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2015 Green Home Tour kicks off this Saturday

With migraine-inducing heating bills becoming the norm this season, it's nice to know that green technology is out there — and on the rise.
Though the movement is a slow one, more and more buildings across the tristate area are attempting LEED certification, a green building designation that requires an examination into the design, construction, maintenance and neighborhood development (among other factors) of a certain property or building. A primary focus in LEED certification is energy efficiency, though the prestigious label goes much farther than that.
Fortunately, many LEED-certified building, residential and not, are popping up in neighborhoods across town. Thanks to the U.S. Green Building Council and its local Green Living Member Circle, Cincinnati residents have the opportunity to tour some of these properties during the year-long "This is a Green Home" tour, which kicks off this Saturday, Feb. 21.
The first stop along the tour is in the Mt. Airy/Northside area, a green home known as the Wright House. With a Gold LEED Certification under its belt, the house also received the City of Cincinnati's CRA Tax Abatement, which is offered as an incentive to pursue such certification. The abatement will save the owners over $40,000 in a five-year period.
This particular home received bonus points for limiting the use of turf in the yard, sustainable design of the building itself, regionally-sourced building materials, durability, low VOC coatings and sealants, low water usage, tight insulation, thick air filters and a geothermal heat pump that sends waste heat back into the water heater, among other features.
Edward Wright of Wright Design and Pete Subach of Graybach are responsible for the contemporary design and sustainable features of the residence. The tour accommodates 20 people and is already sold out.
Additional tours will feature a number of houses like the Wright House. A tour of the Nutter House, featuring the city's only known rainwater flush toilet system, will take place on March 21. There will be a tour of the Imago for the Earth community in Price Hill on April 25, while the Boulter House in Clifton, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, opens its doors in May.
For a complete list of stops on the tour, check out the Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy website.

Electric cars welcome at new dunnhumby garage

A new 3CDC development in Cincinnati's Central Business District is making a name for innovation, and it's not a new residential building or office space. It's a garage.
The new dunnhumby Centre Garage, located at the corner of Fifth and Race streets, is the first of its kind to include charging stations for electric cars in its design.
The 1,000-space garage features three Level 2 charging stations that will allow six cars to charge at a time. Electric car users will pay the same parking rate as other drivers and will have access to the charging stations on a first-come first-served basis.
The "green" garage idea is a response to city reports of doubling electric car usage over the past year. The reports estimate that nearly 3,000 electric vehicles requiring plug-in access are now registered in Southwest Ohio.
"We plan to integrate charging stations into any of our future developments that involve the construction of a new parking garage," says Joe Rudemiller of 3CDC.
With the construction of dunnhumby's new office space still ongoing, dunnhumby employees are not expected to use the garage until the company moves in April. At that time, about half of the garage will likely be used by dunnhumby employees. At the moment, the garage is mainly public parking and is used by valet services at the Hilton at Netherland Plaza, 21c Museum Hotel and Metropole Restaurant.
According to a recent 3CDC inquiry, three or four dunnhumby employees currently drive electric cars to work.
If the number of electric car drivers in the city dramatically increases, this garage and others like it will be ready for them.
"The (charging) stations are very easy to install," Rudemiller says. "We'll be able to keep up with the demand quite easily."

