BioJoe and Beth Renwick

Fueling Change: A Family Business Transforms Fuel Supplies and Its Community

Green Energy Biofuel
BioJoe and Beth Renwick, Founder and President
Columbia, South Carolina
12 employees

In 2007, as gas prices were passing $4 a gallon, Joe and Beth Renwick were looking to cut costs in their family budget. They decided to experiment with making their own fuel in their garage, working with bio-based products. What they found was that everyone else’s trash was their treasure. Waste vegetable oils that schools and restaurants often discard could be cleaned and recycled into biodiesel fuel, which could then be used to heat a building or run a car engine. Soon, the Renwicks found themselves launching a biofuel business that would extend the economic benefits of biofuel from their family, to the local community, and on to the greater Southeast region.

Founded in 2008 as Midlands Energy, the company quickly spread its reach beyond South Carolina into multiple states in the region. In 2017 the Renwicks renamed their firm Green Energy Biofuel to reflect both its commitment to providing clean energy and the geographic expansion of the company. The firm has secured major corporate customers with a high volume of product, and as a result, has invested in significant plant modifications to increase the efficiency of processing the oil received from customers.

The “fearless leader” of Green Energy Biofuel is Joe Renwick, who goes by the moniker “BioJoe” and harkens his leadership skills to lessons learned in The Citadel, one of the toughest military academies in the U.S.

“The fuel produced is not only biodegradable, but non-hazardous,” says BioJoe. “Our mission is to increase the availability of alternative fuels in South Carolina and create sustainable green jobs in the biofuels industry.”

BioJoe and Beth’s Favorite Fact
(2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook)
According to data from the Factbook, biodiesel production in the U.S. is on an upward trend having grown 25% from 2015 to 2017 and reaching peak production in 2016 of two billion gallons.

Green Energy Biofuel provides two key services to food industry establishments: cooking oil collection and grease trap pumping. The company maintains a fleet of trucks that criss-crosses the Southeast to collect waste cooking oil that is loaded into tanks. However, not every establishment has the best infrastructure to facilitate grease collection, so Green Energy Biofuel also installs grease traps in these kitchens. One advantage for the restaurants is that the grease traps pay for themselves, as restaurant owners sell waste oil to Green Energy Biofuel for $0.50 per gallon.

On the receiving end of the finished biofuel, the company works to make its product as accessible as possible to any vehicle. Green Energy Biofuel no longer makes its own biodiesel; however, the firm sells its purified biofuel to a large biodiesel manufacturer, which then produces the fuel on a much larger scale. BioJoe and Beth’s trucks run on South Carolina biodiesel, but most engines would require modification to accept 100% biofuel. Instead, many engines can accept a mixture of 20% biodiesel and 80% regular diesel as a drop-in fuel. This mixture burns more efficiently than petroleum diesel, lubricates the engine, cleans out engine particulates, and emits less pollutants than petroleum diesel. Not to be overlooked, the exhaust also smells like french fries, which is a nice improvement from the odor of petroleum diesel.

Another tangible benefit of Green Energy Biofuel, BioJoe and Beth pay their success forward by giving schools, colleges, and small businesses back a percentage of profits from collections.They also provide opportunities for children to tour the production facility and learn how biofuels are made.

“As long as we are ‘Making Fuel Baby,’ we will always be a proud supporter of education,” says BioJoe.

Green Energy Biofuel, which showcases business materials alongside quirky photos of the staff and family events on its website, isn’t just producing biofuel. In addition to fueling trucks in the Southeast from its collection stream, Green Energy Biofuel is producing sustainable jobs, bolstering business bottom lines, and enhancing local communities; all this from a restaurant grease trap.


-Jordon DeGroote, Communications Intern, Clean Energy Business Network & Alex Gerard, Spring Intern, Business Council for Sustainable Energy (July 12, 2018)



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Matthew Goss

From Pit Crew to Driver’s Seat in the Clean Energy Race

CDM Smith
Matthew Goss
VP/Technical Strategy Leader—Infrastructure & Energy
Latham, NY and locations across the U.S.
4,674 employees

There are only so many people who know what a racing flywheel is, much less how to install one. Matthew Goss is one of those select few. As a college student, Matthew spent a summer working at an automotive racing school, where he helped out as a car mechanic and pit crew member. He still works on automobiles, but now most of his time is spent coming up with engineering solutions. On a day off, you might find Matthew spending time with family, especially since he and his wife recently became the proud parents of twins—a boy and a girl.

When Matthew was a college student, he did not even have consulting engineering on his radar. But having graduated during a recession and finding a hiring freeze in his industry of choice, Matthew bounced down an unpredictable path.

