When the founders of Keen Home needed independent testing of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning enhancement that they were developing, they contacted the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (P2I). Keen Home was incubated at the NYU-Poly ACRE Incubator based at the Urban Future Lab in Brooklyn, which referred Keen Home to P2I.
Keen Home, now based in Manhattan, manufactures the Smart Vent System, which is designed to enhance user comfort and energy efficiency within a building or house. As a startup with its product still under development, Keen Home wanted to get third-party validation of its system to share with potential clients such as utility companies and home builders, said Nayeem Hussain, co-founder and CEO.
P2I conducted its own testing and shared the results with Keen Home.
“I would encourage any entrepreneurs or companies looking to provide a clean tech product to leverage this resource because they ended up coming in very cost efficiently as well as providing some really timely services to us,” Hussain said.
P2I works solely with New York state-based companies. “Our mandate is both environmental improvement and economic development, and that’s why the state is interested in our help to businesses,” said Charles Ruffing, director of P2I, which is located in Louise Slaughter Hall at RIT. With help from P2I’s staff of 15 and the opportunity to tap into other experts at RIT, companies can reduce their environmental impact, save money, or grow their customer base by touting proven environmental performance or improvements.
As more large companies, like Walmart, become environmentally conscious, smaller companies that want to be suppliers “find it’s in their best interest to be able to tell a good environmental story both about themselves and the products they are selling to these suppliers,” Ruffing noted. More consumers, too, are seeking products from companies that utilize sustainable practices.
P2I’s work with companies has traditionally fallen within three defined areas: Direct Assistance, Green Technology Accelerator Center, and Sustainable Supply Chain. Direct Assistance focuses on finding cost-effective solutions for areas such as reducing toxicity and waste, and conserving and recycling water.
Experts in the Green Technology Accelerator Center may be called upon to provide independent third-party product testing and evaluation, environmental and energy impact evaluations, assessments of market viability and life cycle, and competitive product benchmarking.
With regard to the Sustainable Supply Chain, P2I experts help identify ways a company can be more competitively positioned. Projects can include supply chain assessments and development of frameworks for management systems; sustainable sourcing and procurement policies; and supplier tracking, documentation, and sustainability metrics.
Now in its ninth year, P2I has developed a track record in various segments of the market, such as metal finishers, where it has helped several companies reduce water usage, Ruffing said.
One area occupying a lot of P2I’s current “mindshare,” as Ruffing put it, is helping entities deal with food waste. That’s because New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for legislation that would prohibit large generators of food waste (about two tons per week) from depositing it in landfills. But there’s limited infrastructure in place for dealing with that amount of food waste, Ruffing said. So P2I’s staff is working to improve and expand the options such as composting and anaerobic digestion through business assistance and research. Staff also are visiting food waste generators, such as universities and supermarkets, to audit their practices.
P2I also is working with small businesses, such as auto body shops, in the New York City area, where the effects of climate change could be devastating to bodies of water nearby.
Thanks to New York state’s funding, businesses pay only a modest amount of the project’s total cost, Ruffing said. Typical project costs range from $20,000 to $40,000 and are completed in three to six months.
P2I, which is funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, is a consortium of four higher education institutions: RIT (lead entity), University at Buffalo, Clarkson University, and Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute. While most of the funds that P2I receives from the state go to its work with businesses, some monies go toward research and development projects at those four institutions. An independent panel of judges evaluates proposals and picks the grantees.
Another portion of the state funding goes toward community grants, issued to groups and nonprofits with environmental missions. Proposals must resonate with the mission of P2I, have measurable outcomes, and be scalable across the state. About 12 to 15 grants are awarded annually; the highest awards are about $20,000, Ruffing said.
Here’s a look at three businesses that P2I has assisted in recent years:
Prior to approaching P2I for evaluating its Smart Vent System, Keen Home had already conducted testing in multiple homes across the country. For a test site/ home in New Jersey, P2I experts designed and executed an independent assessment that evaluated the energy savings and occupant comfort of using a pre-production version of the Smart Vent System versus a baseline forced air system.
