Just One Question: Are you involved in any efforts related to sustainability?
At age 91, my main effort related to sustainability is to sustain myself.
—Tom Streeter ’44 Tu’48 Th’48
I am involved in sustainability efforts only peripherally through organizations I contribute to, such as Negative Population Growth, Carrying Capacity Network, and several environmental organizations. I also write a column for the local newspaper, the Glenwood Springs, Colo., Post Independent, that I occasionally devote to sustainability issues.
—Hjalmar Sundin ’47 Th’47
My work since 1972 has been in renewable energy. I was on the General Electric team that wrote the solid waste management and resources recovery plan for the State of Connecticut, which included a series of waste-to-energy plants (waste-fired power plants using the steam cycle). Next, I worked as a consultant to develop waste-to-energy plants in a number of cities (e.g., Brooklyn, St. Louis, San Francisco). I developed a 3-megawatt plant using landfill gas and spark-fired diesel engines. Then I consulted with EPA’s methane mitigation programs, Landfill Methane Outreach Program and Coalbed Methane Outreach Program. I created cash-flow models to assess the feasibility of methane capture-and-use projects, especially using ventilation air methane, which is more than 99-percent air. (The EPA considers methane to be between 21 and 23 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in causing climate change.) I consulted with the EPA from 1996 to 2007. I wrote manuals and articles, gave technical presentations in Thailand, Russia, Poland, China, and the U.S., and prepared feasibility studies for generic and site-specific proposed projects. I feel we were effective in promoting change. The largest challenge was to convince coal-mining corporations that it is in their best interests to gather coal-mine methane and ventilation-air methane and convert it to usable energy.
Now I am president of Acorn Energy Co-op. Our projects range from wood pellets, small district heating (planning), and solar hot water to solar photovoltaics—both rooftop and large ground-mounted projects. With respect to wood pellets, we are trying to make our delivery systems smooth and simple. We can now install a range of storage bag or bins and fill them pneumatically. We advertise that this system is just about as smooth as receiving a fuel oil delivery. We want to grow our membership to more than 300 people and offer them discounted renewable energy installations on a competitive basis. There is a rising awareness that turning away from oil and fossil-fueled power is very important, primarily to combat climate change. The Vermont legislature has been a leader in creating incentives for community projects (e.g., large PV arrays) as well as home-based projects.
Since moving to our farm in Vermont I have stayed with trying to develop renewable energy. We have three renewable energy systems on the farm: heating a 4,600-square-foot house with wood, a 5.28-kilowatt PV system on the barn roof, and a solar hot water system.
—F. Peter Carothers ’57 Tu’60 Th’60
As a member of our community board (and ex-president) I have been responsible for the management of our well-based water system for the last seven years. Recently we agreed with the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) to upgrade our water treatment by adding filtration. As a part of this we considered selling our water system to a public water system. Our community recently voted to finance the building of the new treatment facility, and I formed a committee of board members and outside experts (engineers, suppliers, etc.) to manage this process. We are in the middle of that implementation now, having just received the final DPH approval of our technical plan. I am reorganizing the committee so that members’ duties will prepare them to sustain the board’s capability to manage the new system. Knowing that management is at least as important as technology in such projects, my major concern is management sustainability. No one else on the board has engineering training or got an “A” in Thayer’s fluid dynamics course.
—Bruce Clark ’60 Tu’61 Th’61
We compost all of our garbage and recycle cans, plastics, newspapers, and office waste paper. As a result, we send less material to the landfill than anyone else on our street. We use our compost in our flowerbeds. Recycling in our town of Bella Vista, Ark., is an AARP project. The AARP returns the profits to nonprofit organizations in our town—particularly those whose members volunteer at the recycle center—and provides one-half of all office paper profits to our Bella Vista Library. We believe that our recycling operation is one of the finest in our state.
—Harris McKee ’61 Th’63
I’ve transformed my career from sustainability and environmental consulting to academia. This was motivated by my observation that my clients’ issues often stemmed from unwise business decisions regarding the use of resources and that significant opportunity for moving sustainability forward rested with educating future business leaders. I offered a course on sustainable business practices to M.B.A.s in the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University and then developed a yearlong undergraduate course on sustainability in business. Related to this work, I received the 2013 Undergraduate Service Award from the Fisher College of Business. I also helped develop a new undergraduate sustainability major at Ohio State. That led to the incorporation of my undergraduate courses at Fisher into the core curriculum of the major, and my selection as the program director for the new major, which led to my becoming full-time at Ohio State in 2012. The new major, Environment, Economy, Development, and Sustainability (E.E.D.S.), bundles together about 150 existing courses from across the Ohio State campus and offers students the opportunity to specialize in one of four aspects of sustainability. It is the fastest-growing major on campus, and a minor will be offered beginning this fall. Recently the E.E.D.S. major was a key factor in the selection of Ohio State as the 2013 winner of the Enviance Environmental March Madness Tournament.
—Neil Drobny ’62 Th’64
I bought my first house around the time of the first Earth Day and built my first compost bin that fall for practical reasons: fewer trips to the landfill and less mulch to be purchased. My next residence was a small farm. Small farmers are the ultimate sustainability freaks due to their relative isolation. The nearest real hardware store could be 25 miles. As a result, baling wire and string become the repair materials of choice—and it’s amazing how much you can accomplish with scraps and ingenuity.
