“We’re taking a new approach to Demo Day this year. The event will be much bigger than anything we’ve done in the past,” said NEXUS-NY Executive Director Doug Buerkle. “It’s going to be more of a public celebration with a live band, local beer and food trucks!”
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the researchers at Clarkson University who are tackling real problems and changing the world with their innovative clean energy technology. Join us in celebrating their accomplishments on October 5. Register here for NEXUS-NY 2016 Demo Day.
Ducted Turbines International, a Clarkson University Research Company
Aeronautical engineering professor, Ken Visser, and the Clarkson University team have been busy this summer turning their research into a company, ordering parts, designing geometry and building the prototype that will soon be tested at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
The Clarkson researcher has teamed up with product commercialization consultant Paul Pavone. Pavone brings incredible experience to the table working with URS Corporation – a premier, fully integrated professional and technical services firm positioned to design, build, finance and operate infrastructure assets around the world for public and private-sector clients.
“My friend worked for NYSERDA and told Ken (Visser) to call me. I was semiretired living in California. I came back and we connected,” added Pavone. “What we’re doing has never been done before that we know of on a ducted wind turbine, and we’re very excited about it.” Paul and Ken launched Ducted Turbines International (DTI) and are moving forward toward commercialization.
Pavone says DTI is building an actual 8 foot diameter turbine that they are planning on testing at Waterloo tunnel this September. Their optimized ducted wind turbine uses a specially designed aft rotor system to accelerate the wind and increase the power output of the turbine rotor, with the promise of twice the energy capture of a conventional turbine of the same size.
“There are not many wind tunnels big enough in the state,” said Pavone. “Waterloo has the size we need to place our turbine test rig right inside the wind tunnel.” Pavone and Visser describe how the turbine test rig will provide the data needed to validate the Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) modeling. The design was first generated on a computer, with the help of two Clarkson Ph.D. students to optimize the duct efficiency and performance of the rotor blades. “We’re looking forward to meeting this milestone soon and revealing preliminary data at NEXUS-NY Demo Day in October,” said Pavone.
The next step for DTI is to raise more money to commercialize. Pavone says small wind isn’t such a large market because of the characteristics of current turbines, however Clarkson’s turbine produces twice the energy of a traditional open-blade wind turbine. DTI is also pursuing a NYSERDA ACE grant for alternative energies for which no other funding is available. This grant could yield up to $1 million in funding over 3 years if it’s determined the technology is aligned with New York State’s energy goals.
Pavone stated that P1 Industries in Schenectady has now partnered with DTI to manufacture their primary prototype turbine blades designed by Visser. “Dave understands what we are doing and he’s excited about it,” added Pavone. “This is huge! Working with P1, and with Dave advising us as a strategic partner on the process, will be critical to our success.”
Visser and Pavone connected with Dussault through Doug Buerkle, Executive Director of the NEXUS-NY program. They say Dave’s experience in manufacturing in combination with his experience as a successful entrepreneur has provided their early-stage company with a great starting point.
“Outside of the amazing progress Clarkson is making on the technical side, the team has also crystallized some incredible partnerships. Paul Pavone was added to the team, and they were able to connect with Dave Dussault of P1 Industries. All these little pieces came together throughout the NEXUS-NY program,” said Buerkle.
Through his research at Clarkson, Ken has been showing theoretically that his ducted wind turbines work very well, but Pavone admits venturing into an unknown area is very difficult. That’s why they believe these partnership are so important. “NEXUS-NY and the partnerships we’ve been able to connect with during the program have allowed us to get over this hurdle,” said Pavone.
Pavone says small wind won’t solve all the energy problems alone, but in combination with other distributive generation devices, the team feels confident they can succeed in not only validating NYS’s long term energy goals, but in disrupting the energy market. Their plan is to concentrate on microgrids and backup tower systems for critical facilities on a smaller scale so there is more of them.