One-room schoolhouse at NKU to be transformed into modern learning space

Imagine taking a history course in a building that, by its very nature, is a testament to how far education has come over the centuries. At Northern Kentucky University, plans are underway to create a space that creates that very opportunity, and more.
In the coming months, renovation projects will ensue to turn a one-room, 1850s schoolhouse into a technologically modern learning center. The log cabin-like structure will be equipped with wifi, a smart board and other modern classroom materials. That said, instead of gutting the building, project leader and Masters in Public History professor Dr. Brian Hackett wants to keep the design of the cabin as loyal to 19th century design standards as possible. This means primitive lighting and perhaps a coal-burning stove, if they're lucky.
Dr. Hackett, along with the grounds and maintenance crew at NKU, has been pushing to make this building usable again for years. The cabin arrived on campus grounds in 1979 after being transferred from Grants Lick, Ky. The university's former president, Dr. W. Frank Steely, brought the building to campus to provide a contrast to the modern amenities students were enjoying at that time. For decades, it simply sat on the grounds.
Furthered by a push from the Facilities Management Department at the university, Dr. Hackett finally made a move to change that. After years of bringing his museum management students to the building and asking them, "If someone handed you this building, what would you do with it?" Dr. Hackett finally decided to do something with it.
According to Hackett, the cost to carry out the project is surprisingly low. Financially backed by "money that should have been spent years ago" and aided by the help of dozens of student and faculty volunteers, the renovations should be complete by next spring. Once finished, Hackett and his teams envision that the building will provide a space for all disciplines, not just history.
"Any professor can take their students to the cabin for a class," Hackett says. "[The cabin] is meant to be integrated into the philosophy of the whole university."
That philosophy is characterized by a sense of collaboration. NKU's Ecological Stewardship Institute Initiative, its Masters in Public History Program and even its cabinetry department will all be working together to make Dr. Hackett's vision a reality.
The grounds surrounding the cabin will also serve an important purpose. In the coming months, the fields behind the structure will serve as living laboratories for students studying the sciences.
As for the cabin itself, it will allow NKU students to escape the distractions of the average learning space and truly return to a simpler time.
"I think people are going to use it more than they think," Hackett says. "If you're looking for a place to, say, write the next great American novel, there's really no better option."

Cincinnati startup Lagoon aims to change how we view water usage

A good idea can come at any time, as long as you’re ready to listen to it. There may be no group in town that knows this better than the founders of Lagoon, the Cincinnati startup that seeks to help homeowners understand and reduce their water usage.
Late in the fall of 2013, good friends, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts Eric Elias and Nathan Heidt wanted to work on a side project together. The two got together, along with Heidt’s lifelong friend Will Wiebe, and began working on ideas to submit to the University of Dayton’s Business Plan Competition.
“An hour before the application was due, we really weren’t passionate about anything,” says Elias, now CEO of Lagoon. “We wanted a market that wasn’t already over-saturated and, ultimately, an idea that we cared about.”
Heidt, now CTO, had just finished a cross-country bicycle trip. Along the way, he saw the impact a drought was having in regions of Texas and California on its farmers and citizens and became inspired to learn more about water usage. The group started thinking about a product that could educate and inspire others around the issue of water usage.
“I just asked Nathan and Will if it would be possible to measure water usage from the outside of a pipe,” Elias says. “They said it could work, and we all knew immediately that we were on to something.”
Fast forward to the present and Lagoon has made major strides forward, and is no longer a side project being worked on out of a barn. The team ended up winning third prize at the UD Business Plan competition and receiving $10,000. The startup has also since been accepted into the 2014 class of the Brandery, the top 10 nationally ranked accelerator located in Over-the-Rhine.
The technology for Lagoon is similar to that of the Nest model in that it reinvents home automation for the digital age. A Lagoon sensor is placed around the outside of a home’s main water line and a Lagoon base station is placed in the home. Using the home’s wi-fi network, the two devices communicate with each other to monitor and track water usage and then send information to the user’s smartphone.  
“As a homeowner, I never really understood my water bill,” Elias says. “It’s like receiving your credit card bill with a single line item—it’s very unclear. Plus, right now, you get a water bill 30 days later. That’s a long feedback loop. We want to bring it closer, to the week, to the hour, to the minute, so you can understand your water usage even for your morning shower you just took.”
Already, Lagoon has entered into a partnership with the Hamilton Mill and the city of Hamilton, Ohio, to pilot its technology with the city’s residents.
“Hamilton is a city that is focused on being eco-friendly and sustainable. Having a smart home water system within their homes fits that,” Elias says.
Lagoon is poised to make even bigger moves as the year progresses. The team urges residents to check out its site and explore how having a Lagoon in their home can help them save money and save the planet.  