My contention is that recycling an old house is superior to new construction, particularly in terms of carbon footprints. A 2012 study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation states that in my West Coast climate, a new energy-efficient house will take 50 years to pay back the negative carbon balance compared to an existing home. I believe the intensive improvements that I have made in my home would stretch the payback another 30 to 50 years. In 1977, I purchased a six-unit apartment building in San Francisco. The first environmental impact was that this urban location allowed me to walk to work in about 15 minutes. The first phase of the renovation required curing the life-threatening aspects of the condemnation order and winding through the planning and approval process to secure the necessary building permits. We then engaged in major structural work, which included hand digging a four-car garage below the house, pouring new foundations, tying the building together with a number of massive steel beams and metal clips (earthquake safety), and rebuilding the roof with a two-room penthouse. All of these activities resulted in a significant low-cost project focus for the next five years while I regained some semblance of financial heath. We renovated the three apartments on the first floor, updating the floor plans to a more modern layout, upgrading the water systems to copper, and providing 100-amp circuit breaker panels to each apartment. We installed a rooftop solar hot water system that produces about two-thirds of our hot water for free. The final phase was to scrape and sand all the old lead-based paint and begin a program of regular painting with acrylics.
When I retired in 2000, I finally got to begin the true heart of the project: my dream home. I started by rebuilding all of the second-floor, double-hung windows with much improved insulated glass. We have a high-tech, 92-percent efficient wood-burning system that will supposedly heat the entire space by itself. All built-in lighting is 24-volt LED, which is driven by a bank of power supplies to convert from AC to low DC. The wiring for this has been extremely challenging, but the payoff in kilowatts is simply amazing. Eventually, this will tie to a battery bank and PV system on the roof.
—Bill Reilly ’67
My current research program concerns reducing the carbon dioxide emissions from concrete production. Portland cement plants emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide from both fuel combustion and the calcining of limestone. “Green” concrete reduces these emissions by replacing some of the cement content with pozzolanic materials, such as fly ash, a waste product of coal combustion. Widespread use of fly ash in concrete is hampered by a lack of knowledge of its chemical reactivity in the concrete mix. Under a National Science Foundation grant, I am working with Catholic University of America to develop a better fundamental understanding of how the properties of the fly ash—chemical composition, particle size distribution, and inert fraction—influence its reactivity. This research will result in more reliable predictive models of fly ash reactivity, which will enable more effective replacement of Portland cement in concrete. It will also reduce the requirements for landfills to dispose of fly ash as a waste product.
—Richard Livingston ’68 Th’69
My firm is a major investor in the venture capital industry, investing in the funds managed by venture capital firms, both new and well-established teams. A number of these firms are active investors in “clean tech,” which includes alternative energy, environmental, and advanced materials. We are not investing our clients’ capital with these funds because of the “good” they are trying to do, but because we (and they) think it is financially in our clients’ interest to be invested in these sectors. Every investment has to be justified based upon an expected attractive (risk-adjusted) financial rate of return. I think that this is by far the best way to approach the sector. Companies that are not financially successful will ultimately fail no matter how good their intentions—and will also fail to meet their non-financial objectives.
—Clint Harris ’69 Th’70
I am president of a fourth-generation family business, La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, in San Diego, Calif. For our three restaurants we purchase in-season, locally grown fruits and vegetables from neighboring farms to reduce our carbon footprint, keep costs under control, and ensure we are purchasing top-quality food. A commitment to excellence is the reason we began focusing on sustainability. Knowing the source of your ingredients, the procedures used to produce the crops, catch fish, or harvest meat products is essential to controlling food quality. If basic supplies are wiped out by over-fishing and over-harvesting, the restaurant continually needs to adapt. If you select suppliers who employ responsible procurement approaches, both the farmer/fishermen and the restaurants can develop a great long-term relationship.
Over time, our customers have become more sophisticated and much more aware of environmental and sustainability issues. Our restaurants’ focus on this aspect of developing menus has been well received by our customers and the media, resulting in many awards and very loyal customers.
The philosophy of our executive chef, Bernard Guillas, is that sustainability is the key to future growth and development of our oceans and land. Understanding the origin of our ingredients helps to guarantee the well-being of our planet. Searching and sharing information will bring strength and knowledge for generations to come. As chefs and restaurateurs, our duty is to be caretakers of our resources and educators to our customers.
—Bill Kellogg ’73
My wife and I are amateur beekeepers with beehives at our house and at the farm next door. The gardens have never been better! We give the honey away to family and friends when they stop by. Last fall, we hosted the local high school “green scholars” to introduce them to bees and beekeeping. I’m also the chairman of a committee that manages a 15-acre hayfield that was donated to the town. Winthrop Field is kept as an open recreation space. We contract out the mowing and hay baling. We’re working on wetlands restoration in one corner of the field.
While renovating our house, we worked with a local contractor to devise a rain-collection system for the roof and back deck. We store up to 200 gallons of rainwater and use it to irrigate the gardens. Also, a couple of friends and I have sponsored Thayer B.E. projects on the Walvisstaart System, a marine propulsion system that should result in a 30-percent reduction in fuel usage. And I’ve been a presentation judge at Thayer’s Formula Hybrid event since it started.