“Look at it this way,” said Pavone. “Siemens and GE produce a microgrid that could power Fulton, NY when the power goes down. What we can do through a smaller microgrid is power a police station, fire station or fallout shelter for schools. This makes the telecommunications industry our target audience.”
NEXT -> Join us in celebrating Ducted Turbines International and all the NEXUS-NY Cohort 3 teams at Demo Day on October 5. Register for this cutting-edge event featuring the latest in clean tech innovations, live music, local food trucks and more!
And don’t forget to make your calendars. NEXUS-NY will open the applications for Cohort 4 on October 18th. The deadline to apply is November 11th. Here’s the form to get started.
Over the last several months in the NEXUS-NY program, SUNY Alfred State startup, Phase Innovations, has been hard at work diligently testing many different materials and designs for development of their customer validation prototype.
Dr. Jon Owejan, assistant professor of mechanical at Alfred State, along with mechanical engineering technology student Nathan DeMario, have invented an advanced cooling system that uses water instead of chemical refrigerants to carry heat out of buildings.
Steve Wood, assistant director of innovative services at SUNY RF is also working with Phase Innovations. He says some of the materials tested have performed less than expected, giving the researchers additional hurdles to vault, but the team has been able to assemble a viable bill of materials that will work for this initial prototype.
“Although some of these materials are more expensive than we had hoped, we have also identified a new class of materials that has a lot of promise for improved performance and cost,” added Wood.
Phase Innovations has also made several quantum leaps on their system design. This progress has increased simplicity of component design leading to fewer differentiated parts and decreased cost of manufacturing.
“The 2-ton cooling module for this initial customer validation prototype is anticipated to occupy a footprint of about one cubic meter,” explained Wood.
Come NEXUS-NY Demo Day, Phase Innovations will reveal several prospective customers who are willing to help the startup validate their prototype by providing space for a testing environment in actual operating conditions. Wood says one prospective customer in particular is a local plastics manufacturer that is very dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency, which makes a perfect fit with Phase Innovations’ goals for their advanced cooling technology.
“We’re really happy with what the team at Alfred State is doing. They have a function prototype and pilot site lined up for when they graduate the NEXUS-NY program. You can’t ask for anything more,” said Doug Buerkle, NEXUS-NY Executive Director. “They’ll now dig deep throughout the next several weeks leading up to Demo Day to finish their prototype and generate some data.”
NEXT -> Join us in celebrating Phase Innovations and all the NEXUS-NY Cohort 3 teams at Demo Day on October 5. Register for this cutting-edge event featuring the latest in clean tech innovations, live music, local food trucks and more!
Micatu: Upstate New York’s Next Generation Optical Sensor Company
New York native, Michael Oshetski, is proud to be an entrepreneur. As the CEO of Micatu, Mike speaks with passion about his company and plans to not only revolutionize optical sensor technologies, but create high-paying jobs for the Southern Tier region.
A recent semifinalist in the 76West Clean Energy Business Competition, Micatu provides next generation optical sensor technologies that create more efficient and sustainable measurement capabilities in the areas of smart grid, wind, power, transmission and aerospace. Micatu combines these technologies with engineering, manufacturing and OEM professional services anchored on the team’s more than fifty-years of optics experience.
“I was born and raised in Chemung County and went to RIT. I’ve started this company out of my garage. It would be an honor to move forward in the 76West competition. If a company from the Southern Tier wins, we all win. There’s no better time than right now to do business in New York,” beamed Oshetski.
Micatu was founded in 2011. Oshetski and co-founder Atul Pradhan were sitting in an airport in Hong Kong. Mike turned to Atul and said, “You wanna start a company?” It was as simple as that and the duo hasn’t turned back since, stating they have incredible achievements over the last five years. Micatu now strives to do what the Internet did for communications.
“Some people said we were crazy. Others called us brilliant,” laughed Oshetski. “So in the true spirit of being entrepreneurs, we took a calculated risk that, so far, has paid off. Everyone starts somewhere, and I believe as long as you’re passionate and true to your values, you’ll be successful.”
