In the Burlington County landfill, Rutgers scientists have drilled a hole and dropped in a long length of perforated pipe, packed with gravel. The little fan at the top of the pipe draws out very usable methane.

Right now garbage haulers — some of the dirtiest vehicles in our towns) are very much interested in converting their trucks for methane fuel. The solution is ideal, because they can get a fill up every time they dump a load.

On the edge of the Burlington landfill sits the Rutgers University EcoComplex. Inside this center dedicated to renewable energy in all its forms, lives a sustainable loop. The tilapia fish feed off the plants in the tanks, their excrement flows on to feed the hydroponic tomatoes and other vegetables, whose roots dangle in the water. The vegetables absorb the nutrients, grow to an impressive size, and cleanse the water, which returns to the fish tanks. “It’s all a matter of some screen filters, a few pumps, and a watchful eye. Nothing terribly high tech,” says EcoComplex assistant director David Specca.

With such living examples, the New Jersey Technology Council could find no better partner nor venue for its “Green Trends and Predictions 2008” conference. This multifaceted program includes round tables on “Bio-Energies Technology,” “Energy Efficiency and Information Software,” along with several presentations, including “Green Investing Trends.” The conference is held Monday, February 25, at 3 p.m. at the EcoComplex in Bordentown. Cost: $60. Visit www.ecocomplex.rutgers.edu; or www.njtc.org.

Among the several presenters slated is John Ondik, domestic sales manager for Philadelphia-based Solar Roofing Systems Inc. (www.srsenergy.com.) The SRS concept is simple. Everybody needs a roof. Everybody wants clean, cheap solar energy. Why not combine the two into one?

The sheer efficiency of the SRS model meshes well with Ondik’s logistical career. Calling himself “a thoroughly Pennsylvania boy,” Ondik attended Villanova, graduating in 1983 with a bachelor’s in business. He then joined the U.S. Navy, where he spent 10 years as a supply logistician. This experience led him to take on the positions of vice-president of military services for the food services giant Aramark, and national director for purchasing for international consultant KPMG.

Ondik later earned an MBA from the Wharton School, where he still instructs at that school’s Small Business Development Center. In the late 1990s, he teamed up with his brother to form the Ondik Group, an executive recruiting firm. As SRS Energy began to launch in 2004, Ondik became enthralled with the product and joined the team.

Doubtless, there will soon come the time when every newly built structure receives some form of embedded photovoltaic roofing as standard. We are poised on the cusp, with many entrepreneurs and engineers trying to tweak technology to economic efficiency. As a startup, SRS Energy’s roofing tiles are providing one of the initial solutions to this problem.

Tile & solar cell. Take a basic solar photovoltaic cell, place it within a light weight, durable resin, shape it into an attractive roof tile and you’ve captured the overall SRS energy roofing innovation. The goal is to replace the typical, heavy glass solar panels placed on top of an already costly roof. SRS will cover the entire structure with roof tiles, with solar cells set in whatever percentage it takes to meet the customer’s needs.

The technology is still evolving. The initial prototype established in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, has been recently improved by a second installation in nearby Morristown. Basically solar cells, in whatever form, collect the photovoltaic energy from the sun’s rays, which agitate electrons, sending them down a copper wire as direct current. From there, the current enters an end table-sized inverter that transforms the electricity to alternating current, acceptable for home or commercial use.

Setting such a collecting cell in roof tile is not without problems. The cell structure must be formed so it does not impede the sun’s energetic rays, but still provides all the durable warmth and shelter of any roof tile. Achieving exactly the right synthetic resin took literally years.

The second hurdle comes with getting the energy from all those cells, into that single copper wire that will carry it into the inverter. “We’re quite proud of our recent leap forward with this problem,” says Ondik. “And interestingly enough it was suggested by the roofers installing it. Originally, the electricity was collected by rolling out a kind of flexible circuit board under the roof’s tar paper. Little prongs would link to each solar cell tile. Now, SRS merely wires up the battens — those long, thin wood strips nailed along the roof for attaching the tiles. Each tile gets connected as it’s installed.

Beauty & savings. Interestingly, from New Jersey to California, the average home installing solar sets up a three kilowatt system, despite using an average of 10 kilowatts annually. “The main reason for choosing partial installations,” says Ondik, “is that the initial expense is so great, even in New Jersey and California, where rebates are the highest.”

The main cost of solar are the glass panels themselves. At nearly $1,000 each, meeting a home’s full 10 kilowatt needs can demand 50 three-foot by five-foot panels. In New Jersey, which boasts the best state rebate and solar credit enticements, paybacks are now being quoted at 10 years.