—Mike Chapman ’76 Th’77
My current work focuses on developing large natural gas reserves off the coast of northwestern Australia to support residential, commercial, and industrial demand for energy in Western Australia and in countries in the western Pacific Rim. I am a member of a large international team developing the Wheatstone Project, which will deliver liquefied natural gas (LNG), primarily to Japan, and pipeline-quality natural gas (referred to as “domestic gas”) to customers in Western Australia. During 2009-12, I had a senior project engineering role with the design team as we completed the front-end engineering and carried out the detailed engineering and procurement for the LNG and domestic gas production plant. In 2013 I moved to a team leader role in the project execution team, overseeing the actual plant construction near the town of Onslow. Our goal is to keep the lights on in Perth and Tokyo. With the shutdown of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and other nuclear generating stations in Japan, there is increased need for supplies of natural gas to sustain that country’s economy. The Wheatstone Project will help meet that need.
A major development project such as Wheatstone always considers environmental and social impacts in the project planning, design, and execution. That includes completion of an environmental impact statement (EIS) and specific environmental management plans. In my project engineering role, I was responsible for reviewing portions of the EIS, providing information on the plant design to support environmental modeling studies, and considering environmental impacts, such as relative levels of greenhouse gas emissions, when making design decisions that affected the plant configuration. During the front-end engineering, we compared different technologies and configurations for the refrigeration compressor systems that are the heart of any LNG production plant. For these massive compressors we selected an aero-derivative gas turbine driver system, which has lower emissions of nitrogen oxide and greenhouse gas than the alternatives. The gas turbines will be fitted with waste-heat recovery units, which will capture heat from the hot exhaust gases in a circulating heat medium system. This cogeneration system will supply essentially all process heat requirements for both the LNG and domestic gas production facilities. Our project team is involved in social infrastructure projects that will benefit the community of Onslow, including new power and water supply systems, improved educational and recreational facilities, and supporting construction of a new runway at the airport.
—Will Fraizer ’78
My wife, Nellie Pennington ’83, and I have been off the grid in Strafford, Vt., since 1989 and raised two sons who were in no way computer-deprived and who both have grown into pretty decent engineers themselves. I am director of engineering at Solaflect Energy, in charge of the research and development work we are doing on heliostats and overseeing a staff of three full-time and three part-time engineers as well as getting our manufacturing operations up and running. We did our first customer installations in May. We are also working on a design for a solar hot-water application, in which a small field of our heliostats will provide concentrated heat for businesses or institutions that use a lot of hot water, such as breweries, paper mills, swimming pools, and hospitals.
Like everyone in this industry, we hear a lot of confusion regarding the relative merits and financial viability of various energy options. Unfortunately, a good deal of this is plainly attributable to decades of disinformation on the part of the traditional energy sector. However, I think we are turning the corner. The wind and PV industries have considerable momentum now and will begin to accrue political capital and lobbying strength. Likewise, Hurricane Sandy, droughts, heat, and tornadoes may yet prove to be another turning point for public perceptions of the real and imminent costs of climate change. The financial benefits of solar energy are starting to be visible to people, alongside the environmental ones.
We have 1.2 kilowatts of solar panels on our roof and a 1.5-kilowatt (10-foot diameter blades) wind turbine on the ridge behind us. Our house batteries are a bank of lead-acid 6-volt solar batteries, similar to golf cart batteries. All of this is tied together with an inverter, charge controller, and various other pieces, and backed up by a propane generator. When we started in 1989, we used 12-volt lights and a square-wave inverter. We needed a big capacitor to run our washing machine. The lights were slow to start and quick to burn out. Later we got a sine-wave inverter and converted everything to AC, and life is much more “normal.” The systems we are selling, as with most domestic PV these days, are grid-tie systems, with no batteries or generator. When the sun shines, you sell electricity to the grid, and when it doesn’t, you buy the electricity back.
Renewable energy is fun. It’s clear that the endpoint will be ubiquitous deployment of a variety of technologies at a variety of scales—but we don’t know which technologies. And we know that as good as current products are, a lot of great things are yet to be invented.
—Nate Hine ’78 Th’80
As a college student in the 1970s I took to heart the idea, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Through the years this notion guided the choices I made about the work I did. When my husband and I moved to Cobb Hill Cohousing in Hartland, Vt., seven years ago, I felt as if I’d finally aligned the non-work part of my life with my beliefs. Cobb Hill was founded in 2000 to integrate sustainable agriculture, community, and environmental responsibility. We have 23 households, with about 40 adults and 20 children, living in a mix of single-family houses, duplexes, and apartments. Our Energy Star-certified buildings are served by a district wood-fired heating system, and we all take turns moving wood and stoking the boiler. With 10 active agricultural enterprises, there’s always something interesting to do. Our most well-known product, Cobb Hill Cheese, is made from milk from our Jersey cows and has won a number of national awards. I’m involved in the forestry and shiitake mushroom enterprises and have also done a lot of work to maintain, repair, and upgrade our infrastructure. An example week for me might include inoculating logs with mushroom spawn, cooking a community dinner for 30, diagnosing a gray-water system problem, attending a meeting to consider whether the cheese cave can be expanded into the community root cellar, and marking the public access trail. In 2010–2011 I sponsored a Thayer ENGS 89/90 project to determine the best way for us to eliminate the 15 percent of our energy use that was derived from propane. In 2012 we implemented the students’ recommendation, and last winter we used no propane. Success!
There is no one vision of Cobb Hill’s purpose. For some residents, this place is a launching pad for their internationally known environmental work. For others, Cobb Hill is a model or prototype of what is possible, and we share what we have learned through education and outreach. Some of us think of Cobb Hill as an experiment in social, agricultural, and environmental sustainability, and we are always pushing to learn more and find the edges. For all of us, it is home.