“It was an unfortunate turn of events at the time, but it worked out better than I could have ever imagined.”

Today, Matthew is a Vice-President and the Technical Strategy Leader for Infrastructure and Energy at CDM Smith, a firm that “provides lasting and integrated solutions in water, environment, transportation, energy and facilities to public and private clients worldwide.” The company provides both construction and engineering services, as well as consulting in both fields.

CDM Smith recently developed a campus-wide utility delivery system for Harvard University’s Allston campus as well as a 9 MW cogeneration plant. The system delivers everything from heat to telecommunications, with a smaller carbon footprint than the previous infrastructure. The firm’s client base generally focuses on government and industry stakeholders seeking solutions on environmental and infrastructure projects.

“The firm is distinguished by our leadership and flexibility in design-build and alternative delivery approaches for environmental and infrastructure projects.”

Before CDM Smith can make those ideas reality though, they first have to visualize them and convey them to the client. That’s where Matthew gets really excited. CDM Smith uses Microsoft’s Hololens, which is Augmented Reality technology that portrays a three-dimensional, virtual model of the blueprints. Matthew credits this development with helping both clients and team members stay on the same page, and complete the projects more efficiently and effectively. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine that a scaled, interactive projection of the plans might make it easier to present the layout to prospective clients.

“This technology allows our employees and clients to experience and explore virtual 3D components at scale in the real world around us, and improves teamwork and communication between project members because of this shared first-person perspective.”

Matt’s Favorite Fact
(2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook)
“In 2016, the U.S. added 76 large-scale CHP projects (500kW or greater) and 97 small- to medium-sized projects (1-500kW). This represents a growth in installations over 2015 levels, when the U.S. added 73 large-scale facilities and 91 small- to medium-sized projects.”

But it’s not all about the virtual for Matthew. He still gets a rush from the very real experience of motorsport racing. His time in that field gave him a first-hand appreciation of the sport from a new point of view, and showed him that people can express a true passion and dedication to the work they enjoy. And while Matthew is now exhibiting that passion and dedication in consulting engineering at CDM Smith, he reminds us that “[he has] always been a car person, and will continue to be one.” Expect two future speed demons from those twins of his!

—Jordon DeGroote, Communications Intern, Clean Energy Business Network (July 12, 2018)



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Bennie Hayden

Bringing Solar To Those Who Need It Most

Marketing for Green
Bennie Hayden, Founder
Atlanta, GA & Detroit, MI

Bennie Hayden’s mother often said, “In times of crisis, there are also opportunities for those who choose to look for them.” Bennie experienced this firsthand in 2010, during the recession. He had built a successful 30-year career in marketing, starting with Xerox as a Senior Marketing Representative, and most recently with Texas Student Loan Guarantee Corporation (TG), as an Regional Account Executive. And then, like many Americans, he was laid off from his job, in his case due to legislation eliminating the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At a late stage in his career, Bennie suddenly had to start over again. He had a family to support, with two teenagers in school. But Bennie isn’t the kind of person to be deterred easily. He radiates positivity and optimism—finding joy in Motown and jazz, jogging and the outdoors. Like his mother taught him, Bennie decided to view the layoff as an opportunity to reinvent himself and find a new application for his skillset.

After exploring potential markets, Bennie decided that focusing on sustainability could be a viable new career path while allowing him to contribute to his community. He founded Marketing for Green with the goal of effecting “positive change environmentally and socially, helping to create a sustainable society.” And he’s doing this the best way he knows how: marketing.

“Long ago, I learned that everything about business starts in marketing,” he says.

Bennie earned a Professional Certification in Business Sustainability from the University of Vermont and pounded the pavement at networking events. He works with businesses of all sizes to take a holistic approach to sustainability. Examining everything from the design of a product to its distribution, Marketing for Green finds ways that the business can improve efficiency and reduce their footprint on the planet.

Marketing for Green is now an advisor to teams competing in the Department of Energy’s Solar in Your Community Challenge, a competition with a $5 million grand prize for solutions to improve access to solar for low- and moderate-income households; state, local, and tribal governments; and nonprofit organizations. Bennie is coaching teams in Memphis and Baltimore to help them reach their goals. Bennie says, “Where possible, I also collaborate with fellow coaches where we work together to identify potential funding sources for workforce development in underserved communities, ideally to create jobs and closed loop economic activities.”

The Challenge has been helpful personally and professionally to Bennie. While helping more communities access solar, Bennie has also worked to grow a niche market for his business. He says, ““One of my favorite quotes is ‘Chase passion, not money’ (although making money is nice).”

