pittsburgh has also been better than the economy in much of the country. We never saw the down-side of the recession; so it's been a good place for us to do business."
A winner of numerous awards for innovative designs, Daedalus most recently won a 2012 Carnegie Science Award for Corporate Innovation this week.
Source: Matt Beale, Daedalus

Fill 'er up or charge it? Optimus expands the biofuel sector

Yesterday Colin Huwyler was collecting used cooking oil in a renovated garage in Braddock. Fossil Fuel was the start of the growing biofuel business.
Today Huwlyer, wearing a coat and tie, is busy with two thriving businesses. While Fossil Free is working on fuel processing and opening biofuel fueling stations in the region, Optimus Technologies on Penn Avenue designs and manufactures fueling systems for industrial and commercial clients with the help of funding from state DEP and Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities (PRCC).
The momentum has shifted from passenger to industrial or commercial vehicles, says Huwyler, an expansion that magnifies the benefits of biofuel. "When you look at a company using 20,000 gallons of fuel a year, they're able to save a significant amount more than an individual."
The Pittsburgh region is in the midst of evaluating its alternative fuel/energy options, says Huwyler. Optimus is working with Giant Eagle and the City of Pittsburgh to install biofuel systems in commercial and city vehicles. (Both are also using CNG vehicles.)
The company also has a key partnership with the Operating Engineers Union to install systems on off-road equipment, such as bulldozers and road pavers, offering access to even more companies.
"The biggest challenge (for us) is convincing someone the technology works," says Huwyler. "This allows them to touch, feel and play with the system. It’s a huge step for us."
Optimus currently employs four full-time and one part-time person. The company hopes to find investors to recruit and expand manufacturing operations in the coming year. 
The growth of the regional biofuel business dovetails with the continued expansion of the infrastructure to support vehicles using compressed natural gas (CNG) from shale drilling and electric batteries.  
"What we're seeing is a trend toward using a mix of strategies," says Huwyler. "No company should put its eggs all in one basket. The biggest challenge is the infrastructure, making sure filling stations are available and accessible." 
Pittsburgh currently is has more electric car charging stations than the rest of the state.  A $1 million DEP grant will establish 17 charging stations on the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Ohio to New Jersey by July 2013 (see the PRCC map). Another 45 charging stations will be located along I-376 with funding from the DEP, PRCC and Eaton Corp.
In CNG news, two natural gas pipelines got a green light in the last month. Enterprise Product Partners has secured contracts to construct a 1,200+ mile pipeline to transport ethane extracted from Marcellus and Utica wells from Washington County to the south.  Spectra Energy Corp. also received federal approval for a pipeline expansion to funnel shale gas through Greene County to points on the East Coast. The company has contracts with Range Resources and Chesapeake Energy. More CNG gas stations are planned as well. 
PRCC is hosting a Compressed Natural Gas Vehicle Expo on Thursday, Jan. 13th to educate companies and the public on the future of CNG in the region. 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Colin Huwyler, Optimus Technologies; Rick Price, PRCC

A high-energy workout that powers your appliances? It must be ZeroFossil

Steven Kovacik calls himself a mad scientist, especially when it comes to energy.
"Being creative and inventive runs in the family," says the Canonsburg native and graduate of University of Pittsburgh. After spending several years as a plastics chemical engineer, working in industry, Kovacik decided to channel his own creative energy into a business that was "more fruitful for the earth." 
He bought the innovation subsidiary of his father's firm, Kova Enterprises, and founded ZeroFossil, a Munhall-based company developing power generation systems that harness the free energy around us, from the sun to wind, water, and yes, human power.

It puts a whole new spin on the high-energy workout.  
Two renewable energy storage units are the centerpiece of the products. The Integrator is an off-grid or grid-tie in power system for the home, cabin or small business that stores solar, wind, hydro-electric or human power. The JuiceBox is a miniature version of the Integrator, a plug and play perfect for camping, tailgating or an apartment. Both units come with solar panels but run off several types of renewable energy. 
That's where the Bikerator comes in, an assessory that fits any adult bicycle and captures energy and stores it while you peddle.
"If you're going to workout, you might as well capture the energy and use it," explains Kovacik. "A forty-five minute workout on the Bikerator will generate a five or six hour run time on your refrigerator."
While the products are expensive--the Integrator sells for $5,000 and the JuiceBox $1500--the costs should decline in time as the manufacturing process becomes more streamlined, he says. 
In the meantime, ZeroFossil is helping several area businesses, non-profits and Occupy Pittsburgh. The startup powered the Carrie Furnace Tours offered by the Rivers of Steel Heritage Foundation. It will light up the big glass block corner staircase on the Ohringer Building in Braddock. Occupy Pittsburgh has benefited from a Bikerator/JuiceBox combo that ran the media and medical tents.
While ZeroFossil is just starting out, Kovacik has a vision for the future. He hopes to hire several craftspeople and engineers on the manufacturing side. All components will be sourced domestically. 
"I spent 10 years watching jobs move overseas. I want to be very diligent about making this company as domestic as possible. Ninety-five percent of all my components are from North America," he says.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Steven Kovacik, ZeroFossil

Axion Power revs up renewables with the PowerCube, predicts major hiring and growth

Axion Power's PowerCube is going where few batteries have gone before, storing and providing electrical power (and renewable energy) to utilities, industries, hybrid cars and locomotives.
The New Castle based manufacturer has spent the last seven years developing the revolutionary battery based on patented PbC Technology, a unique system that captures energy and provides short-term storage, including wind and solar generated energy, for utility-scale energy producers. 
Axion's PowerCube is a 99% recyclable lead battery that lasts up to four times longer than advanced lead acid batteries and promises improved performance and lower energy costs. 
"The missing link has always been storage," explains Tom Granville, CEO. "Without storage, when a wind farm generates power it cannot store, it goes off into space. The same thing happens with solar.
"We respond in microseconds to the need (of industries), allowing plants that run on grid power to switch to battery power. It smoothes out those peaks and valleys and allows industry to function at an even level. If we can plug this gap, they (industries) can shut down turbines, reduce emissions and conserve energy."
Axion, founded in 2003 by nine investors, is based on research initially developed in Toronto, Canada. The company operates two manufacturing plants, one in the former New Castle Battery Company, and employs 90 people. Axion reported revenues of $9 million in 2011 and expects to top $10 million next year, projecting company growth, hiring and expansion. 
The system is currently used by one of the largest regional transmission organizations in the world, PJM Interconnection, which services more than 650 companies and 51 million customers. 
A recent change in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulations paved the way for the PowerCube's use off the grid, Granville explains. Philadelphia-based Viridity Energy provides the software that manages the use of the PowerCube. 
In addition to industrial uses, the PowerCube is targeting the huge, emerging microhybrid car and locomotive market, especially in Europe, says Granville.
"It's exciting for us to find a great work ethic here, people who want to work," says Granville. "Many have suggested that we take the company overseas, but quality control is important to us. For that reason, we plan on growing right where we are." 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Granville, Axion Power
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