—Margaret Fanning Th’79
Much of my career has focused on energy conservation and solar PV. My first job after I graduated from Dartmouth in 1979 was to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gambia, West Africa, where I was an “appropriate technology advisor.” Most of my time was spent promoting a low-cost cooking stove technology that greatly reduced the amount of wood cooking fuel required for meal preparation. After leaving the Peace Corps, I traveled home the long way and then returned to Thayer to get my B.E. I later received an M.B.A. from Stanford and afterward moved to Washington, D.C., to work for AES Corp. developing large-scale cogeneration plants.
In 1992 I was hired by the EPA to be the first program manager for the Energy Star buildings program, which uses an innovative non-regulatory partnership model to educate building owners about the potential positive returns resulting from investing in energy-saving technologies, which can reduce a building’s energy usage by 25 percent or more.
Since 1995 I’ve held senior management positions in the solar PV industry with Solarex (later BP Solar), Sharp Solar, and TEL Solar (formerly Oerlikon Solar). I’m currently head of market development for TEL Solar, a subsidiary of Tokyo Electron Corp. The company is a leading supplier of thin-film silicon PV technology and turnkey manufacturing lines. From 2003 to 2008 I was chairman of the largest U.S. solar trade association, Solar Energy Industries Association, and I am active in several industry trade associations. I’m also a solar consumer, having recently installed a rooftop PV system on my home in D.C.
—Christopher O’Brien ’79 Th’84
I am almost continuously involved in projects dealing with sustainability. My business partner and I have owned a building automation systems contracting company, Mid-Atlantic Controls Corp., since 1989. We are heavily involved in the planning and implementation of energy management for commercial and industrial facilities.
—Mike Startt ’79
I am developing utility-scale solar projects in Massachusetts with Mercury Solar Systems. One project is a 2.5-megawatt project, with approximately 8,000 solar panels on a 12-acre plot of land. The process is complex and lengthy, starting with the idea, securing access to the land, obtaining land-use and building permits, working with the utility company to secure access to the grid, securing rights to the environmental attributes (which utility companies purchase over time), and structuring debt and equity financing. This is followed by the engineering, procurement, and construction implementation, covering engineering and design, materials and equipment procurement, surface preparation, and installation.
Before this I was the CEO for four years of Hy9 Corp., a development-stage company focusing on a very small niche for hydrogen purification systems. The company was based on technology developed by a serial entrepreneur who had left Germany for the United States just before the war. The company’s future was in doubt when I arrived. I redefined the company’s strategy to focus on the $3 billion market for backup power systems for cellular telecommunications. I led a fast-cycle development of a new product that converts methanol (a liquid hydrocarbon) into pure hydrogen, which is then fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity for the cell tower. This results in a high-efficiency, very-low-emission, and reliable backup power solution. Before Hy9 I had my own company, Velerity Management Consulting, providing strategy and market consulting services to a range of companies in hydrogen, energy storage, emissions reduction, utility company services, and waste to energy.
During this time, I cofounded the New England Clean Energy Council, which has codified and integrated clean energy industry interests into Massachusetts’ Green Communities Act, which became law in 2008. This legislation has resulted in Massachusetts being the No. 1 state in the country for efficiency last year and achieving 250 megawatts of solar power four years ahead of plan. I helped designed the solar portion of the legislation that resulted in $1 billion of solar being implemented in the past three years. I also founded the Massachusetts Hydrogen Coalition and helped lead the annual Conference on Clean Energy for four years and the Eco-Film Festival.
I am also writing a book on sustainable economics. The book is focused on understanding how value is created in an economy, why economies grow and contract, why societies fail, and how to create policies and initiatives that create long-term well-being that lasts. There are four principles underlying sustainable economics: sustainable vs. unsustainable value creation; drawing upon stores of value vs. drawing upon flows of value; temporary impacts of fiscal and monetary policy vs. true value creation; and false value created by market forces vs. true value created by economic activity.
—Donald “Brad” Bradshaw ’82
My sustainability work is mostly related to research, disseminating information, and finding ways to incorporate it into my company’s work. I’m a designer at Degenkolb Engineers, where we specialize in seismic structural engineering. I recently wrote an internal paper about different life-cycle analysis processes and programs and how we can use them as structural engineers. I’m working on another paper comparing sustainable building rating systems, and I’m updating all of our typical details to limit the effects of thermal bridging.
Through my business, the Energy Emporium in Enfield, N.H., I design, install, and maintain renewable and sustainable energy systems for homes and small businesses. This includes solar electric and hot water, wood/solar combination systems, wind and water turbines, and (soon) geothermal systems. I renovated my home and business from an 1858 shell to a zero-net-energy building. All of the heating, hot water, and electricity come from the sun. The first floor houses the Energy Emporium, a resource center and showroom of renewable energy technologies. I live above it. I chair the Enfield energy committee and am a member of Vital Communities/Local First (promoting sustainable businesses and communities), Sustainable Energy Resource Group, and the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association.
—Kimberley Smith Quirk ’82 Th’83
As a consulting engineer with RSG I am working with the Federal Highway Administration to implement an energy and emissions reduction policy analysis tool (EERPAT). A growing number of states have set ambitious goals for increasing the use of renewable fuels and reducing the production of greenhouse gases in the transportation sector. EERPAT is designed to provide policy guidance on the best set of policies for achieving those goals. EERPAT encompasses transportation fuels, engine technology, pricing (fuel taxes, vehicle miles traveled taxes, carbon taxes), transportation supply and management, and land use. The tool provides rapid analysis of many scenarios that combine effects of various policy and transportation system changes. EERPAT compares, contrasts, and analyzes the effects of various greenhouse gas reduction policy scenarios on greenhouse gas emissions from the surface transportation sector at a statewide level. Implemented in the R data analysis language, all code and data used in EERPAT are freely available and can be reconfigured by technically adept users, should that be necessary to support a specific analysis. EERPAT was initially developed for Oregon and has since been tested in Florida with success. RSG is currently conducting pilots in Washington and Colorado.