Source: Department of Energy’s SunShot Prize: Solar in Your Community Challenge

Bennie says, “At the end of the 18-month Challenge, my goal is to use this experience and expertise to develop solar energy projects, particularly for underserved communities.”

Bennie’s Favorite Fact
(2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook)
“Solar…added almost 74,000 jobs from 2015 to
2016, marking a 25% growth year-on-year and
again taking top place out of all electricity
generation sectors.”

Bennie is encouraged by the growth of energy storage. He says, “The advances made in energy storage technology will play an increasingly important role in solar deployment in 2018. For our first responders, this technology can provide more resiliency in the event of power outages by enabling their ability to respond to emergencies/disasters.”

Sustainability is an increasingly fundamental component of doing business in the 21st century. Bennie is assuring that the economy of the future will be accessible to all.

—Alex Gerard, Spring Intern, Business Council for Sustainable Energy & Jordon DeGroote, Communications Intern, Clean Energy Business Network (July 10, 2018)



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Jim Newman

Making the Old New Again

Newman Consulting Group, LLC
Jim Newman, Founder and Managing Partner
Farmington Hills, MI

What does it take to earn the title “Dean of Green”?

Jim Newman has earned this moniker through more than four decades of energy efficiency retrofits and his ongoing efforts to share that expertise with others. One example of his work includes upgrading an 1894 mansion that had been converted to a fine-dining restaurant to the tune of $2 million in energy savings over the next 20 years. Projects like these help building owners be green and sustainable while saving a lot of green.

Jim says, “For my last birthday, I received a birthday card from my wife that said, ‘It’s not how old you are, but the number of years you’ve made the world a better place.’ This is what keeps me going.”

Jim’s interest in efficiency traces back to the oil embargo of 1973. A mechanical engineer working as a technical consultant to owners, architects and design engineers at the time, he noticed architects were designing tighter building envelopes to reduce air leaks and cut down on energy use due to high prices. At the same time, engineers were designing HVAC systems that used less outside air. These changes led to air stagnation in buildings and a potential health issue for occupants called “sick building syndrome.” At the convergence of these two trends, he realized there was a huge opportunity for growth as the concept of sustainable development was just beginning.

“This led to my interest in the then ‘new’ concept of green and sustainable buildings, and how to help buildings use less energy while still making people healthier and more productive where they live, learn, work and play.”

Today, Jim is Managing Partner at Newman Consulting Group (NCG) which works to help commercial, industrial, and multi-family property owners implement energy efficient solutions. The firm improves building envelopes and HVAC systems and lighting, implements building information systems, installs solar and wind assets, and eliminates waste. Some of this work is supported through tax credits and utility rebates and/or an innovative financing model known as Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE). This financing model is currently available in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, and it allows a building owner to finance the upfront costs of energy upgrades and pay the costs back over time through payments added on to an owner’s property tax bill.

C-PACE funding has proved to be especially valuable to Jim’s business, as Newman Consulting Group was the first firm to use the model to finance projects in two large Southeast Michigan counties and the City of Detroit. One of the firm’s notable projects in 2017 was the renovation of the Whitney Restaurant.

“A 124-year-old, 21,000 S.F. historic home turned fine-dining establishment, the Whitney building is a three-story, National Historic Landmark in the heart of Detroit,” Jim explains. Built by a lumber baron in downtown Detroit, the Whitney was converted from private use to a restaurant in 1986.

Retrofitting the building required maintaining its historic aspects while replacing outdated energy-intensive systems with efficient solutions and making the establishment more comfortable for workers and patrons. Upgrades included replacing 214 windows, exchanging overhead fluorescent and 1,600 chandelier light bulbs with LED lighting while maintaining the quaint restaurant atmosphere, and installing energy efficient heating and cooling systems with networked building controls. These improvements are expected to reduce energy costs by 25% for the building, eliminate high maintenance costs and make the atmosphere more comfortable for patrons and workers.

In the future, Jim is excited by the growing IoT, or “Internet of Things”—i.e., intercommunication between systems, such as the networked building controls used in The Whitney Restaurant. Interconnected systems are making new innovations in efficiency possible. For example, an air-conditioning system that knows the weather forecast for tomorrow will be able to cool a building more efficiently, and appliances within a building that “talk” to each other can form a more efficient system as a whole.

Jim’s Favorite Fact
(2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook)
“Smart thermostat costs continue to decline with all
the leading brands now offering products for $170
or less, down from $250 only a year ago. Coupled
with utility incentives that further reduce the sticker
price, BNEF estimates that over 14 million
households had a smart thermostat in 2017.”

Jim says, “The Internet of Things is bringing everything together in one place to make operations and maintenance more efficient, easier and less costly. Improved results are not only in lighting and HVAC equipment but also in the overall operation of buildings.”