Micatu Seeks to Create High Paying Tech Jobs for the Southern Tier
Over the course of five years the company has already surpassed major milestones moving from Mike’s garage, to IncubatorWorks in Painted Post, NY, and now occupying a 10,000 sq ft facility at the IST Center in Horseheads, NY.
Already employing 20 people, Oshetski said based on demand for the technology and the company’s sales forecast, Micatu is ready to expand once again. The Micatu team is projecting to hire at least one new employee each month for the next five years and expand operations to a 70,000 sq ft facility in Chemung County. Oshetski said recent company developments will help them achieve this growth.
“Micatu is on the frontline of smart grid and distribution grid technology, putting us in a great position to grow threefold in the coming years. With more orders at larger volumes coming in, we’re under the gun to scale production quickly. We’re also shipping internationally now,” explained Oshetski. “We’re ready to create more high-paying tech jobs in the Southern Tier, and proud to know for every one job we create, five additional jobs are created for the community based on the Jobs Multiplier Effect.”
The Need for Integrated Volt/VAR Optimization (IVVO)
When electricity is delivered to a customer’s home or a business, it must be delivered at a level between +,- 5% to remain within ANSI standard C84.1-2011 regulations. On a 120V system, this range is defined as 114 volts to 126 volts to ensure all electrical devices can operate properly. Most utilities address this challenge by over producing energy to ensure the high end of the voltage range is maintained.
“Utilities face both a legislative and operational challenge of ensuring they are delivering efficient voltage within this range when it arrives at the customer’s home or business,” said Oshetski.
Overproduction of energy increases distribution losses and increases requirements for peak demand production. This problem is further exacerbated by the introduction of renewable energy generation which further leads to grid instability.
What the Micatu team was able to discover is utilities are actively seeking deployment of Integrated Volt/VAR Optimization, which allows them to control the voltage on the distribution grid and produce what is actually needed for each feeder circuit.
Micatu is Revolutionizing Optical Sensor Technologies
Focused on making the power distribution grid smarter, Micatu’s technology hangs on the power grid and measures voltage and currents very precisely. This helps the distribution grid to become more efficient, and enables analytics and integration as renewable power sources.
“Deployment of Micatu’s sensors for Integrated Volt/VAR Optimization typically results in a 1% energy savings for each 1% in voltage reduction. Micatu provides a cost effective solution, which is also one of the most accurate solutions for measurement of voltage and current on the smart grid today,” said Oshetski.
He continued to explain how over time, more renewables and co-generated sources will cause the grid to be less stable. Micatu technology was created to provide greater stability, allowing operators to figure out how much energy the grid is making, as well as calculate the demand.
Oshetski is now preparing to share this insight with the high-tech optical ecosystem at the 2016 Annual NFOC Communications Conference. Invited by leaders of the telecom and communications industry, he said he looking forward to talking about next generation of optical applications that will fundamentally create a new industry for optical sensing solutions.
“It’s exciting to see how Micatu’s optical sensor technology can have a big impact on the efficiency of power transmission and generation on our power grid. We have the potential to reduce greenhouse emissions, lower operating costs for utilities and ultimately savings for the end users,” said Oshetski.
The NFOC Communications Conference will take place on September 21-22 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort.
Micatu Graduates from NEXUS-NY with Go-to-Market Products, Services
Something that sets Micatu apart from other companies is the startup’s two-pronged business model. In addition to offering a product, Micatu’s experienced consulting team knows how to take their product and make it solve problems for other companies. Oshetski said these professional business services are inherent to their product.
“Not every customer is the same and some require a unique solution,” he said. “Micatu provides additional value add services by integrating our technology into the final solution. This process saves millions in kw of energy, which in addition to being efficient, is good for the environment. We’re very much linked to making the environment more green.”
