Two almost simultaneous events underscore growing regional focus on alternative, renewable energy

Two events occurring on Wednesday within an hour of each other at opposite ends of the Innovation Valley underscored the increasing emphasis being placed in the region on renewable and alternative energy as a source of economic growth.

One of the activities was a sneak preview showing of the West Tennessee Solar Farm exhibit that will be housed for about 18 months at the Knoxville Center Mall. The other was a “Demo Day” hosted by ARiES Energy at the future home of Proton Power in the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park. Teknovation.biz was invited to both events.

SPECTRUM Solar Display

John Hopkins, Director of Strategic Operations for TN-SCORE, said that the sneak preview was an opportunity to “get feedback and input” from educators, college students and community leaders on the new exhibit and the ways in which it can best be used to improve understanding of the state’s energy history and future.

TN-SCORE is the acronym for the Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage Using Outreach, Research and Education, a five-year, $20 million project funded by the National Science Foundation to boost the state’s energy-related research and education efforts.

“We want to bring STEM-related fields and opportunities closer to students,” Hopkins explained, adding that the multi-station exhibit is “made for unsupervised walk-in traffic” as well as more structured experiences. He noted that they plan collaboration space where teachers can have educational discussions with their students during a visit. They also plan to provide training guides to help educators maximize the use of the exhibit and are developing a variety of educational modules such as a “solar treasure hunt.”

The name of the exhibit is SPECTRUM with a tagline of being “Tennessee’s Solar Collection.” Hopkins said that the name implies the “spectrum of opportunities” available in Tennessee.

The exhibit is expected to open to the students, teachers and the public in November and reside in space on the second floor of the Knoxville Center Mall for about 18 months. The hours of operation have not yet been decided. SPECTRUM will be moved to the West Tennessee Solar Farm near Brownsville after a new building is completed there.

Hopkins noted that having the exhibit in Knoxville for now is “a real opportunity for East Tennessee.” He added that funding for the exhibit came from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s investment in the Solar Farm and the Tennessee Solar Institute.

ARiES “Demo Day”

Nearly 60 people turned out for the “Demo Day” to hear from several local leaders in the renewable and alternative energy space. All had engaged the services of the ARiES team in some way.

Ted Wampler, Jr., of Wampler’s Farm Sausage talked about the investments that his company has made in two solar energy installations, including its 500kw solar farm that incorporated only Tennessee made components.

After the last installation in 2011, Wampler said that the company adopted the tagline “Sausage . . . Burgers . . . Brats . . . Made in the Sun.” The latest  project, which is underway, is installation of cellulose to hydrogen power gasification (CHyP) system. As a result, Wampler said the company is changing its tagline to “Established in 1937, Energy Independent in 2012,” a clear statement of the bottom line value that the company’s investments in alternative energy are producing.

Sam Weaver, a well-known local entrepreneur, said his latest endeavor – Proton Power – “makes hydrogen on demand,” eliminating the need for and cost of storage and distribution systems.

With “Ted (Wampler) as our first adopter,” Weaver said that Proton Power’s technology takes almost any type of biomass, puts it through a carbon negative process, and produces everything from electricity, diesel fuel and heat to biochar and water. “We are biomass agnostic,” he says.

Proton Power will manufacturer its systems in the building where the event was held.

Tom Leonard of Sevier County Solid Waste noted that his organization operates one of the largest mixed waste composting facilities in the country. Sevier County is now working with ARiES and Proton Power to use “our material as a fuel source to power our facility.”

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