RIT is confronting the global challenges of sustainability through interdisciplinary programs that integrate engineering and science with economics and public policy.
The Venture Creations business incubator utilizes RIT's research and educational expertise to create new business opportunities and assist current incubator companies in business planning, research and development, and technology commercialization.
One of Venture Creations' central initiatives is the Clean Energy Incubator (CEI), a New York state funded program designed to assist early stage clean energy companies and promote regional economic development in alternative energy industries. The incubator, co-managed by RIT's Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS), is one of six statewide and was created in 2009 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) as part of the state's comprehensive clean energy initiative.
"These efforts in Rochester mirror NYSERDA initiatives across the state and signal a transformation of the economy and transportation sector to better address the needs and opportunities of clean energy processes and technologies," says Frank Murray, president and CEO of NYSERDA.
"Rochester has a tremendous potential to be a center for the growing clean energy economy and this incubator is enhancing continued economic development in a host of areas, including alternative fuels, wind energy, solar power, and fuel cell development," adds Mark Coleman, manager of technical development for the Clean Energy Incubator.
CEI assists firms in all aspects of business planning and also works to connect companies with technical expertise and facilities available through the Golisano Institute and RIT. Some of the services available through this relationship include nanomaterial analysis, intelligent testing and diagnostics, clean technology assessment, and design for manufacturing and assembly. GIS and RIT also have significant government and industry contacts and assist CEI companies in accessing state and federal funding and developing partnerships with industry.
"The Rochester Clean Energy Incubator is unique in the state because of the scientific, engineering, and development support we receive through our collaboration with GIS and the entire RIT academic and research innovation ecosystem," adds Coleman. "We can provide access to world-class labs and equipment that most of our tenants would otherwise be unable to afford, greatly enhancing technology development and ultimate commercialization."
Sweetwater Ethanol and Emerald Technologies are CEI companies that illustrate the unique advantages the incubator provides and the growing momentum for a more energy-efficient world.
One of the main barriers to the enhanced development and use of ethanol as a fuel source is the costs and efficiency losses associated with the actual process of transforming biomass into ethanol, including the movement of agricultural stocks from farms to refinery plants.
CEI firm Sweetwater Energy sought to address this by creating an entirely new model for harvesting and storing sugars from both starch-based and cellulosebased agricultural biomass. Instead of farmers drying their corn and trucking it to a refinery, the company's Sweet-Machines™ separate the water and sugar from the entire plant right on the farm. The sugars are then concentrated and shipped to ethanol refineries, chemical refineries, and jet fuel refineries, while the fibrous material either is used right on the farm as an animal feed or is pelletized for use as a fuel.
"Our system uses less water and less energy than conventional ethanol production and reduces the cost per gallon produced by 30 percent," notes Jerry Horton, founder and president of Sweetwater Energy. "It also eliminates the need for costly drying operations to prep the biomass and creates a more profitable revenue model for farmers."
When Horton initially contacted RIT, he was interested in creating an ethanol refinery complex. He discussed his plan with Richard DeMartino, director of RIT's Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who was concerned that Horton's plan might be overly ambitious.
"He encouraged me to work where my core knowledge is and connected me with two MBA students who helped me revise my business plan," Horton says.
Together, Horton and the two students realized the true value proposition Horton possessed was in his ability to produce liquid feedstock that could be sold to ethanol producers.
"We felt that my background in food processing and farming fit more into producing sugary feedstock than ethanol," he adds. "It was an area few other companies had gotten into and created a niche Sweetwater could exploit."
Horton then worked with the Golisano Institute to develop and optimize his production process, ultimately creating a system that was more efficient and less energy-intensive than previous processes.
The company is already marketing its sugar concentrate to numerous fuel producers and manufacturers and is also constructing a new re!nery and manufacturing facility that will allow it to move beyond the pilot stage and ramp up production.
"Sweetwater Energy and Emerald Technologies are a perfect example of how market opportunity and entrepreneurial drive can be combined with university resources to meet a central environmental need effecting society," adds Jones. "The results include improved environmental quality, a new company that produces jobs and tax dollars for the community, and an opportunity for RIT faculty, staff, and students to both play a role in developing new technology and reap the benefits of that technology."
Jeff Burke had an idea for a new business that could meet a growing market and environmental need in the information technologies (IT) sector.
Large computer data centers generate significant heat, and sophisticated cooling systems are necessary to prevent damage to the equipment. The overall energy use of these centers is a central cost and environmental issue as electricity is 10% of the total cost of ownership and emissions from data centers accounts for almost 15% of the total for the IT sector.
Burke, a former executive with Xerox and PAETEC with 25 years in the hightech industry, saw an opportunity in the commercialization of more energy-efficient cooling technology for use in all data centers. He formed Emerald Technologies to capitalize on the opportunity.
The company joined CEI in 2010 and has recently released its OptiCool™ Data Center Cooling Solution. The system uses an oil-free, pumped refrigerant and modular cooling unit design that increases cooling capacity, decreases overall energy use, and takes up significantly less floor space than traditional methods of cooling.
"Today, the most common form of data center cooling is Computer Room Air Conditioning, which is very inefficient and is largely based on technology developed in the 1970s," Burke says. "OptiCool has the potential to reduce data center energy consumption by up to 95% and increase equipment capacity by up to 100%."
Emerald Technologies is working with the RIT community to operationally showcase OptiCool on campus, reduce the university's overall energy use, and assist in achieving the President's Climate Commitment objectives. In addition, GIS resources have also assisted the company in submitting a grant proposal to NYSERDA to commercialize the Opti-Cool solution and ultimately assist other organizations with data center cooling efficiency across the state of New York.