This connection to sustainability made Micatu a perfect match for the NEXUS-NY Clean Energy Seed Accelerator. As a proof-of-concept center in partnership with High Tech Rochester and partially funded by NYSERDA, NEXUS-NY helps catalyze the commercialization of early-stage technologies across New York state. During the NEXUS-NY program, Micatu was challenged to develop their idea into a technology for condition monitoring in wind turbines. To achieve this, Oshetski said the team focused on verifying their concept by talking to the end user.
“NEXUS-NY was a great learning experience and a huge value add to our company, said Oshetski. “We learned that just because we had developed a better widget, it didn’t mean that people were automatically going to buy it. The customer discovery process triggered a pivot, which required us to concentrate on the points that made sense in the industry.“
Now as a graduate of the NEXUS-NY accelerator, Micatu continues to use 3rd party testing to confirm the performance of their technology in partnership with NYSERDA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
“We’re very proud of our progress. What takes big companies years to complete, we’ve managed to achieve in less than five as a small company with limited resources. Plus, Micatu hasn’t taken funding from any outside investors, and we’ve been cash flow positive since day one,” said Oshetski. “This didn’t come from having the best business plan in the world, because in our field business plans are outdated before they are complete. We’ve been able to do this by carefully forecasting our revenue and acquiring the employees needed to fulfill our orders. There’s nothing more to it. It’s a simple equation with a lot of points.”
Micatu Strives to Enhance New York’s High-Tech Ecosystem
Micatu also attributes this wave of success to support from the community at all levels. “Small business can’t do everything on their own, but when we work together, we can,” he said.
As our call came to a close I could hear Mike’s kids (5, 2) laughing in the background. Yes, in addition to building a successful startup, Mike has also been busy starting a family, But regardless of the challenges, Oshetski said he’s excited about the opportunity to bring more technology jobs to the area and build something bigger than himself.
“We can make the community better, and that starts with good paying jobs,” he insisted. “Right now Micatu pays more than the industry average and we’re proud of that. We inject a significant about salaries each month into the southern tier. We have a great team of dedicated employees and we’re achieving this success together, for our families and our community.”
High Tech Rochester (HTR) is a nonprofit whose mission is to catalyze entrepreneurship and innovation-based economic development throughout the Finger Lakes region.
During the HTR Demo Day 2016, a handful of promising startups associated with High Tech Rochester showed of their services and products to an auditorium of ecosystem supporters at Hatch Recital Hall at the Eastman School of Music. In his introductory remarks, Jim Senall, President of High Tech Rochester, said HTR and its affiliate programs have assisted over 850 startups and small manufacturing firms over the past five years.
“We know that startups and new businesses are what really create the most net new jobs in our country, so we know that to create jobs longer term you should be creating more startup companies in the shorter term,” said Senall.
Senall continued to say, while startups aren’t always visible to the public, there are many good things happening within our community and at HTR.
HTR provides a full suite of services, including technology commercialization for very early stage companies, business incubation for high growth potential startups and growth services for existing manufacturing companies seeking to improve their top and bottom line performance.
“High Tech Rochester helps bring many of the innovations that come out of the area universities from the inventive mind of our community,” said Mike Riedlinger, HTR Program Manager of Technology Commercialization. “So based on their ideas and their views of things that could be, we can help them craft new business opportunities that really enrich all of the economy for the area.
One of the standout programs under the HTR umbrella is the NEXUS-NY clean energy proof-of-concept center lead by Doug Buerkle.
Buerkle explained how the audience had a chance to hear from two NEXUS-NY graduates. Both AMBIS CEO Mae-ling Lokko and American Fuel Cell CEO, Dan O’Connell presented updates. Buerkle said both are doing very well.
“The goal of NEXUS-NY is for companies to demonstrate that their technology works, that they also sort out their business models and that they work towards 3rd party validation. In Dan’s case he has attracted an MOU (memorandum of understanding) from a leading customer. His samples are in that customer’s hand and they are currently testing them, so we are hoping he’s going to have a large purchase order here in the next few months,” added Buerkle. “Mae-ling is also doing fantastic. She announced today that she has installed her system in a leading architecture firm in NYC, and her first commercial customer in Ghana is placing orders and starting to build those units.”