GoSun ships first solar cookers, launches online community

GoSun, the Cincinnati startup that developed a portable, high-efficiency and fuel-free solar cooker of the same name, has just begun shipping their first line of products around the world.
The cookers come in two variations, called the GoSun Sport, which can cook up to 3 lbs of food and weigh only 5 lbs itself, and the GoSun Mini, which weighs about 1.5 lbs and can cook 9.5 oz of food. Soapbox profiled GoSun in the fall of 2013, when they were in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign ended with GoSun raising over $200,000, making it the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever in Cincinnati. Since that time, things have been happening fast for the GoSun team.
“We’ve already sent out over 1,000 products to 22 countries around the world, making these the first batch of American made high efficiency solar cookers,” says Patrick Sherwin, Founder and President of GoSun.
Additionally, GoSun has launched an online community via Facebook called the GoSun Community Kitchen, where early adopters of the technology can post and view pictures and recipes using the solar cooker.
“We love that people are so excited about the GoSun and are constantly thinking up new ways to use it,” says Social Designer Matt Gillespie.
With the rapid expansion of the company, GoSun has hired six fulltime employees since the fall and that number will likely grow through the end of 2014. At the beginning of the year, they were even offered a spot on the coveted entrepreneurial-themed TV show, Shark Tank.
“They actually approached us and suggested we apply for the show,” says Sherwin. “We seriously considered it for a long time, but in the end, we decided that we’d rather grow our company based on the steady input of users we’ve built up over time, as opposed to hoping for an overnight success.”
To read about the decision in greater detail, you can find the blog post on GoSun’s site here. Whichever way they choose to go, GoSun’s future looks undoubtedly bright. 

Biztech incubator rebrands and shifts focus

Biztech, the 11-year-old business incubator based in Hamilton, Ohio, announced earlier this month its new name and rebranding initiative aimed at attracting early-stage entrepreneurs and companies. Moving forward, Biztech will be known as The Hamilton Mill with the goal to serve as a resource for the entrepreneurial community, particularly in the areas of advanced manufacturing, clean technology (renewable energy, natural gas, water) and digital technology.
“This announcement marks the culmination of many months of effort to redirect and refine the mission, scope and utility of The Hamilton Mill,” says Rahul Bawa, The Hamilton Mill’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Operating Officer of the Blue Chip Venture Company. “As the only incubator in Butler County, it is incumbent on The Hamilton Mill to find new ways of attracting and growing the businesses of the future. The Hamilton Mill is uniquely positioned to bring together entrepreneurs who can build the clean, digital and advanced technologies that will impact all of our lives for the better.”
The city of Hamilton actually owns its utilities department and has been very progressive about providing clean and renewable energy to residents. Anthony Seppi, Operations Director for the Hamilton Mill, is hoping that clients will tap into what the city is doing.
“We’re touting this as a ‘city as a lab’ kind of concept,” he says. “Companies with that fit into this industry can come here, work on prototypes of their product, and have immediate access to resources and customers willing to try them out and give valuable feedback.”
Although the incubator has existed since 2003, it’s only now, with the rebranding and renewed focus, that The Hamilton Mill has made itself known as a regional presence and formed key partnerships with organizations in the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Cincinnati, Dayton and other cities.
“We have a seat on the board of Cintrifuse, we’ve been working with Confluence and with the manufacturing program at Miami University,” Seppi says. “With our new regional partners, we’re going to be making some noise and growing some high-quality businesses.”