—Robert Chamberlin Th’84
I have been involved in pollution prevention for more than 20 years in Rhode Island and New York. I am the assistant director of technical programs with the N.Y. State Pollution Prevention Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology. These programs, mostly government-funded, are designed to help companies reduce waste/pollution and become more profitable. The main focus is modifying processes so that fewer toxic chemicals and less water are used. The end result is that less waste is created and more money saved. Not all manufacturing processes can be readily changed to reduce or eliminate waste. Reasons include costs (heavy investment may be needed and would have to be recovered through anticipated cost savings), reluctance to change a process that has produced acceptable quality, and no viable technical solutions that can be applied. Sometimes we get involved with engineering-based research to find solutions. We work with many different N.Y. companies. Long-term goals include expanding our program and embarking on more pollution-prevention research projects to find innovative solutions.
It is important to realize that both the environment and the economy can be supported by pollution prevention. We can be both pro-environment and pro-economy at the same time!
—Eugene Park ’84 Th’85
In 2008, 15 years after my Thayer M.S. in materials science, I completed a master of architecture degree at the Boston Architectural College. In the past five years I’ve added the titles registered architect and certified “passive house” consultant. The passive house standard, now gaining traction in the United States after more than 20 years and 40,000 buildings in Europe, requires exceptional airtightness and dramatically reduced heating, cooling, and primary energy demand. Meeting the standard in New England is a challenge due to the cold climate. I’ve designed several passive houses and the first is starting construction.
I recently joined a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based startup founded by passive house consultants, 475 High Performance Building Supply, which refers to the passive house annual heat demand requirement of 4.75 kBtu/square foot/year. With this venture, my backgrounds in architecture, materials science, and building science have coalesced. Our company is dedicated to transforming American construction to high-comfort and low-energy building. We believe that all building projects, no matter how modest their goals, can be helped toward higher performance. We import state-of-the-art air sealing and vapor control components and high-efficiency ventilation units. We also provide the building science and architectural expertise to help clients optimize wall and roof assemblies to achieve the highest performance. For the most sustainable solutions, we show how this can be achieved resiliently and robustly without petroleum-based foam insulation products. As the building industry adapts (albeit slowly) to the realities of climate change, building energy specialists like us are positioned to smooth the transition to a low-energy future.
—Oliver Klein ’88 Th’91
I work for a dedicated environment-sector investment fund, Asia Environmental Partners, investing in private businesses in India and China. Our focus is on renewable energy, water and water treatment, waste management, and energy efficiency. In India, we have invested in a renewable energy business, generating power from biomass and wind, and in a water and wastewater treatment engineering, procurement, and construction business. We provide growth capital to medium-sized businesses working on proven technologies, helping them with management inputs on key strategic areas as they scale up.
Ever since graduating from Dartmouth with additional degrees from Thayer, I searched for such interdisciplinary, environment-related work. To get the full flavor of interdisciplinary work cutting across engineering-economics-finance-environmental issues, I had to take a turn toward business in the early 1990s and have been working in business since. Yes, I did the then-obligatory M.B.A.! Through the years, I have become a huge fan of liberal education for permitting me so many windows to complex daily realities.
The success of a single business may be purely financial. However, each successful business is attracting so many others in its wake that, collectively, they should lead to sectoral transformations and, operating at a larger scale, environmental benefits.
—Himraj Dang ’89 Th’90
I was the founding chair of the Concord, Mass., Comprehensive Sustainable Energy Committee, which allocated funds toward energy efficiency and renewables projects in town buildings, raised visibility around energy issues in town, and is currently organizing the Concord Solar Challenge to promote residential solar installations. I was not directly involved with this program, but consider myself a grandfather of the effort. I was also on the board for our municipal electrical utility, Concord Municipal Light Plant. We (mostly) fixed the solar net metering rate policy, formulated a long-term renewables strategy, and pursued utility-scale solar installations. I was the “green guy” on the committee designing our town’s new high school. I handed that off after a year to a green architect with more relevant expertise. For my day job, I’ve done a carbon footprint project for a heavy truck manufacturer and have benchmarked carbon outputs for warehouse operations and various transport modes.
—Brian Crounse ’94 Th’95
In 2007, I founded a consulting and development company, Aquinergy, which deploys renewable energy assets and advises clients on energy strategies. My firm has developed two large-scale (2-megawatt) wind-energy facilities in Massachusetts in the past year, and we have been recognized as a leader in the Boston and Rhode Island region for renewable energy development. In 2012 I was selected as a “Top 40 Under 40” business leader in Rhode Island and selected by the Boston Asian American Civic Association as one of the leading immigrants who have achieved success in the Boston area while developing a strong business relationship with the Asian-American community in Boston. I am a proud cofounder of the Rhode Island Green Building Council and the Massachusetts Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy Solutions.
My company is now advising the State of Rhode Island on the development of its state energy plan, a visionary strategy for the state to grow its economy in a sustainable manner. We have consulted for global leaders, such as Hyundai Corp., along with local and state governments and universities. We are developing a large-scale solar and wind energy power plant in the Dominican Republic, my country of origin.