With an SRS Energy roof, figuring an exact solar payback becomes more complex, since the customer is purchasing two products in one. But the numbers do crunch favorably. The average high quality tile roof — just the cost of high end red clay tiles without installation — runs about $300 to $400 per 100 square feet of roofing. Top firms like Delaware-based Ludowici Tile offer a 75 year guarantee. Asphalt shingles, with a 20 to 30 year guarantee, cost $25 to $32 to cover the same 100 square feet. The SRS Energy ocean blue tile with a four-kilowatt system costs the customer approximately the same as a good tile roof, with, of course, the advantage of a greatly mitigated electric bill.

Since glass solar panels weigh in at about 70 pounds, putting up an ERS system is done a lot quicker and less expensively than a normal roof plus the additional standard panels.

Aesthetics also are claiming a lot of interest among potential customers. “People keep telling us they want solar, but they don’t want a home that looks like some glistening silver mirror,” says Ondik. It is not all clean air and money.

Currently, about a dozen companies nationally are working on solar roof tile and roof foil systems. Contractors call SRS Energy constantly, wanting to price out this new adaptation for their developments. “The thing to note here,” says Ondik, “is that the technology is mostly all out there. We just have to think a little bit to make it all work.”

— Bart Jackson

Greener and Cleaner

As a society we are reaching far and deep to increase energy efficiency, reduce waste, create new technologies, and improve on existing ones. Although the government sets parameters and standards, much of this effort falls to partnerships between business and investors.

Investment in this market segment, as in others, must flow from sound business decisions, but often it also has the happy consequence of helping the environment. Although Braemar Energy Venture’s foremost goal is to give a good return to its investors, and it doesn’t specifically advertise itself as a socially responsible firm, companies in the energy sector are almost by definition making a social contribution.

“Clearly there are things we do in the firm — improving the efficiency of existing energy sources, investing in renewable and alternative energy, and looking for opportunities — where we can make money and can do good for the environment,” says William D. Lese, managing director and cofounder of the Manhattan-based Braemar Energy Ventures. “I believe the two can go hand and hand. Everything we work on makes some improvement in energy and helps many environmental problems related to energy.”

Lese will be part of a panel on Green Investing Trends on Monday, February 25, at 5:10 p.m. at the Green Trends and Predictions Conference at the Rutgers University EcoComplex in Columbus. The other panelists will be Tracy S. Warren, general partner at Battelle Ventures; Michael Winka, director of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Office of Clean Energy; Patrick Regan, New Jersey Network’s senior correspondent for science and technology; and Alfred Matos, vice president of renewables and energy solutions for PSE&G.

Lese describes several areas where Braemar Energy Ventures invests:

Making coal cleaner and more efficient. With oil prices so high, the value of the abundant hydrocarbons in the ground — including coal, heavy oil, and shale — goes up. To make coal an economically feasible energy alternative, the cost of extraction and processing must be brought down and its environmental impact, both in terms of air quality and global warming, reduced.

Once coal is extracted from the earth, the question is how to process it so it can be more efficiently used for power production, fuel conversion, and in some cases providing heat for industrial processing. In some parts of the country, utility boilers will combust coal and use the heat to process chemicals, metals, and a variety of applications.

One focus of Braemar’s investment is coals that are relatively low in energy but also lower in pollutants; the goal is to release more energy from them. Certain coals, for example, are cleaner but wetter. But by virtue of the fact that the water must first be boiled off, they have less energy. “If we can preprocess the coal to remove water in an efficient manner,” says Lese, “you have a higher quality coal and it is inherently clean.”

Because reserves of higher-quality coal from the Central Appalachians are declining, businesses are looking at more abundant reserves. Lese points specifically to the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. “It is abundant in coal that is low in energy content — which is not good — but is also low in ash, in sulfur, and in mercury — which is good.” This is considered low-rank coal, because the BTU content is low, but the right processing can make it closer to its high-quality cousin on the East Coast.

Developing the next generation’s photovoltaics. Right now photovoltaics that produce electricity on rooftops are very expensive and hence used primarily in remote areas. In areas where other types of energy are available, it is hard to get an adequate return on investment in photovoltaics in a reasonable period of time.

In an effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, many states, including New Jersey, have passed legislation supporting renewable and solar energy with subsidies and tax credits. “These have helped improve the economics of solar for commercial, industrial, and residential,” says Lese, “but they still haven’t gotten around the issue of it being inherently pricey.”

So Braemar is looking at an approach that is the next generation in solar energy production. “The company is developing a technology that we think will radically reduce the cost of photovoltaics,” says Lese. “It involves a different approach in terms of chemistry and how you make the films used to produce the electricity.”

Lese continues, “We decided rather than doing something slightly different, we thought we would like to put money into the next generation, which will take longer to develop.” The advantage of a shorter-term development horizon, he admits, is that it gets to market more quickly, but he is not worried. “We feel we can get more value by betting on a technology that will make more of a difference,” he concludes.

Developing LEDs. Lighting means far more than just flicking a switch at home. Light, for example, is used to light up equipment and exhibits, to light the inside of equipment like a projector, and to light the liquid crystal in flat screens.