Jim has shared his enthusiasm and expertise in efficiency with communities around the world. He’s given presentations on energy efficiency across 24 states, 7 countries, and 4 continents, including serving as Distinguished Lecturer for ASHRAE—the organization that develops the basis for building codes in most states.

As Jim’s experience demonstrates, incorporating energy efficiency solutions in the existing built environment can have multiple benefits. An office building can be upgraded to use less energy and provide a more comfortable workspace with fresher air. A restaurant can preserve its historic details while boosting energy efficiency and slashing costs. The old can be made new again—without losing its charm.

—Jordon DeGroote, Communications Intern, Clean Energy Business Network (July 10, 2018)



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Julian Gonsalves

Developing the Business Case for Sustainability

Julian Gonsalves, Consultant
Washington, DC with multiple other locations
7,000 employees

Working for Habitat for Humanity often gives people a greater appreciation of what they have but, for Julian Gonsalves, it gave him an appreciation for sustainable development. Now, Julian is applying that interest as a team member at WSP USA, a large infrastructure consulting firm headquartered in New York City.

Julian grew up in Mumbai, a city in west India. He had always been interested in the built environment, so he decided to pursue a bachelor’s in civil engineering at the National Institute of Technology Karnataka in Mangalore. Unsure of what his next step would be, Julian took some time to work as a civil engineering associate with Habitat for Humanity, where he participated in the implementation of sustainable housing solutions from a triple bottom line (social, environmental and economic) perspective.

This experience inspired Julian to move halfway around the world to California, where he earned a master’s in Sustainable Design and Construction at Stanford University.

“I realized that I wanted to work on developing successful business cases for implementing projects based on sustainable solutions,” he says.

After graduating, Julian found the perfect pathway for his interests at WSP USA, which provides engineering and professional services in the energy, water, environment, buildings, and transportation sectors. The firm’s team consists of engineers, planners, technical experts, project managers, and strategic advisors, enabling an integrated approach to project management. Julian’s role is to provide public-private partnership advisory services and investor due diligence. He helps public and private sector clients make informed procurement and investment decisions and work together on collaborative projects.

“In a way, I’m like a facilitator,” he says. “While I focus on the financial and procurement feasibility of projects, given my background in engineering, I am also able to understand the technical aspects.”

With Julian’s expertise in these areas, he was thrilled about a recent exciting development for WSP USA in 2017. The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) selected WSP as technical advisor on the Maryland Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council (EVIC).

The state of Maryland passed a package of bills in 2011 to promote electric vehicle deployment, including legislation establishing the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council (EVIC). The EVIC was charged with evaluating incentives for the ownership of EVs and the purchase of EV charging equipment; developing recommendations for a statewide infrastructure plan; and exploring other potential policies to promote the successful integration of EVs into Maryland’s communities and transportation systems. WSP has carried out a number of tasks in support of MDOT’s EVIC efforts, including: providing staff for meeting support at monthly EVIC and working group meetings; preparing proposal documents on behalf of the state to secure EV infrastructure funding; generating GIS maps of EVs, infrastructure, and demographic information; developing the EVIC’s Annual Report; developing operational procedures; coordinating the redevelopment of Maryland’s Electric Vehicle website; and conducting public outreach at multiple events across the state.

Julian’s Favorite Fact
(2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook)
“Corporations continued to turn their attention to sustainability in 2017. The “EP100”, an initiative launched in 2016 through which companies promise to double their energy efficiency, has gained 13 pledgees. On the renewables front, 119 companies globally had pledged by end-2017 to source 100% of their energy from renewables under the “RE100” initiative.”

In addition to the work done in Maryland, WSP USA built on its 2016 technology study for the City of Albuquerque, NY to perform detailed transit facility infrastructure engineering designs in 2017 to support the city’s roll out of its first phase of Battery Electric Buses.

Julian is excited to see an increasing appreciation of sustainability among corporations and the public sector alike, an important trend documented in the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.

“The growing demand for corporate sustainability has only solidified my conviction in a triple bottom line approach to tackling infrastructure challenges,” Julian says.

—Alex Gerard, Spring Intern, Business Council for Sustainable Energy & Jordon DeGroote, Communications Intern, Clean Energy Business Network (July 10, 2018)



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Jen Derstine

Around the World with Microturbines

Capstone Turbine Corporation
Jen Derstine, Director of Strategy and Policy
Washington, DC and Van Nuys, CA
168 employees

Jen Derstine ended up in the microturbine business because her Foreign Service letter came a little too late.