AMBIS Technologies Pivots to High Premium Product
AMBIS s a building technology company that upcycles materials from agriculture in order to condition our air. The startup does this by leveraging one of the world’s most underutilized material resources – waste from the bio industry.
AMBIS Technologies CEO Mae-ling Lokko explained during High Tech Rochester Demo Day that today’s building consume 40% of all our world’s energy – ahead of transport and industry. These buildings spend over half of that energy to condition air. This means that 20% of all our energy goes into heating, cooling, drying and pumping air through hundreds of miles within our buildings. Using AMBIS Technologies’ building panels and systems, air is dehumidified and filtered de-centrally, providing a more elegant and more energy efficient solution.
Since graduating from the HTR NEXUS-NY program, Lokko announced, “AMBIS Technologies has pivoted from a commodity fiberboard product into a high value premium product that is able to offer air mediation, acoustic performance, and all the while looking pretty cool.”
She continued to explain how the NEXUS program became a critical platform for her company to identify partners and tap into the extensive mentorship and business expertise of the program, which have all added to a strong foundation for her company to grow and pivot many times. By maintaining these relationships after graduating from NEXUS-NY, AMBIS continues to develop, eliminating a lot of potential materials and applications, as well as sharpening their value proposition.
“Today our business model reflects the strength of the Upstate New York ecosystem that we built and accessed through NEXUS,” said Lokko. “Over the next year, AMBIS looks to raise about $250,000 to build a prototype for our base catalogue, and deploy within critical building testbeds throughout the world in order to demonstrate our value proposition – all the while doing so with beautiful clean materials that can impact building energy consumption.”
The AMBIS team has also continued to grow. Nina Wilson recently came onboard as a co-founder and CTO of the Troy, NY-based startup.
“What we’re really looking to do at this stage is to embed maximum performance into panels and approach a distributed modular all-in-one system framework through which to employ technology transfer and really increase the value proposition for the building systems,” added Wilson.
In addition to installing a 100 sq ft wall packing system at CASE in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Office in New York City with funding from High Tech Rochester’s NEXUS program, this August AMBIS will deploy their system in a testbed in Ghana. Working with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Architecture, Science and Ecology (CASE) in conjunction with ongoing work with a leading private foundation, this testbed aims to test the system’s air remediation performance within a Net Zero testbed. AMBIS has also secured project with a first client, and the team is deploying their systems in commercial, high-end luxury applications in early 2017.
“We really wish to thank Doug Buerkle, Allison Yacci and Mike Riedlinger, as well as Jim Senall and the High Tech Rochester team who have opened up their extensive network over the past year and half. They helped us realize the first of many steps in fulfilling our company’s mission,” said Lokko.
Harnessing Local Resources to Make Rochester the MEA Manufacturer of the World
Dan O’Connell, CEO of American Fuel Cell presents at HTR Demo Day 2016.
“How a fuel cell works is pretty simple,” explained American Fuel Cell CEO Daniel O’Connell. “As long as you have hydrogen on one side of the membrane and you have air, which is oxygen, on the other side, it makes clean, efficient electricity, and that’s a really good thing. When you make that electricity the only byproduct is heat and water. So our goal is to bring fuel cell jobs to Rochester leveraging local resources.”
O’Connell and American Fuel Cell co-founder David Wetter, both worked at General Motors’ Honeoye Falls fuel cell vehicle lab until GM moved its fuel cell research work to its Michigan powertrain facility. O’Connell shared at HTR Demo Day that when GM closed its research facility, they thought a majority of the people who were working there would move to Michigan.