In hopes of increasing the efficiency of light bulbs, Braemar is investing in LEDs, solid-state bulbs that Lese believes will ultimately replace incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs.

The goal is to find a light source of good quality that produces much less heat than existing ones. Incandescent bulbs are the worst. “An incandescent bulb is a filament inside a piece of glass from which air has been removed. The bulb functions by the fact that electricity runs through a filament, radiates energy, and produces light,” explains Lese. LEDs surpass incandescents in terms of efficiency.

As for compact fluorescents, which certain governments, like Australia, have mandated, they produce light that is not always of the best quality. Lese suggests that LEDs, dollar for dollar, give better light.

Improving energy storage. Batteries need to become more efficient, says Lese, both in their ability to store energy and to deliver it over many cycles so they do not wear down. “There is a need for better energy storage for powering small devices like laptops, cell phones, camcorders, and PDAs,” says Lese, “but also hydroelectric vehicles.” Although the Prius is selling well, it is very expensive, and part of that cost is the battery, says Lese.

Another area where the storage of electricity is critical is as part of a system for capturing wind energy. Wind yields an enormous amount of energy, but it is erratic — the wind can blow slowly or quickly and can change direction on a dime. “If we can store it,” says Lese, “it makes the energy more dispatchable — rather than at the will of the wind.” Better storage would make wind a more valuable energy source and help prevent it from destabilizing the grid by providing more control over the energy. It can be dispatched when it is most needed rather than just when it chances to occur.

Lese received a bachelor’s in physics in 1982 and then a master’s in energy science, both from New York University. His mother, who is deceased, worked for New York Mayor John Lindsay, and politics was both her passion and interest. His father is retired from the real estate business.

Lese started his career as one of the original employees of Sithe Energies, which became one of the world’s largest independent power producers; while there, he managed several power projects. Next he served as director of business development for NPS Industries, an international manufacturer of engineered equipment for the power industry. Then he moved to Mantis Holdings, a venture capital firm focused on investing in environmental and energy efficiency companies; he concentrated on emerging technologies for converting industrial waste streams into value-added products.

Braemar’s reach is broad. It considers investments in transportation fuels, power, and energy storage, as well as how to control pollution, improve efficiency, control costs, and provide the level of precision necessary to prevent waste. The goal is simple, says Lese, “to use fewer electrons but still get the same effect for residences, industry, and commercial energy requirements.”

— Michele Alperin

Technology: Predictions for 2008

One defining characteristic of the 21st century is the speed at which technological advances are making their way into people’s daily lives. At the same time, awareness of new technologies has expanded with the huge quantity of information coming in day and night, from the Internet, PDFs, radios, televisions, cell phones, and newspapers.

Three New Jerseyans — an academic, and two businessmen — have a few ideas about what will happen next, based on their own work and its implications. They, along with leaders in other areas of technology, will offer 10 predictions about where technology is going in 2008 on Monday, February 25, at 5:10 p.m. at the Green Trends and Predictions Conference at the Rutgers University EcoComplex in Columbus. The predictions include:

Imaging will crank it up a notch. From Shreekanth Mandayam, chair of electrical and computer engineering at Rowan University, who also runs an imaging lab at Rowan: Imaging technology is going to become dramatically cheaper this year and is going to be more ubiquitous and visible for the consumer, the technologist, and the scientist.

“For the consumer, better imaging display technology offers the potential for cheaper HDTVs with more brightness and durability,” says Mandayam. To thank for these improvements are advances in digital light processing technology, as well as digital signal and image processing. Mathematics done in real time is offering the best possible display for a viewer, using the least amount of memory at the highest speeds, he explains.

Mandayam also mentions one related product that will not be in the consumer market this year, but is in development — a three-dimensional holographic TV that can be viewed “without wearing those silly glasses.”

Developments in imaging technology also mean big changes in how doctors are able to monitor the human body. Although we already have three-dimensional representations of the body’s internal structures of the human body, there’s more to come. “There will be a dramatic improvement in the functional aspects,” explains Mandayam, “how an organ is behaving and what are the biochemical processes and biophysical processes that are going on.”

General Electric makes much of this technology, he says, so far mostly for high-end laboratories and research facilities, but Mandayam believes it is ready to move into the physician’s office. “This year imaging will become ubiquitous because of a confluence of technology — both hardware and software — algorithms, and marketing,” he says. “The ability to get high-tech images and display will become like power in a wall socket — you don’t think about; you just expect to have electric power.”

We also expect to have Internet access anywhere — and even consider it a right, Mandayam continues. Similarly three-dimensional imaging will soon be so easy and so ubiquitous that we won’t give it a second thought, and this will mean changes in many fields.