When most people outside the energy industry hear the term “microturbine,” they probably conjure up an image of a really tiny wind turbine. Actually, these systems are small-scale (<500 kW) combustion turbines that provide an efficient source of onsite power generation, and can be combined in parallel to serve larger loads. Microturbines are frequently used for combined heat and power—an efficiency technology that generates heat and electricity from a single fuel source, often natural gas.

Jen’s story begins a few years after finishing college, when she applied to the U.S. Foreign Service, hoping to travel abroad. One day, she finally got her acceptance letter—right after she’d paid her deposit for graduate school. She went ahead with pursuing her Master’s at Johns Hopkins and then successfully competed for a prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship upon graduation.

For her fellowship and beyond, Jen landed a position in the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), where she served as an International Trade Specialist and helped organize the first Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee to address issues impacting the growth and export opportunities for U.S. clean energy companies in international markets. On a trade mission to Saudi Arabia, she got to work closely alongside one of the companies in the group—Capstone Turbine Corporation—and was really excited about their technology.

Since 2012, Jen has worked at Capstone Turbine. She serves as the company’s Director of Policy, Strategy, and Distributor Development, leading its federal and state policy priorities and working with dozens of geographically-exclusive distributors around the world to help them develop their business plans and assess market opportunities. Whip-smart and strategic, she has an immense ground to cover—the entire global market.

Capstone Turbine is headquartered in Van Nuys, CA. According to Jen, the company works to “Provide microturbine energy solutions to help customers improve business operations by reducing operational expenses, ensuring high power availability and helping to preserve the environment with a near-zero emissions profile.”

The company works with a broad variety of clients, from the oil and gas industry to hospitality to data centers to manufacturers. Capstone’s microturbines even power the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Capstone’s microturbines are particularly getting attention right now for their reliability benefits because of their “microgrid” capability, which means the ability to disconnect from the electric grid and provide onsite power when there is a disruption to local power supplies. Capstone Turbine’s clients include the only hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands to retain power and water during Hurricane Irma, along with a fast-food store in Puerto Rico that kept the lights on during Hurricane Maria.

Jen says, “All Capstone Turbine dual mode microturbines can be considered microgrids, and all of our microturbines are microgrid-ready due to our DC output potential.”
According to Jen, the company is continuing to expand its microgrid capabilities. An exciting development for Capstone Turbine in 2017 was “The development of our new PowerSync controller, which improves reliability and availability of our microturbines by eliminating any single point of communication failure for control. It also can be easily integrated with external control or monitoring equipment using industry standard communications protocols. This new controller enhances commissioning and troubleshooting capabilities through transient operation and event information and improved field service connectivity.”

A U.S. energy trend that interests Jen is the growing market potential for small-scale CHP systems. She says, “All of Capstone’s individual turbines are <500 kW, and we offer pre-packaged systems of up to 1 MW, which can then be interconnected to provide larger solutions as required. We have offered a packaged C65 CHP system for many years and introduced our packaged CHP system for our 200kW-1MW products in 2015 and 2016. Having done the work to size the heat recovery module to the microturbine makes it easier for the customer to design and engineer the final project.”

Despite being the world’s leading technology manufacturer of microturbine systems, Capstone Turbine is still a relatively modest size company, with less than 200 employees. And that’s one thing Jen likes about it. She says, “There’s not a lot of bureaucracy, so everyone in the company can have an impact, make suggestions, and be included in the company direction.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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Hear more from Capstone Turbine Corporation in Powering through the Storm, an episode of the CEBN’s podcast featuring clean and efficient energy technologies that can keep the lights on during natural disasters.

Paul Schwartz

Rethinking HVAC from the Outside In

Paul Schwartz, CEO
Stony Brook, NY and Ann Arbor, MI
15 Employees

It turned out to be the most memorable bar mitzvah Paul Schwartz ever attended.

It wasn’t the canapes or cocktails that changed his life, but rather a chance professional encounter at the Garden City, Long Island celebration.

“I was standing at the bar and this guy—an attorney—struck up a conversation about ThermoLift’s technology with me,” Paul explains. “Turns out he knows Bob Catell, former chairman of National Grid and the American Gas Association. After an introduction and a few meetings, both became the first investors in ThermoLift!”

The AERTC completed construction in late 2011 and then started a Clean Energy Business Incubator Program (CEBIP) with support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which helps clean energy companies commercialize their technologies. Shortly after the bar mitzvah Paul successfully pitched his company, ThermoLift, and joined the companies housed at the incubator. The incubator opened a world of doors—to local investors, mentors, and physical space for the company’s growing team.

“A gas-fired heat pump which can provide heating and cooling is the holy grail for the utility industry,” says Bob Catell, Chairman of the AERTC.