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Django Kroner, The Canopy Crew

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
Magic exists. We just have to choose to let it into our lives. You can be fairly certain of that after meeting Django Kroner, founder and owner of the Canopy Crew.
Launched in November 2013, The Canopy Crew is a custom tree house building and tree care company. As a business owner, Kroner is quite green, but when it comes to tree care, construction, rigging and woodwork, he has several years under his belt already.
At the age of 19, Kroner moved to Red River Gorge, Ky., to pursue his passion for rock climbing. While there, he began working at a cabin rental company building timber frame cabins and living in a tent. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to build a tree house to get off of the forest floor. He spent three years living in the treehouse.
“Living there brought an amazing sense of contentment. No matter what the day held, as soon as I’d go up in the tree house, it’d be a good night,” Kroner says. “Having friends over and seeing how it inspired them made me want to share the magic of tree houses with more people.”
So he decided to leave Red River Gorge, though he still returns frequently, and head to Cincinnati to learn about tree health here to complement the building and rigging skills he learned while in Kentucky.
Now with the Canopy Crew, Kroner is able to build tree houses that not only are safe and sustainable, but also interact with the trees in the healthiest manner possible. He has projects that span the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region, from Yellow Springs to Eastgate to, of course, Red River Gorge.
“I’m working on developing several tree houses, potentially a tree house village, down at the gorge,” Kroner says. “That way people from around the area can come and experience the amazing perspective that comes with life in a tree house.”
Django became involved with the Big Pitch competition through participating in Artworks’ CO.STARTERS program.
“Artworks has been a huge help for me and my business,” Kroner says. “Through CO.STARTERS and now the Big Pitch, they’ve provided me with some great expertise that relates to me. Starting a business on my own means that I have a thousand questions, and to have something besides Google is huge. If I win the competition, I think that will help me get somewhere that would otherwise have taken three to four years to get to. And if I don’t, it’s still opened up this mentality for me that I can just get after it and start making things happen now.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Metro unveils first ticket vending machine, allowing more flexible public transit

On Thursday, March 27, Metro, Southwest Ohio’s Regional Transit Authority, will unveil its first ticket vending machine. The machine is located at the Government Square information booth near the intersection of Fifth and Walnut in Downtown Cincinnati and provides 24/7 access to Metro passes and stored-value cards.
“This project has been in the works for several years, but it took some planning,” says Jill Dunne, public affairs manager at Metro. “We want to make riding Metro easier, and this is one way we can do just that.”
The machine is similar to standard vending machines, and offers all Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards. The machine accepts cash (exact amounts only) or credit cards. Up to four passes can be purchased per transaction.
More ticket vending machines will soon be available in the Clifton area near the University of Cincinnati in the new Uptown Transit District and at other high-traffic transit hubs.
“The Uptown Transit District is a big project for Metro this year,” Dunne says. “The new district consists of four distinct areas or hubs that will serve as the major connection and transfer point for many Metro routes and several Uptown shuttles offered by the University of Cincinnati and area employers.”
Currently, Metro is in the construction phase for the shelters in the Uptown area. The machines will be installed later this year once that process is complete.
“This project will better serve the thousands of people riding Metro to and from jobs, education, medical services, and entertainment in Uptown every day,” Dunne says.
Metro is working on additional fare options for customers that will be available in Metro pass sales outlets and ticket vending machines. Metro passes will continue to be sold at a dozen Cincinnati locations and online at www.go-metro.com.
“The good news for Metro is that Cincinnati is talking about public transportation. We are seeing a positive trend with young professionals embracing alternatives to cars. People are seeking green and money-saving alternatives, and Metro fills those needs.”