“What they didn’t understand is that Rochester is a great place to live and work, and we have great quality of life here. So it turns out that only a small percentage of those people decided to move to Michigan, said O’Connell. “What that means is we have a wealth of fuel cell expertise, a supplier network, and some really excellent resources right here in Rochester. To me that’s an amazing opportunity for all those resources to be utilized.”
It’s for these reasons both O’Connell and Wetter committed to staying in the Finger Lakes region and now operate American Fuel Cell out of the Kodak Eastman Business Park to best leverage local fuel cell resources to grow their company and create high paying technology jobs in the Rochester area.
“We graduated from the NEXUS program where we really learned how to become a business,” said O’Connell. “We started out as a couple of guys with a great idea, and ended up as a company with nearly a dozen folks working for us getting ready to go into volume manufacturing at the Kodak Eastman Business Park,” said O’Connell.
American Fuel Cell is focused on two markets – mobility(forklifts), and backup cell tower applications. According to O’Connell, this market is expected to double within the next two years to $375m. O’Connell said American Fuel Cell is making great progress and wants a piece of that pie. Already the startup has sold parts to the navy, and they have secured an MOU with their first big customer for thousands of units. Due to this activity, American Fuel Cell is ramping up production to make these units within the November timeframe, and they are looking to add more staff to their team in order to ensure success.
“We couldn’t have made this progress alone. From the NEXUS-NY program we did some outreach to our customers and they were consistent in their message. They told us we needed to get the cost down of the membrane electrode assemblies inside the fuel cell. So that’s our product, and that’s what we’re focused on,” explained O’Connell.
Today, American Fuel Cell has a sellable product with a proprietary “secret sauce” formulation, and low cost manufacturing utilizing the thin film roll coating capability at Kodak. This product is not only ready for the forklift and backup cell tower application markets, but also puts American Fuel Cell in position to enter into the “other electric vehicle” market.
O’Connell says right now there is a lot of focus being placed on battery operated vehicles, including where they’re headed and how that market is going to expand. But he tells us that the fuel cell vehicle industry is also something to watch. Toyota is already in production with a fuel cell vehicle, which makes clean, efficient energy. O’Connell says fuel cell vehicles have some advantages because they have a fast refill time and extended range compared to a battery vehicle.
O’Connell closed his High Tech Rochester Demo Day presentation by telling a “what if” story:
“There were 85 million vehicles sold last year in the world. What if just a little over 1% of those vehicles turn out to be fuel cell vehicles. That’s 1 million fuel cell vehicles a year. Each fuel cell vehicle uses around 350 membrane electrode assemblies. Do the math, and that comes out to a million MEAs a day! So I ask you, why wouldn’t we want to manufacture those MEAs here in Rochester? Why wouldn’t American Fuel Cell want to go after that market? And why wouldn’t we leverage the Kodak equipment to make Rochester the MEA manufacturing capital of the world?”
By working with NYSERDA, American Fuel Cell received a grant to help ramp up its production. The company has also acquired great resources with the NEXUS-NY program to build strong relationships with RIT, Cornell and SUNY Alfred State for some of their testing. The company is now looking to raise enough money to complete existing orders and prepare themselves, and Rochester, to power the future.
What’s Next for High Tech Rochester?
With a new innovation district forming in downtown Rochester, Jim Senall said he’s excited about High Tech Rochester being the anchor.
By 2017, Senall said HTR will have a new downtown accelerator at the Sibley building, which is being redeveloped as a mixed-use facility. RIT Center of Urban Entrepreneurship is next door, and multiple other buildings within that close geography will support the lifestyle that new entrepreneurs want to have.
In the interim, HTR will be opening up its own temporary space in downtown Rochester this Fall. HTR is looking for some pioneers – entrepreneurs in the community that want to help build an amazing facility in downtown. HTR has a $3 million capital campaign to raise for the cause. The fundraising is underway with about $1.5 million raised already.
Senall requests that if you’ve had success and you want to give back either as a mentor or supporter, to contact High Tech Rochester on how you can get more involved.