P2I engineers installed sensors to measure the inside temperature and energy usage during the summer months of 2015. After analyzing and extrapolating the data, P2I found that the Smart Vent did not require more energy usage to deliver a higher level of comfort. “Comfort increased while energy usage stayed the same,” Hussain said. Keen Home’s product development at the time of the evaluation was “about 70 percent of the way there.” Hussain added, “I’m very confident had we run that study now, we’d be able to show not only increased comfort but also decreased energy usage, rather than increased comfort with flat energy usage.”
Keen Home shipped more than 30,000 Smart Vent units in 2016. The third-party valuation from P2I has helped Keen Home executives get their foot in the door with potential partners, such as large utility companies, Hussain said. Another invaluable aspect of working with P2I was the “generous subsidization” from New York state for the testing, Hussain said. Other third-party quotes were 10 to 20 times more than what P2I charged.
Rick Slattery, veteran golf course superintendent at Locust Hill Country Club in suburban Rochester, N.Y., is proud that the course’s environmental efforts have resulted in it being named a Certified Audubon Sanctuary by Audubon International.
That led to Locust Hill being named to the group New York Environmental Leaders (NYEL), by which the state recognizes businesses and organizations that not only are in compliance with environmental regulations and laws but also are committed to future environmental performance improvements.
But Slattery wasn’t ready to rest on those laurels. In its evaluation, Audubon had identified a gap with regard to the washing of the mowers. Although the current practice was in compliance, wastewater from the washing was being sent through an underground tank and discharged into a wooded area.
Slattery wanted to find ways to develop a closed-loop system to recycle the wastewater, he said. Such a system costs “six figures easily” and was unaffordable. NYEL connected Slattery to P2I. Engineers determined that one way to keep the cost down was to reduce the amount of water being used, so first engineers measured the volume of water being used and then looked for ways to decrease it. “We started using air to blow the (grass) clippings off first, so that reduced the amount of rinsing water by half,” Slattery said.
The next step was to test various nozzles to find one that could cut the volume in half but still be effective, Slattery said. Ultimately, P2I engineers identified certain flow restrictors and nozzles that reduced water flow by 50 percent without significantly affecting cleaning time and quality. Engineers also determined that recycling the water did not need to result in pure water for effective cleaning, so not needing complete purifying would reduce the cost of a closed-loop system.
Since the testing in the summer of 2015, Slattery’s crew now uses a flow restrictor and nozzle identified by P2I, thus resulting in Locust Hill using 25 percent less water. Slattery hopes to get a prototype built to recycle the water, and he’s in discussion with Cornell University and the New York State Turfgrass Association to achieve that.
Ecovative is a biological materials company that produces packaging materials that are alternatives to plastics and foam.
To do this, Ecovative uses domestic and locally sourced agricultural byproducts, feedstocks, and mycelium (mushroom roots). Gavin McIntyre, co-founder and chief scientist, said his company, which grows its own materials, wanted to know its environmental impact such as energy consumption, environmental health, water usage, and greenhouse gases.
P2I worked with Ecovative to do a lifecycle assessment—for example, measuring energy usage of its pasteurization and drying processes. One key finding was that Ecovative’s convection drying process was its biggest energy hog, McIntyre said. The company has explored the use of microwave technology, which is far more energy efficient.
P2I also looked at the environmental impact of transporting some of Ecovative’s materials, which were coming from Texas to its facility in Green Island, north of Albany, N.Y. Today the company sources these materials from within 50 miles of its facility.
The P2I assessment helps support Ecovative’s marketing claims that it uses less energy and has a smaller environmental footprint than manufacturing of traditional plastics, McIntyre said. That’s important to its customers, which include Dell computers and manufacturers of items that vary from tabletops to industrial goods to lightbulbs.
The process went so well that Ecovative asked P2I to work with them on testing Mushroom Packaging parts to achieve certification for a home compost ability of their materials, another feature that customers wanted, McIntyre said.