Nearly all of our facilities have been developed at challenging locations (brownfield sites that were previously landfills or contaminated) utilizing the most advanced engineering technology. We developed the largest wind turbine in Massachusetts on a capped landfill in Kingston that is expected to generate more than 4 million kilowatt-hours per year in clean energy, enough to offset the energy use of 100,000 light bulbs per year. Our engineering consultant had to design a special foundation that would completely anchor the wind turbine while minimizing disturbance of the landfill soils. The design proposed by our engineering consultant involved dozens of steel rods driven up to 120 feet into the soil to create a rock anchor foundation, a design they have patented. The design has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as a breakthrough design. Later in 2012, we developed a second facility in Ipswich, Mass., with the support of Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, that is expected to generate an equal amount of clean energy. The combined output of these facilities is enough to power 2,000 typical American homes.
Rhode Island has a very nice feed-in tariff program that streamlines the process for renewable energy distributed generation. Of all the incentives that have been dreamed up for renewable energy, I think the feed-in tariff (as originally developed in Germany) is still the most direct market-based mechanism for incentivizing renewables. For energy efficiency, the best programs are those that enable financing of retrofits, such as improved high-efficiency heating equipment, and insulation. If the utility provides financing directly to consumers, we see a significant increase in energy efficiency.
At the end of the day, ensuring the availability of energy supplies along with reasonable costs is essential to development, whether in an industrial economy such as Massachusetts or a developing economy like the Dominican. When it comes to energy, a dollar invested today results inevitably in many dollars saved some 10 or 20 years down the road. I realize it is hard to think that far in advance these days, but ultimately the way we generate growth is by putting in the resources today for a better future.
—Kially Ruiz ’98
I’m the director of engineering at Boston-Power Inc. (BPI), a small private company that designs and manufactures lithium ion batteries. When I joined five years ago, we mostly focused on notebook computers and other consumer devices, but now focus on developing battery packs for electric vehicles, primarily in mainland China, although we have customers in other areas as well. My group is designing the battery management system that monitors the state of the battery (voltage, current, and temperature), looks for any unsafe operating conditions, communicates those conditions to the vehicle, and performs some higher-order battery management algorithms (calculating state of charge, available power, etc.).
—Scott Milne ’99 Th’01
I’m the director of corporate development and project finance at Standard Solar Inc. It’s a company based in Rockville, Md., that develops, engineers, and builds solar PV systems for residential, commercial, and small utility customers up to 10 megawatts. We also have an energy efficiency, LED, smart home, and generator division. We look to create sustainable solutions and save money for our customers.
—Kush Patel ’01 Th’02
I’m VP of engineering at ATDynamics, which designed and manufactures the TrailerTail, an origami-folding rear aerodynamic device for the long-haul trucking industry. Our company was started in 2006 by Andrew Smith Tu’07 while he was enrolled at Tuck. I joined the company as the first hire after working for Andrew with two other Thayer students for ENGS 190/290 in 2006–07. Chuck Horrell ’00 Th’01 and I were the two engineers who designed the TrailerTail for production (Chuck left ATDynamics in 2010 to pursue other ventures). Our company has grown to 50 people and has had four Thayer interns along the way. We are still the only supplier in this field, and have 10,000 units traveling North American highways. TrailerTails have saved an estimated 4 million gallons of diesel fuel so far. This experience has left a mark on me. While renewable energy sources such as solar and wind get most of the media attention, there is a large opportunity for individuals and small groups to carve out innovative niches in the energy-efficiency space that can make an immediate and powerful impact on sustainability.
—Jeff Grossmann ’06
I have been involved with a sustainability initiative at Mission Motor Co. in San Francisco. A colleague and I were involved in transforming our operations and facility to meet the requirements of the San Francisco Green Business Program. In reward for our effort, the company is exempt from payroll tax.
Oftentimes one of the hardest things to justify in a sustainability program is cost. You know what feels right, but it doesn’t always seem quite as palatable for those in charge of the balance sheet. Luckily for Mission Motor Co., a startup company designing drivetrain components for electric and hybrid vehicles, San Francisco takes some of this burden upon itself. In order to stimulate the environmental consciousness of businesses operating within the city, the San Francisco Green Business Program was formed to register businesses and require them to uphold standards for resource usage; the program rewards companies with an exclusion from payroll tax. For startup companies working on a limited budget, this can make all of the difference. At Mission our two-person green team, known as “Sustainable Mission,” was able to address issues of water and energy use as well as waste prevention. Being engineers, we were happy to add quantified metrics to track our progress in all of these areas. A simple spreadsheet that tracked our water bills over time (normalized with headcount) let us see that our waterless urinals and faucet aerators were indeed making a difference, with a savings of nearly 40 percent. A similar form for electricity allowed us to see our usage spike during times of extensive motor and battery lab testing and motivated us to optimize our test facilities. Monitoring other activities, such as recycling, composting, printing, heating/cooling, and lighting, allowed us to get a grasp on where we could make a difference. Once these differences were captured in a quantified manner, we were able to put a number on the savings that we were experiencing with our “feel good” practices. In the end, sustainability is largely about efficiency, and once it is quantified, it can prove to be a cost-effective way to run a business.
Thanks for the jump-start, San Francisco!