Beyond the power of imaging technology to help physicians make more informed diagnoses, it is also showing up in virtual reality systems that are far cheaper. Their prices have fallen from several hundred thousand dollars to about ten thousand.

A company called Fakespace Systems manufactures systems that allow a person to be fully immersed in a virtual synthesized reality and navigate inside it. The systems are applicable to any area where scientists need to visualize lots of data, and they are economical enough that they can be used widely. “Any lab can acquire a virtual reality system and can do very powerful scientific visualizations of data,” says Mandayam.

In weather forecasting, for example, meteorologists need to visualize large, complex data sets that include temperature, pressure, and velocity and then look for patterns. Another area is protein synthesis, where scientists have to visualize the very long sequences in protein molecules.

E-waste will clean up its act. From Charlie McFadden, vice president of business development at SAMR, Supreme Asset Management and Recovery, which does asset management and recycling, handling e-waste in particular: Public awareness of electronic waste, or e-waste, is growing in corporations and among consumers; they are realizing that if old electronics are not recycled, they will be dumped in landfills or incinerated, and that even when computers are recycled, the information on the hard drives is being cultivated and sold.

E-waste includes computers, laptops, servers, monitors, cell phones, telephones — these days, pretty much anything with a plug. “It is the fastest component of solid waste generated by consumers and businesses,” says McFadden. “Most people store e-waste, and when they are ready, they throw it out.”

But throwing it out likely means it will either be put in a land dump or incinerated, which are at the bottom of the Environmental Protection Agency’s hierarchy for recycling e-waste. The EPA’s list begins with reuse of a device, reuse of its components, and recycling its component materials, typically plastic, metal, and glass. It ends with putting electronics in a landfill or, at absolute worst, incinerating them. And of course the last two are the most widely used, says McFadden.

SAMR, based in Lakewood, is trying to reduce dangerous e-waste that enters the environment in these last two cases. Monitors, for example, contain three to five pounds of lead, and if you multiply that by 10,000 old monitors from a large corporation, that can mean a huge amount of hazardous waste. Similarly the circuitry in laptops and computers uses lead solder. When devices like these are incinerated, they end first in the atmosphere and the remainder falling to earth as acid rain. Incineration also uses a lot of energy, as does manufacturing to create new items to replace the incinerated ones.

By promoting the recycling of electronic components, SAMR reduces energy use and, by doing so, is hoping to diminish the greenhouse effect.

Believing that much of the huge volume of e-waste thrown out daily by corporations can be reused, SAMR focuses on recycling older equipment. Often corporations want to keep the same printer, explains McFadden, even though several have broken. SAMR maintains an inventory of different types of electronics that it will swap out to corporations. It will provide working printers in exchange for broken ones and then work with resellers who repair them. SAMR destroys any old data remaining on this equipment.

SAMR may also sell older laptops, computers, and servers to companies with locations overseas where these devices still have value. A reseller who works with Lexmark, for example, came to SAMR because he needed 1,000 phasers for a location in central Europe. Because phasers are so expensive to make, he did not want to pay to have them manufactured in China and Malaysia. McFadden emphasized that there are lots of people who do not need brand-new equipment, for example, startup businesses, and he thinks SAMR can help out. “Think of us as an eBay for old equipment,” he says.

McFadden has been in this business for 15 years, working previously for Verizon and MCI. About SAMR he says, “We are growing a great deal because of continued awareness, and corporations that are finding it more advantageous to advertise themselves as green.”

Food will get the third degree. From Wai Tak Law, chief executive officer of PortaScience Inc. in Moorestown, a company specializing in simple diagnostic testing at home or in the field: Consumers will demand more food-safety testing, in light of the increased incidence of food poisoning from eating vegetables and fruit, and home health testing will become increasingly popular.

The migration of diagnostic testing from complex laboratory testing in hospitals and laboratories to one-step tests at home is a result of the miniaturization of electronics as well as the ability to control tiny volumes of solution.

The drive behind diagnostics produced by PortaScience is in part the increased pickiness of consumers in the types of food they are buying and the choice of more organic sources. One of its products that was developed for cancer patients also works well testing cow milk for infection, and dairy farmers are using it to minimize the amount of antibiotics they use in feeding cows and treating infections.

Another issue is how to test all the food coming into the United States from south of the border and other areas. “If you test everything in the lab, there is not enough capacity and only a small percentage will be tested,” says Law. With simpler diagnostics, we should be able to monitor more of the food coming from outside the United States.

Home health tests are making things a lot easier for patients who otherwise have to show up at a doctor’s office on a regular basis. People who are on blood thinners have had to go to the doctor monthly, but now with a home test, they can prick their finger, produce a single drop of blood, and do the test at home. Another test is for cancer patients who can monitor their white blood cell count after chemotherapy. PortaScience is now developing a test that will enable AIDS patients who are HIV positive to monitor their blood counts.

– Michele Alperin

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