Paul and his business partner, Dr. Peter Hofbauer, founded ThermoLift in 2012 out of Paul’s garage on Long Island. Peter, who works at ThermoLift’s lab in Ann Arbor, MI, is the engineering brain behind the operation. Paul is the finance expert with a history of raising money for startups. Their TC-CycleTM Thermal Energy System uses natural gas as its primary fuel to provide heating, air-conditioning, and hot water in a single appliance for homes and commercial buildings that is vastly more efficient than other HVAC systems on the market. Imagine using the outdoor air to heat your home in the winter or cool your home in the summer. Sound impossible? It’s not—the TC-CycleTM incorporates unique innovations to the well-established Vuilleumier cycle heat pump design.

Schematic of how the TC-CycleTM device uses changes in temperature and pressure draw heat out of the air.

For non-engineers, let’s dust off some basic thermodynamic principles from high school physics class. If you have a constant volume of gas and add heat, the pressure increases. (And vice versa, if you remove heat pressure decreases.) This principle, the Ideal Gas Law, allows the Vuillemier cycle to use changes in temperature to create changes in pressure. Controlling this process is the key to ThermoLift’s patented Thermal Compressor (TC-CycleTM) which replaces the mechanical compressor in traditional heat pumps, creating the Ultimate Heat Pump.

ThermoLift’s design can utilize renewable heat, resulting in a 30-50% reduction in energy use which amounts to nearly $1,000 in annual operational cost savings when compared to state-of-the-art HVAC systems. The TC-CycleTM appliance also offers many unique features including efficient cold-climate (<0°F) operation even at partial loads, smart grid/demand response and fuel-agnostic capabilities, and ultra-low NOx emissions all without the use of harmful refrigerants.

In addition to the consumer benefits, the unit will help electric and gas utility companies by balancing loads during peak summer demand for A/C, increasing resiliency for the grid.

“Since our founding, ThermoLift has tried to recruit partners and experts to help develop and commercialize our technology,” says Paul. “We have been able to build a strong network of supporters including the US Department of Energy, NYSERDA, Wells Fargo, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Gas Technology Institute, and domestic and international utilities including National Grid, ConEdison, SoCal Gas, DTE Energy and the European Heat Pump Association among others.”

ThermoLift has raised over $16 million in funding, through Series A and Series B rounds, and through grants from the Department of Energy, NYSERDA, and Wells Fargo IN2 Incubator Program, to develop multiple generations of the TC-CycleTM prototype for testing. The company is working on further enhancing performance and reducing costs and intends to begin commercial production in 2-3 years.

Seems like a ‘Mazel tov!’ is in order.

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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Gary Fechter

A Winning Hand with CHP

UGI HVAC Enterprises
Gary Fechter, General Manager of Performance Solutions
Wyomissing, PA
Multiple field offices across Eastern PA

Meeting in a boardroom with Gary Fechter feels like kicking back at the poker table over a couple of beers. He runs a successful, midsize company that’s drawing in 8-digit revenues. He’s worked on five continents and at several major energy companies, served in the Army, and even taught physics at West Point. But he’s a regular guy at heart—down-to-earth, disarming, and quick with a joke and a smile.

Gary runs the design-build team on the unregulated side of a company that is primarily a gas utility. UGI Performance Solutions (UGIPS) is a leading provider of combined heat and power (CHP), developing and executing CHP projects for UGI HVAC. From conceptualization, to design, to construction, all the way through operation, UGIPS works with clients to provide integrated solutions to their unique energy needs.

Gary took over the helm at UGIPS in 2014. At the time, he has just sold his consulting firm and was planning to retire. He would play more golf with his buddies, drive around in his C70 convertible, and travel with Joyce—his wife and high school sweetheart. He would have more time to devote to one of his passions—organizing fundraisers for the SGC Foundation, which supports children’s hospitals around the nation.

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

“After selling my consulting firm and completing a transition period with the new owner,” Gary says, “I was asked by several clients to work with them directly. During this time, I was introduced to the team at UGI HVAC and after a year and a half as a consultant I was asked to consider a full-time role and joined the team at Performance Solutions.”

UGIPS is a big player when it comes to encouraging CHP deployment in Pennsylvania. For background, CHP systems generate both heat and electricity from a single fuel source—often natural gas. By harnessing the heat that is lost during conventional powering generation, CHP can nearly double efficiency. These systems can also provide a reliable, onsite source of electricity to keep manufacturing plants, hotels, apartment buildings, hospitals, military bases, and college campuses powered up in the event of a grid disruption. Due to Pennsylvania’s strong manufacturing base and variety of suitable sites, the state ranks 12th in the nation for CHP deployment (2.9 GW) and still has more than 7.7 GW of untapped technical potential.