—Karl Johnson ’06
I work for Solaflect Energy in Norwich, Vt., with an all-Thayer contingent. We make tracking machines for solar applications. We design heliostats, tracking mirror dishes that reflect the sun onto a central target. This is primarily a commercial-to-industrial-scale application. We also use the same structure to support PV modules to make a PV tracker that has residential applications. We’ve sponsored four ENGS 89/90 projects during the past several years. My coworkers are Bill Bender ’78, Nate Hine ’78 Th’80, Mike Wood ’10 Th’11, and Kelly Mallery ’11 Th’12.
—Dan Schneider ’07 Th’08
I recently returned to London after demonstrating our new biotech software product at the Dartmouth Ventures entrepreneurship conference. Our service, AutoClone, dramatically reduces the need to build synthetic DNA from hazardous, flammable chemicals. Instead, it automatically figures out how a given DNA molecule can be recycled from those a scientist already has in his or her laboratory. Basically, it maximizes the recycling of this important part of the laboratory.
I founded the company last year along with two of my classmates from grad school at the University of Cambridge after we won the university business plan competition that June. Our short-term goal is the successful launch of our public beta by the end of summer, followed by our first paying customers by the end of the year. In five years, my hope is that AutoClone will have helped save our customers millions of hours that are currently wasted on the mundane process of building DNA molecules and substantially reduce the need for expensive chemical DNA synthesis.
Learning to program in Professor Shepherd’s ENGS 20 class made this all possible. Even though my focus at Thayer was working with Professor Gerngross in biochemical engineering, the breadth of Thayer’s curriculum has proven to be tremendously helpful.
—Riley Doyle Th’08
I work as the senior director of research and development at Mascoma Corp. in Lebanon, N.H., where I lead the team developing our technology for converting lignocellulose into low-carbon fuels and chemicals. The company was founded by Professors Lee Lynd Th’84 and Charlie Wyman and continues to have a strong connection to Thayer School. We have developed technology, including genetically modified strains of yeast, to allow low-cost production of ethanol from hardwoods. These organisms produce enzymes and ferment a variety of sugars at high yield. Mascoma has also applied its technology to the first-generation corn-ethanol market, and has commercialized a product called Transferm in conjunction with Lallemand Inc. This product reduces inputs needed for corn-ethanol production and has been used in the commercial production of hundreds of millions of gallons of ethanol to date. The challenges facing Mascoma are similar to the development of any new technology attempting to break into an established market and similar to those any new company faces. We must overcome the risk associated with scaling up new processes and biotechnology and find a way to deploy our technology into the market rapidly. In addition, we face the unique challenge of an ever-changing policy and regulatory framework for ethanol and advanced biofuels.
—John McBride Th’08
I am a project engineer at Environmental Resources Management (ERM), where I develop, implement, and report on global sustainability and carbon-reduction programs for clients in the manufacturing and retail sector. At Dartmouth I did my thesis with Professor Mark Borsuk on quantifying the human health and societal benefits of mercury reductions from coal-fired power plants. After graduating, I was a member of the Big Green Bus 2010 tour. In my job I apply my background in quantifying and monetizing environmental risk in various projects, from a portfolio-level assessment of environmental and social risks for an oil and gas client to financial reserve estimation for asset retirement obligations for a global manufacturing client.
I also work closely with the ERM Foundation’s Low Carbon Enterprise Fund, which provides debt and equity finance and technical and management support for small, low-carbon social enterprises in the developing world. I’ve assisted with business plan review and due diligence of low-carbon ventures in Thailand and Belize, and recently spoke on a career development impacts investing panel at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.
The greatest challenge I see from a business point of view is determining what is most material to your organization and where you can have the biggest impact. There are a variety of sustainability metrics to manage energy, water, and various waste streams, not just in your direct footprint but across the entire value chain. From a risk-management perspective, a lot of our work starts with regulatory and climate risk-mapping. We first help our clients understand and comply with existing environmental regulations, and then start down the initial path of resource efficiency and carbon-reduction goals. More and more companies are asked to respond to public ranking platforms, such as Carbon Disclosure Project, Newsweek Green Rankings, or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and, in turn, are thinking about how they present their sustainability strategy to shareholders and other stakeholders. From a personal development perspective, it’s exciting to be able to get into the data and help my clients track progress against their defined energy and carbon goals, and then take a step back and see where the bar is going for the next year.
Coming down the pipeline, we see a lot more emphasis on supply chain and looking beyond traditional operational footprints. There are numerous case studies proving that sustainability can go beyond just resource efficiency and cost-cutting—which is just good business sense—to how you can grow sales through more efficient or sustainable products or services. It goes back to the initial materiality question and where businesses can make a real impact.
Whenever a company can identify the real business advantage of its sustainability program, things accelerate. Many companies recognize that sustainability should not be a separate group, but rather part of every function and measured with the same rigor as financial metrics and operational key performance indicators. As an engineer, you have the advantage of thinking from a systems point of view, and so you intuitively understand that inputs, outputs, and costs are all related. At the end of the day, when you clearly link your sustainability efforts to the balance sheet, you have the greatest chance of success.
Drawing on both my client experiences and my work with the ERM fund, I serve on the board of directors for the Young Professionals in Energy N.Y.C. chapter (along with Thayer M.E.M. alum Arjun Thampan Th’11), where I coordinate networking and thought leadership events for a network of nearly 3,000 professionals. We represent all sectors of the energy industry, from renewables to oil and gas to transmission and energy efficiency. We host networking events once a month, and it’s a great way to have interesting conversations and learn something new. ERM works with many oil and gas clients in the Northeast. I’ve been involved in some risk-assessment work around shale gas, so I am bringing in an ERM expert to present a Marcellus Shale 101 talk this summer, with a focus on managing the environmental impacts of shale gas development.
