The Rutgers EcoComplex : Promoting and Supporting Alternative Energy Innovation for Our Times
Apr 01, 2012 01:08AM
By Linda Sechrist
The alignment of brilliant ideas for environmental innovation with pioneering state-of-the-art technology and the right circumstances that not only support strong economic development but also the creation of products, services and jobs, rarely gets the fanfare it is due beyond the confines of the specialized sphere where it occurs. This is why Natural Awakenings is excited about introducing readers to New Jersey’s shining star in agricultural and environmental research and recently also in alternative energy innovation—The Rutgers EcoComplex.
Rutgers University’s Environmental Research and Extension Center, the EcoComplex is the nation’s first research, technology development and outreach center dedicated to enhancing the environment and agriculture through education, outreach and green business development. Since 2001, this monumental task has been successfully underway within the EcoComplex’s Environmental Incubator, a high-tech commercialization center for start-up businesses. It also serves as a catalyst for new high-tech environmental businesses by providing research assistance to test viability of new technologies. “All emerging technologies should be tested, verified and understood before there is a major investment of time and money in their future. New technologies must be able to deliver on their promises,” says Serpil Guran PhD, director of the EcoComplex.
Green Business Development
Actively engaged in “Green Business” development, the Environmental Incubator provides advice and assistance to entrepreneurs in the areas of business plan development, progress evaluation and assessment, as well as timing of private placement. It also provides access to laboratories, research personnel, office space, and other means of assistance.
“The Rutgers EcoComplex is focusing its efforts on solid waste management, renewable energy, and controlled environment agriculture,” advises Dave Specca, assistant director for controlled environment agriculture and bioenergy. The partnering process within the Rutgers EcoComplex provides the expertise necessary to bring scientific understanding to technology development, resulting in business establishment. The University partners have the ability to support continuing education along with job skills training. “Our small business development staff supply the resources needed to write business plans and to track business successes,” notes Guran.
From “Green” Lab to the Real World
Environmental innovation is a springboard for economic development, which is why the EcoComplex is committed to moving science from the lab to the real-world applications in our state’s businesses and industries, as well as to promoting New Jersey as a center for environmental innovation and enterprises. The complex utilizes green principles including passive solar heating, utilization of the adjacent landfill’s methane gas for heat production, computer-controlled HVAC system, a heated floor system; low-E glass, a newly formulated interior paint that eliminates off-gassing, and dimmable fluorescent lighting. It is also among the state’s top 10 most significant architectural projects in the past decade.
A Hub of Education and Outreach for the Environmental Community
The Center was formed in partnership with the Burlington County Board of Freeholders. It functions as a hub of education and outreach for the entire environmental community. “Because we integrate the best that academia, government, and the private sector have to offer, we are stronger than any one institution can be alone. This pooling of resources and expertise leads to faster, smarter, and more sound solutions to environmental problems,” emphasizes Guran.
Uniquely Positioned to Help Foster the BioEnergy Industry in New Jersey
It may come as no surprise that solid waste is a plentiful resource in New Jersey given the high population density. “Thus, it quickly becomes evident that any company with a technology to produce renewable energy from waste should be developing projects in New Jersey,” remarks Specca.
One-of-a-Kind Research Greenhouse
The one-acre research and incubator greenhouse, the only facility of its kind in the United States, is almost completely heated by renewable energy. Ongoing research and demonstration with a landfill gas fired boiler provides the heat needed to operate the greenhouse year-round. Inside the greenhouse, closed-loop crop production systems are being tested to provide tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, ornamental plants and fish with methods that dramatically reduce our usage of water, fertilizer and energy. Rental space is also available for startup greenhouse businesses. Business development services and expertise provided though the EcoComplex business incubator program helps these companies through their development process.
The 29,000 square foot main EcoComplex facility provides laboratory, office space, and commercialization/scale-up areas available for leasing. The 50,000 square foot state-of-the-art greenhouse and surrounding outdoor demonstration space provides a unique setting for start-up agricultural and bioenergy businesses. Flexible production areas, co-generation power, horticultural expertise and engineering services are available. In addition, unique resources that can be utilized by environmental and bioenergy technology companies, such as landfill gas and biomass feedstocks, are readily accessible.
Recent EcoComplex Graduates
The idea for TerraCycle was conceived by two Princeton University students and began as a unique approach to waste management. The concept, inspired by “The Worm Project”, quickly gave birth to the creation of a wholly organic end-product that was superior to existing fertilizer products, simply through the natural benefits of vermiculture.
Acrion Technologies Inc. is a technology leader in landfill gas clean up and utilization. Using proprietary "green" CO2 Wash® Technology to clean landfill gas, Acrion's process converts landfill methane to medium BTU gas, electricity, pipeline gas, LNG or methanol, and enables recovery of liquid carbon dioxide.
Acrion came to the EcoComplex to demonstrate their new landfill gas to transportation fuel technology. The EcoComplex was the only facility available in the US where landfill gas and technology demonstration space was available at an incubator facility. The company was able to successfully demonstrate and verify their technology in a series of tests that culminated in a six-month trial where two trash trucks were fuel by the cleaned landfill gas. Acrion has since licensed their technology to Volvo/Mack Truck Inc.
Acrion markets CO2 Wash design and development services for the production of green fuels and chemicals from landfill gas. A major barrier to widespread commercial utilization of landfill gas (LFG) is reliable, economic removal of contaminants. A stream of contaminant-free methane and CO2 is produced by CO2 Wash. Contaminants are concentrated in a separate small stream of CO2 for incineration in the landfill flare. The contaminant-free methane and CO2 stream can be used as medium Btu fuel gas, as a hydrogen source for the fuel cell or as feedstock for chemical synthesis, e.g. methanol. Alternatively, it can be further processed to separate CO2 from methane to produce pipeline methane or transportation fuel (compressed or liquefied), and liquid CO2. Natural gas fleet vehicles, including trash and recycling trucks, are a potential steady market for methane recovered from LFG.
Seaburst Farms - Now in the incubator
Since 1994, Seaburst Farms has been engaged in the marketing and distribution of fresh produce, and the production and marketing of farm raised seafood. A supplier to supermarket chains, independent retailers, and food service customers, the company specializes in New Jersey farm products.
Through a new venture, Olive Creek Farms, located at the Rutgers EcoComplex, the Company has begun production of culinary herbs and specialties grown in an advanced hydroponics system. The methods being employed enable the production of high quality products in an efficient and sustainable manner. The Company currently markets its products in the northeastern United States where they are available in several major retail chains.