A CHP plant UGIPS designed for Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs reduces operating costs and provides more reliable power

In describing examples of UGIPS’ work, Gary notes, “An exciting development for my company in 2017 was completion of a combined heat and power project for the casino at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs.”

Why would a casino want CHP? It’s all about the money.

Gary says, “This 828 KW internal combustion engine with integrated heat recovery provides approximately 30% of the electric requirements for the casino. The project also involved restructuring the electrical infrastructure and adding uninterruptable power supplies for the slot machine busses. This allowed the casino to save significant operating costs on reduced maintenance to the slot machines due to their sensitivity to power interruptions and disturbances.”

Sounds like a great place for a site tour—and maybe that poker game with Gary.

One trend in U.S. energy markets that interests Gary is “the changing role of distributed generation in the electric market. The expanded use of onsite generation assets has forced changes on the infrastructure of the grid and how the regulated utilities deal with inside the fence generation. As the quantity of these facilities change and as they decrease in size I am interested to see the changes in regulatory and utility rules. These can make this transition significantly easier or may block the process completely. What the long-term grid looks like should be a concern of all energy users.”

Gary brings up a heavy issue—changing utility models are a complicated challenge undergoing debate all around the country right now. But Gary doesn’t shy away from complexity. He engineers CHP systems, after all. He sees things simply and breaks down complicated problems to their roots.

“Having over 30 years’ experience in the independent power business has allowed me to see great growth but also a lot of reinventing of the wheel. We all need to remember it rolls best when round.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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For videos explaining UGI Performance Service’s approach and projects, click here.
To learn more about CHP and see examples of other projects, visit the websites for the Alliance for Industrial Efficiency and CHP Association.

John Atkins

A Solar Pioneer is Made at the World’s Fair

John Atkins, President
Morristown, TN

John Atkins fell in love with solar at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville.

He says, “The Fair’s theme was energy and I became enamored of the numerous solar energy displays, returning many times to talk with the exhibitors.”

At the time, John was working in diesel engine sales. But the nascent solar industry kept calling to him. Four years later, he founded TerraShares and began developing solar systems, most of which at the time were thermal solar. The “alternative energy” industry was still young and struggling to get off the ground.

“But, living near Oak Ridge, TN,” he says, “I joined the start-up team of the nation’s second full innovation center to commercialize technologies invented at nearby Oak Ridge National Lab and secure private capital for early stage tech companies. This foundation has been invaluable in creating TerraShares’ turnkey approach to developing clean energy.”

Students at the Rogersville Middle School in Hawkins County learn about a 50-kW solar energy system installed by TerraShares

John has been a pioneer in the clean energy industry in many ways. Not only did he get into the solar business when the industry was fairly new, but he also pioneered commercial scale solar and third-party funding in 28 K-12th grade schools in Tennessee. This was harder to accomplish than it might sound. In Tennessee, school districts have strict limits on their ability to take on debt, and the state doesn’t allow third parties to own solar projects and sell the power back to the end user—so John had to explore some very unique and creative financing options to help schools pay for the projects.

Now, John is exploring new ways of coupling solar with other sources of clean energy, such as combined heat and power and waste heat to power (CHP/WHP), highly-efficient technologies that harness heat that is usually lost during conventional power generation.

“We are seeing that our educational, corporate and non-profit clients are seeking even greater energy independence and control over a range of energy challenges than solar alone can address. To assist them, TerraShares is expanding our network of resources to include additional proven clean energy technologies like CHP/WHP and related capabilities in energy analysis/strategy, engineering, installation and financing.”

John has a philosophical view of sustainability combined with a professorial depth of knowledge about energy and finance. He’s a true believer in renewables, but knows that the real driver of transformation in energy markets is achieving cost reductions for customers.

One trend in the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook that interests John is the growing corporate demand for clean energy. This development doesn’t surprise him at all. John feels that when states and utilities don’t respond to corporate demand, businesses are more aggressive about generating their own clean energy.

“A key concept, for business, is that sustainability means doing more with less—less material, less cost, less pollution, less waste, and lots of other ‘lesses.’ Businesses invest every day in measures to that reduce their cost; it’s what they must do to remain competitive.”

John points out that investing in energy conservation measures is one of the few things a company can do to substantively impact its bottom line, generating savings that can be reinvested in its workforce, productivity, or research and development.