—Ann Elise DeBelina ’10
I work as a process engineer for Primus Green Energy, an alternative fuel company based in Hillsborough, N.J. Primus has developed a thermochemical process that converts various feedstocks—including biomass, municipal solid waste, and natural gas—into “drop-in” gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel that can be readily distributed throughout the existing fuel delivery infrastructure. The highly integrated nature of the process makes it cost competitive even at smaller scales.
Most of my efforts have supported the construction of our demonstration plant, which is expected to come online in the fall of 2013. I am involved in developing the demonstration plant designs, working with the engineering team to fine-tune the process and optimize it for production of high-quality fuels. I have also had the opportunity to work on the business side of the company, which I’ve enjoyed very much.
A major challenge for alternative fuels is managing both the technology risk as well as the feedstock risk. The combination of these risks makes project financing and development more difficult, and many companies have been unable to overcome these challenges in their efforts to commercialize. Primus is mitigating these risks by initially pursuing natural gas as a feedstock, which has very attractive pricing economics and which relies on Primus’ liquid fuel synthesis technology that is market-ready today.
In the short term, our demonstration plant will provide the performance data necessary to break ground on our first commercial plant, which is expected to take place next year. In the longer term, Primus will expand its production line at the demo plant to include jet fuel, diesel, and specialty chemicals, such as xylene and toluene. We will also look to further develop the use of biomass as a feedstock and roll out additional commercial plants.
—Ben Moskowitz ’10
I work on the smart grid, energy-water nexus and gas industry-related sustainability investments.
—Sid Nagendraprasad Th’10
I am working for Navigant Consulting in its energy efficiency policy analysis group. Our major client is the U.S. Department of Energy, for whom we do the engineering analysis that helps it select efficiency levels for appliances. Basically, we try to figure out the most cost-effective way to make everyday appliances (e.g., microwaves, refrigerators, and air conditioners) reduce their energy use. Our efforts help Americans save billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity every year.
—Caitlin Johnson ’10
I’m leading the research and development efforts at WikiCell Designs, a small startup focused on replacing plastic food packaging with edible packaging. We are working on developing all-natural edible skins that can be wrapped around ice cream, yogurt, juice etc., much like fruit skins protect their inner content. (See “Eat Ice Cream Like an Apple” on bloomberg.com.)
The concept of WikiCell was invented by David Edwards and Francois Azambourg, and much of the initial work leading up to the full launch of the company in 2012 was supported by ArtScience Labs. WikiCell still has lab space at ArtScience in Paris, and this is where many of the recipe formulations are still being conducted. The product can be any food or beverage wrapped in an edible or biodegradable skin. You can think of an apple, where you wash the skin and then eat everything, or like a coconut, where you crack the shell and eat the inside, but the entire item is biodegradable.
My role within the company is to manage and lead the research and development efforts for the Cambridge, Mass., side of the company as the senior scientist of the team. A typical work week for me is to take David’s ideas and formulations from Paris and basically figure how we’re going to make them work. I have a team of four scientists, and much of our work focuses on skin development, both from a stability point of view (how shelf stable will the product be) and from the flavor/taste end of things. We will develop various prototypes throughout the week and test electrostatic interactions, diffusional properties, tensile strength, scalability, and, of course, taste, to name a few considerations. Much of my work is focused on joining biotechnology, chemistry, and food science. It’s really interesting when you start looking at food with a scientific eye and realize that many of the concepts you know to be true in the biotech field can also be applied to food. We do a lot of work around food particle electrostatic interactions and polymer chemistry. Nature has given us the blueprints, and now we’re just trying to apply them.
Part of our goal is to not only eliminate plastic, but to create a skin that provides additional nutrition to the consumer and also creates a food item that brings together new flavors and textures not seen with conventional food items. An example of this is our coconut-mango sorbet (a favorite of mine). As you bite into the skin, which consists of mostly coconut flakes and tastes and feels like the meat of a coconut, you reach the food item inside, which in this case is a delicious mango sorbet. The interplay between the flavors and textures creates an amazing product that not only tastes good, but is good for you and good for environment. We believe that people want to reduce waste, reduce plastic, but to really get them on board with these ideas you need to make something that they want more than the traditional plastic-wrapped food item.
Our greatest challenges are both scientific- and consumer-based. Can consumers make the jump from buying yogurt in a plastic container to buying a product that looks like a grape, can be washed like a grape, but contains yogurt inside? We believe that if we can produce a product that provides a new and unique eating experience, is all-natural and healthy, tastes as good or better than conventional food items, and can be delivered at a similar price point, consumers can and will make that jump.
We launched WikiCell ice creams and sorbets in Paris this summer. Most likely you will see WikiCell popping up in the United States in 2014. Longer-term goals include developing yogurt, juice, and even cocktails as well as expanding the availability of WikiCell products.
—John Lamppa Th’11
I work at General Compression, a Boston-area company that is developing technology for large-scale grid storage. The technology will be coupled with a renewable generator, such as wind, to provide clean energy on demand. The storage technology can also be coupled with nuclear plants to make their power output more responsive or installed directly on the grid to provide storage and load-shifting services. The storage mechanism is compressed air, meaning that the technology is fuel and carbon emission-free.
—Lakshmi Srinivasan ’11