By Mike Sarason

CRESBI Crates offer more efficient, sustainable alternative to shopping bags

Linda Fritz, creator of CRESBI Crates, hates waste. For this reason (and a few others), she created a reusable crate that is more sturdy and durable than reusable or plastic bags, can be cleaned in a dishwasher and folds up flat for easy storage. Now she’s on a quest to bring a crate to every home in America.
It all started with having just a little too much edamame. As the owner of Sun Sugar Farms in Veron, Ky., she has been growing edamame and sun sugar cherry tomatoes for several years. By 2012, she was selling hundreds of pounds of edamame and donating some to schools with a goal of getting Kentucky children to eat healthier.
“I was transporting the edamame in boxes, and I hated that the boxes were getting soggy and probably getting thrown away,” Fritz says. “So I bought a couple bins like the produce guys at the grocery store use. And I thought that if only it was a little taller and a little lighter, why couldn’t we use this?”
The bins Fritz bought originally were a bit too large and industrial for what she was looking for, but after many trials and tribulations, she found a crate that was the perfect size and weight for her idea, sunk her savings into it and hasn’t looked back.
Fritz dubbed the crates CRESBI as an acronym for Collapsible Reusable Environmentally-friendly Stackable Box Idea.
“One CRESBI crate can replace up to six plastic bags and also can replace reusable bags, which start to fall apart if you wash them, and there’s nowhere to recycle them,” Fritz says. “But the best part about the crates is the time they save. You simply put your items in them with the barcodes up and have the checker use their handheld scanner to scan the items right in the crate.”
Currently, Fritz is selling the crates on her website, www.cresbicrate.com, but has also struck up deals with a few local vendors to carry them in the Ohio/Kentucky area. In her first year, with only her website, she’s already received orders from across the country.

This Land's Growing Value Nursery to provide sustainable food supply to Cincinnatians

This Land, a local nonprofit that aims to bring educational opportunities to the Greater Cincinnati area in permaculture, green building and sustainable living, is pushing forward its Growing Value Nursery. The nursery, located in Northside, offers more than 120 varieties of perennial edible plants, with the aim of giving permaculturalists and gardeners tools to create “abundant and resilient landscapes.”
Braden Trauth, founder of This Land and the Growing Value Nursery, firmly believes in the need to create a sustainable local urban environment and cites the tenets of permaculture as his methodology for how to do so.
“Permaculture looks at ecology, understands how ecosystems have worked for 2 billion years and looks at how we can model our human systems off of that,” Trauth says. “It actually pulls a lot of its theoretical framework form industrial design, which is what I’m trained in.”
Trauth was initially turned on to sustainable design in the early 2000s by Dale Murray, the coordinator of the Industrial Design Program of the School of Design, in the college of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati.
In 2007, after studying topics such as housing, energy, green business and permaculture around the world, Trauth noticed that Cincinnati was severely lacking in resources for these areas, particularly so in educating the population about them. In 2008, he began teaching permaculture classes in Cincinnati, and in 2011 went on to form This Land to continue to educate and disseminate ideas on how to create systems for sustainable living.
“The Growing Value Nursery spawned out of our permaculture courses,” Trauth says. “We realized that we didn’t have a supply line of good plants to supply homeowners, home gardeners, landscapers with diverse edibles; most of what you’d get is mail order, and most of the plants are small. We wanted to do something bigger.”
In 2013, the Growing Value Nursery received a $1,200 grant from Fuel Cincinnati, which allowed them to accelerate growth so the program could be more self-sustaining through the nursery and classes.
“You talk with Braden for a half hour and you realize that we have world-class experts on permaculture right here in Cincinnati,” says Fuel chair Joe Stewart-Pirone. “Fuel knew we wanted to help launch this project as soon as we saw it.”
For more info on the nursery or to schedule an appointment to visit, e-mail info@this-land.org

by Mike Sarason

Murals bring new life along the Licking River

The city of Covington has designated blank walls along the Licking River Greenway and Trails network as canvases for artists of all types to add their own creative stamps among the series of murals created by ArtWorks.

The city and ArtWorks have partnered for the past 18 months on a series of 17 murals along the Licking River as part of the Licking River Greenway and Trails network in Covington. The murals were designed by local artists and represent the energy of the area through interpretations of its recreational resources, nature, history and people.

Phase one of the project was completed in September 2012. The final nine murals were completed last summer. Since completion, one of the mural structures has been repeatedly tagged. 

“Creative individuals are inspired in all types of ways and express their art in manners that aren’t always in line with the standard submittal processes we developed for this project,” says Kristine Frech, manager of The Licking River Greenway and Trails Project for Vision 2015, a shared public plan that serves as a catalyst for growth in Northern Kentucky

“We could have painted over the unsolicited artwork and continued to keep that side of the mural blank, but instead we want to embrace community members who want their art to be seen. So, we redesigned the blank walls to be used for street art.”  