He cites a study that the consulting firm A.T. Kearney conducted in 2009, when clean energy was just starting to gain widespread traction and technology costs were still much higher. Even back then, John says, “What Kearney found was that those companies that had actually gone green averaged 15% greater profitability than non-green competitors in their same industry.” John argues that beyond simply saving on energy costs, the reinvestment of those savings into other corporate activities further compounds a company’s competitive advantage.

“Taken together the benefits of adopting sustainable practices can be a competitive game-changer,” he says. “And the competitive advantage it creates is permanent.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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Rita Hansen

A Game-Changer for Natural Gas Vehicle Fueling

Onboard Dynamics
Rita Hansen, CEO

Bend, OR
9 employees

When Rita Hansen was introduced to a local researcher at Oregon State University in 2013, she could immediately see the promise of his natural gas compression technology—along with the challenges in turning it into a mature product.

That researcher was Dr. Chris Hagan, an Assistant Professor at Oregon State University who had been working on a concept for integrating natural gas compression into an automotive engine. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), a federal program that helps support early-stage technology development, had given Chris a $1 million award to prove the technology.

Chris was having tremendous success accomplishing the technology development milestones for the ARPA-E award but was challenged with meeting the tech to market milestones. This is not a unique situation for innovators of new energy technologies.

As Rita explains, “It’s not just the science and technology, but also will someone buy it at the end of the day.”

Chris knew he had to pull in the right business team. He reached out to Economic Development for Central Oregon, a local economic development agency. EDCO put him in touch with Rita. She had an engineering background and more than thirty years’ experience in major energy and technology companies—so she understood the technological promise but also brought to the table deep expertise in business development, commercialization, and angel investment.

Rita and a team of local entrepreneurs rallied behind Chris to develop a commercialization pathway. They established the company in October 2013, with Rita at the helm as CEO. The team successfully pitched ARPA-E for a follow-on investment to take the proof of concept Chris had developed to the next stage of product development. Along the way, Rita and her team pulled together other local finance and commercialization partners—including cleantech incubator Oregon BEST and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI).

Even with a strong team in place, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The original concept was to integrate the compression technology into a vehicle.

“Halfway through the process,” Rita says, “in response to the market feedback we were getting, we adapted the product from Onboard Vehicle to a mobile compressor.”

Essentially, prospective clients kept telling Onboard that they already had the vehicles, but needed a better way to fuel them. So Onboard instead focused on making the compressor portable.

By the end of 2017, Onboard Dynamics completed its ARPA-E award, secured a major manufacturing partner—Linamar Corporation—and officially launched commercial production of its first product, the GoFlo™ CNG80. The GoFlo™ is a mobile natural gas compressor that can turn pipeline or renewable natural gas into fuel for NG vehicles.

And as for Rita’s question, “Will someone buy it?”—the answer is a resounding yes. Onboard has secured its first field demonstration project to begin deploying the GoFlo™ at a customer site with Southern California Gas Company (Sempra), a large natural gas utility.

The GoFlo™ could be a game-changer in how natural gas fleets are fueled.

“We work to lower fuel costs and carbon emissions by removing infrastructure barriers to driving natural gas-powered vehicles,” says Rita. “Our product line integrates natural gas compression into automotive engines, thereby allowing fleets to refuel economically from any low pressure natural gas supply line or renewable source without the need for electricity.”

Because Onboard’s unit is so portable and doesn’t require electricity, it’s also useful in disaster response along with everyday fleet refueling.

One trend that interests Rita from the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook is the growing use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. She says, “We believe that this trend will continue to increase, especially with the deployment of new renewable natural gas projects coming on line in the next few years. The environmental benefits of using R-CNG as a transportation fuel are a real game-changer in the transportation industry.”

Rita elaborates on these environmental benefits, quoting Marianne Mintz of Argonne National Laboratory’s Energy System Division, who says “R-CNG can achieve the greatest GHG reductions of any transportation fuel today—70 percent or more as compared to gasoline or diesel.”

She adds, “In 2016, over 60% of all natural gas consumed in California as a transportation fuel came from a renewable source. The National Petroleum Council estimates that 35 billion gallon gasoline equivalents nationwide is possible—which is the equivalent of 1.2 times total diesel consumed by freight trucks.”

Onboard Dynamics’ story demonstrates how important it is for entrepreneurs to be adaptable. From the first seeds of the technological idea, to pulling together the right business team and financial package, to rethinking the product design, the Onboard team has been willing to listen to new perspectives and make changes to suit the market. Rita says that all of Onboard’s strategic partners “have helped us get up to the point where today we’re now standing on our own two feet.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

Click here to return to the Faces Behind the Facts home page.


To hear more from Rita, listen to a CEBN webinar on ARPA-E funding opportunities and advice from prior grant recipients.
To learn more about the launch of the GoFlo™, see