By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
It’s always good to see progress being made at start-ups that we have followed since launching teknovation.biz in January 2012, and that was the case at last week’s annual “Opportunities in Energy” forum hosted by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC).
Michael Garrabrant, Chief Executive Officer of Stone Mountain Technologies Inc. (SMTI), told attendees that the 10-year old company now has 16 engineers and technicians on the staff, has produced 30 prototypes, and will have a dozen of its thermal compressors deployed as a key component of gas heat pumps for space, water and pool heating made by the end of the year.
“Everyone likes to come home to a nice warm house and hot shower,” the Johnson City-based Entrepreneur said. SMTI is one of the participants in TAEBC’s “Energy Mentor Network,” a program funded by Launch Tennessee.
Garrabrant says the technology that he has been developing since founding the company in 2008 is relevant for residential and light commercial. The thermal compressors will be manufactured by SMTI but deployed as part of a heat pump or other device produced by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
“It’s a game-changing technology for the gas heating appliance market,” Garrabrant added. He expects to start full production and shipping the compressors to OEMs by the end of 2020.
Attendees at the “Opportunities in Energy” forum at the Square Room in Downtown Knoxville were treated to a full agenda that included an overview of TAEBC’s recently updated “Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report” (see our teknovation.biz article from August), a panel discussing the work of the recently launched TennSMART consortium, a panel discussion about the addition of TVA as a partner for the third cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” initiative, and pitches by five of the eight participants in the first two cohorts of the program.
The subtitle of the TennSMART panel was “Shaping the Future of Intelligent Mobility,” and it featured three individuals sharing their perspectives on the topic. One of the discussion items was the importance of regulations in what is largely an unregulated industry where interoperability standards – think about the debate years ago about VHS versus Beta – are still not developed.
“We’re not waiting for regulatory change and action,” said Bob Booker, Senior Manager in the Corporate Services Division of DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee Inc. In fact, he noted that the global parts manufacturer was even building partnerships with companies that were not viewed as traditional automotive suppliers.
His comments underscored the reality that autonomous driving and all that it enables is an industry that is much more than just producing a vehicle.
“We have to get regs in place to set standards,” Brad Rutherford, Vice President of Sales for Local Motors, said. That position was not totally embraced by Ron Espinosa, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for SoftServe Inc., who said, “We cannot sit back, wait for the regulations, and let innovation slide. The regs will accelerate (intelligent mobility) once we get them.”
The session was moderated by ORNL’s Jesse Smith who is also heavily involved in the coordination of the TennSMART consortium. He asked the panelists how far intelligent mobility is along the adoption continuum.
“Big technology shifts take 10 to 12 years,” Rutherford noted, then answering that he believes the evolution as a whole is somewhere between two and four years into the cycle. Espinosa did not disagree, but added that “a lot of infrastructure is already in place” to enable the industry to grow once the critically-important devices are developed. He noted that one piece of the important infrastructure is ubiquitous presence of the nationwide cellular networks that will foster the all-important communication between vehicles.