The wall is now open to community members to draw, write and craft what “Art is …” to them.

“Our first wall has already been given life! Not only did someone come and add art, they added a ‘Thank you Covington’ message,” Frech says.

Before Vision 2015 actively engaged urban artists, the blank sides of the mural structures were being tagged.  So far, providing a wall as a canvas has produced great results.

“If you challenge individuals to leave something meaningful, they will rise to the challenge and leave something behind that adds vibrancy to the community,” Frech says.

Vision 2015 is a local nonprofit organization implementing a 10-year strategic plan for Northern Kentucky.  Vision 2015 sought input from nearly 2,500 people throughout the region to identify six goals Northern Kentucky must meet in order to enjoy economic prosperity and a high quality of life for all residents. 

Three trail day events have been scheduled for 2014: May 3, June 21 and November 8. Events details and volunteer opportunities will be available on the Licking River Greenway and Trails website.

Matthew Woolley

Urban Timber program responds to crisis with innovation and collaboration

Like great innovators often do, the Cincinnati Park Board had a problem. The root of the problem was this: About 10 years ago, the emerald ash borer, a beetle native to Asia and Eastern Russia, was found in Detroit.
The beetle is known to be 100 percent fatal to ash trees, barring a treatment that was too expensive and cumbersome for the park board to consider. With more than 10 percent of Cincinnati’s trees being made up of ash trees, the parks were left with a sizable challenge.  
“We knew that we’d have to cut a lot of trees down or risk them decaying and falling down, so we started working on a program to make something out of all of this wood,” says Dave Gamstetter, Natural Resource Manager for the Cincinnati Park Board.  “
This eventually led to the formation of Urban Timber, a collaboration between the Cincinnati Park Board, Wilhelm Lumber and several other local partners. The main focus of Urban Timber is creating flooring, tables and dimensioned lumber produced from trees harvested in the city of Cincinnati. Another dimension that sets this initiative apart is that proceeds from the sale of Urban Timber products go to replanting trees in the city.
“It’s really a case of making lemonade out of lemons,” Gamstetter says. “Instead of spending around $100,000 a year to turn the infected trees into mulch, we can look at these trees as resources, convert them into a product people can use, put the money back into reforestation, and consumers can support local businesses and their local economy by buying it.”
One of the key minds behind the idea for Urban Timber was Sam Sherrill, a professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and author of the book "Harvesting Urban Timber."
“Sam really pushed the idea of using the trees and finding a market for the lumber,” Gamstetter says. “He’s definitely a renowned expert on the process, and I don’t think many people realize he lives here in Cincinnati.”
Past clients include Cincinnati Public Schools, Landor and more. Urban Timber is currently in talks with Cintrifuse to put wood floors into their new Over-the-Rhine office space, currently under construction across from the Mercer Commons development.
By Mike Sarason

Cincinnati startup GoSun offers fuel-free cooking, aims to empower families

Patrick Sherwin has been working with solar energy for more than a decade. As the Owner and President of Applied Sunshine, he has a diverse background in construction, science, engineering, management and integration of renewable energy sources. Perhaps just as important to this story, he’s also a tinkerer.
“I pulled a solar collector off of a rooftop one day and brought it down to the back yard and started tinkering with it,” Sherwin says. “I’m sort of a do-it-yourself kind of guy.”
Before long, Sherwin decided to take some hot dogs from his refrigerator and place them in the tube of the collector—and suddenly he had lunch.
“Immediately, I started thinking that this technology had real potential to cook food and serve a need,” Sherwin says.
After many months of prototyping, refining and designing, Sherwin and his team have developed the GoSun Stove, a portable, high-efficiency and fuel-free solar cooker.
The GoSun technology relies on the principles of parabolic reflection, evacuation (for its insulating value) and the Greenhouse effect, and will passively work its magic whenever the sun is shining.
The GoSun team, Sherwin along with designer Matt Gillespie and legal counsel Adam Moser, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the stove. The campaign has been wildly successful raising more than $150,000 in just over a month.
“Patrick and I first met in 2011 in a permaculture design course hosted in Cincinnati,” Gillespie says. “We quickly realized that our attitudes and motivations were a perfect match … after he showed me the technology at work, I realized that this project had real potential to change the world.”
Aside from simply making and marketing the new technology, GoSun and its founders are dedicated to using what they’ve created to affect change and help populations around the world that need it most.
So far, they have partnerships with organizations in Ghana, Latin America, Uganda and Haiti. In some of these countries, up to 50% of family income is spent on energy needs like charcoal and firewood. The GoSun team is looking to empower these families with new solar technology, break the cycle of poverty and help the environment at the same time.
To learn more, visit the GoSun website.

