Preserving Our Planet: How Local Businesses are Making a Difference

For millions, Earth Day is a time to give pause and focus on the impact our behaviors have on the planet. For more than four decades, April 22 has marked the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement, which began in 1970. 

Today, Earth Day is a global event with hundreds of millions of people participating in grassroots efforts to send a message of decisive action to protect Earth and sustain our planet. Focus includes solar energy, climate change and its impact, and new ways to utilize energy without greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. Companies around the world make these efforts their focus, but right here in Innovation Park, research and products are developed that have major impacts on our environment.

Solar Energy    

For some, the readily available energy from the sun is an essential part of their business. Solar energy utilizes the sun, converting its energy into thermal or electrical energy and is the cleanest and most abundant renewable source of energy.

For Rick Hall, founder of Dominight, solar power has given him the opportunity to build a business that empowers other companies to effectively use solar energy. “Dominight provides products that meet the needs of an existing market and not only saves the end-user money, but helps them reduce their environmental impact,” states Hall.

Dominight was founded in 2014, with the intention of designing and building the world’s most efficient mobile light towers. Dominight is now the world’s premier manufacturer of hybrid powered, high efficiency mobile light towers designed for long-term deployment and harsh conditions. Through a partnership with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Hall received a grant that enabled him to maintain his current operations, while continuing his research and development of commercialization. Today, Hall still works with researchers at Ben Franklin to continue discussing the evolution of his business plan.

When asked about the importance of solar energy, Hall doesn’t hesitate. “Solar power is a free source of energy that requires minimal resources to harvest.” Its impact on the environment is proven. “Our solar hybrid towers reduce fuel consumption and the output of carbon dioxide by about 90% when compared to a traditional diesel light tower. This equates to an annual reduction of approximately 3,300 gallons of diesel fuel and the mitigation of 67,000 pounds of CO2 under full-time operation.”

Climate Change                

Across the globe, climate change and environmental impacts are certainly hot topics. While there are differing views on what is happening to our climate and what the future will hold, it cannot be denied that this is an important discussion to have. Located in Innovation Park, The Climate Change Information System for Business and Industry, also known as ClimBiz, is a major player in the game. According to Dr. John Dutton, Chairman and President of Prescient Weather, which is the parent organization of ClimBiz, the company “aims to provide sufficient information about climate change [so] that the energy and other industries can foresee what strategies and capital expenditures are likely to ensure resilience to climate change over the next several decades and the rest of the 21st century.” This type of information is critical for companies to make important business decisions. For example, as electric utilities consider replacing fossil energy with solar, hydro, and wind sources, they must have some statistical description of the availability of those sources as the century evolves. Then, they can make estimates of demand for electricity and the costs of the various forms of energy, simulating how their system will perform with different configurations of energy sources.

Companies like ClimBiz are important to determining the future of climate change, both around the globe and at home. “Both the global and local climates are evolving with the potential of creating important impacts on energy use and production, security of food resources, surface water resources, and impacts on coastal communities affected by rising sea levels,” explains Dutton. “Our information can be used to foresee some aspects of these impacts and both policy-makers and private companies can be prepared for change.”

ClimBiz plays a critical role regarding environmental responsibility. “We help our clients make wise information-based choices, conserve resources, and overall be more sensitive to their impacts on the environment.

Energy and Cooling Systems    

Led by Dr. Ailan Cheng, Nascent Devices, Inc. seeks to develop and manufacture energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly cooling devices based on the recent discoveries and development of giant electrocaloric effect (ECE) in relaxor ferroelectric polymers. Nascent Devices' technology, primarily developed at the laboratories of Penn State Distinguished Professor Qiming Zhang, shows that polymeric films can change temperature upon application of an electrical field. “Nascent Devices is developing new cooling devices based on electrocaloric effect of a special class of electroactive nanocomposites to improve the quality of life and reduce the impact to the environment,” explains Dr. Cheng. “This class of new polymer nanocomposite material has potential for high energy and high power density in addition to high efficiency.”

Our society is highly dependent on reliable cooling technologies, which is supported by the century-old vapor-compression cycle (VCC) refrigeration technologies. It is estimated that one out of every four kWh of electricity generated in the U.S. is consumed in order to lower and maintain the temperature inside enclosed spaces below the ambient. The impact of the research and development of Nascent Devices will be significant. “Besides being one of the largest energy users, vapor-compression cycle systems utilize HFCs, which account for 25% of global warming. All of these necessitate a search for new cooling technologies for air-conditioning, refrigeration, heat pumps, and climate controlling devices that possess improved energy efficiency, low cost and are eco-friendly,” says Dr. Cheng.

Think Globally, Act Locally

While companies such as these are working every day on ways to preserve our planet, the recognition of Earth Day is an important reminder to all of us of the impact of our own actions. While there is still plenty to do in the effort to become environmentally responsible inhabitants, the work to date has shown incredible promise for our future. For Rick Hall, remembering the very fundamentals can make the biggest difference, “Recognize and respect the interconnectedness of our planet’s beings. Think globally, act locally. And, most importantly, reduce, re-use, and recycle whenever possible.”

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