By Michael Sarason


Promising University of Cincinnati student research turns coffee waste into biodiesel

In the long running quest to find alternative fuel sources, University of Cincinnati researchers are adding to the pursuit. They're in the early stages of scaling a process that converts coffee grounds into biodiesel.

Graduate student Yang Liu and doctoral student Qingshi Tu have been working on the project for nearly two years. Their research, which involves burning the grounds for energy after a purification process, was recently presented at the American Chemical Society's 246th National Meeting & Exposition in Indianapolis.

"We have three targets. First we extract oil from the coffee grounds, then we dry the waste coffee grounds in a process to filter impurities. Then we burn what's left as a source of energy generation (similar to using biomass)," explains Liu, an environmental engineering student.

The research is in the proof of concept stage, so it's proven promising in the lab, says Tu, also an environmental engineering student.

"Now we have to see how this will work on a large scale … in the next two years," he says.

The students are working with UC professor Mingming Lu on the process, which began in 2010. The project began small, starting with a five-gallon bucket of grounds from the campus Starbucks.

The project was one of four awarded a $500 UC Invents initiative grant last year. The grant supports campus innovators.

With the magnitude of coffee drinkers in just the U.S., the researchers have plenty of material to experiment with. It's estimated that one million tons of coffee waste is generated in the U.S. alone each year. Most of that sits in landfills.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

PowerGenie aims to cut passive energy costs in the home

Unless they're unplugged, your television or DVD player are never truly off.

Through what's known as "passive" or "phantom" energy, household appliances drive up your energy bill even after you flip the off switch. And unless you unplug those appliances, there's no easy way to stop it.

That could change if a team of young Cincinnati entrepreneurs get their energy-saving power outlet on the market. The PowerGenie, envisioned as a smart version of a traditional power strip, is the first product under development by Sustain-A-Watt Energy Solutions.

Passive energy is a big money and energy waster. It can add up to $40 a month to an average home's energy bill, or $5 billion a year across the U.S., says company co-founder and recent University of Cincinnati grad Rod Ghavami.

Appliances plugged into the PowerGenie can be turned off through a smart phone application that users can control from any location. The patent pending PowerGenie is still in the early development stage, but has won several business and innovation competitions. Most recently, it was a winner in the Cincinnati Innovates competition, winning the LPK Design and Branding Award.

"We have a proof-of-concept prototype, basically a Frankenstein prototype," Ghavami says. "Since graduation, some of the people on our team earlier have disappeared, and we've brought on some new people who are excited about the project and want to work on it."

The PowerGenie started as a class project for the Electrical Engineering student.

"As part of our senior design project, we came up with the idea of monitoring real-time electricity consumption from an outlet. That's how the PowerGenie came to be," Ghavami says.

After winning a Green Energy Business competition, the idea was further refined.

"We realized we could turn this into a real product and help the average person save energy," he says.

The PowerGenie is designed for residential use, but the technology could be expanded eventually for business use, Ghavami adds.

LPK will be soon start working with the company on marketing and consumer design. The company is also seeking angel investment and is working on a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding. The goal is to create a product ready for production by early next year.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter.
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