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GoGreenET Achievers nominations open

We're looking to tell the stories of companies that have made significant progress in recycling/waste reduction, energy efficiency, renewable energy and community outreach, or in another area we may not have even considered.


We're looking for a specific project, process change or initiative in each category that can be used as a model for other organizations.

The nomination form can be found here. The deadline to submit a nomination is March 20. 

Winners will be featured in the Greater Knoxville Business Journal's May issue.

 

Knoxville helps pave way for Grow Bioplastics

Grow Bioplastics is a Knoxville startup company that is working to commercialize plant-based biodegradable plastic made from lignin, a renewable waste stream from the paper industry.

It also is the epitome of what entrepreneurship is in the Knoxville area. The company has been touched by the University of Tennessee, the UT Research Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Knoxville Chamber of Commerce and others.

"The number of people that have come up to us, offering just their assistance, free conversations, that has been the biggest part," said Tony Bova, 32, co-founder of Grow Bioplastics. "And the fact that it is so tight-knit, that everybody knows each other personally. Honestly, that's been the biggest of all it.

"How quickly we've been introduced in a matter of nine months to all of these parties, and they're all interested in what we're doing and eager to help drive that mission, that Knoxville is good for this."

Grow Bioplastics' goal as a company is to create a family of plastics that have applications throughout industry. It currently is focused on plastic mulch film.

Mulch film is used in farming to keep soil warm and moist. It extends the growing season for plants and blocks weeds. The problem, Bova said, is that farmers have to remove the plastic and send it to a landfill. Only about 10 percent gets recycled, mostly because it is covered in pesticides and recycling facilities won't take it, or will charge an extra fee.

"What we're trying to do is make a material that has the same properties, and performs just as well for all of their uses, but at the end of the season, they can just plow it into the ground where it will break down naturally because it is biodegradable material," Bova said.

The idea for Grow Bioplastics came in 2014 while Bova was taking an entrepreneurship course for his Ph.D. program at UT. The challenge in the course was to find different pieces of intellectual property that either existed at ORNL or UTRF and do a business model canvas around it. Through the advice of Tom Rogers, the director for industrial partnerships and economic development at ORNL, Bova picked a technology based on lignin-based plastics.

"I was fascinated by them," Bova said. "I really fell in love with that technology and I switched my research group in the Ph.D. to go work for the inventor of that technology out at Oak Ridge, Dr. Amit Naskar."

Several people are named on the patent for the technology, which is licensed by TennEra. According to Bova, Grow Bioplastics is in talks with TennEra to work out a sub-license agreement so that it can have access to that portion of the technology.

Bova and a team of students entered a pitch competition from another class based on the technology "just to see what our class work had put together," Bova said.

Grow Bioplastics won.

"It was like, $1,000, and we split it between the four of us," Bova said. "We didn't yet have a company, and at the time, we were talking about making 3-D printing materials out of lignin. And then I took a few more entrepreneurship classes. I took plenty, as many as I could."

Bova credited the Ph.D. program at UT's Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, which unites resources and capabilities from UT and ORNL to promote advanced research and to provide innovative solutions to global challenges in energy, engineering and computation. Bova's undergraduate work was in chemistry. Co-founder Jeff Beegle is a biosystems engineer.

"We have people who are nuclear engineers, computer scientists, geographers. All of us focusing on different aspects of energy in general," Bova said. "As part of the interdisciplinary need, we are required to take a few classes in either entrepreneurship or public policy. I took one in public policy. It was interesting and I learned a lot. And I took one in entrepreneurship, which I was interested in before I came here, and was just hooked."

Since then, Bova has taken as many entrepreneurship classes as possible. One was a MBA course called "New Venture Planning" taught by Lynn Youngs, the executive director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Haslam College of Business.

"In that class, I took that idea we originally had and worked with another team of students to pose a new question," Bova said. "What's a better application than 3-D printing, what's higher volume and something that's specifically targeting these biodegradeable plastics? That's where the mulch film idea came out of."

By the end of semester, Bova and his team had a full business plan in addition to one-page canvases. Bova emailed Youngs, saying "This is really interesting. I'm really actively pursuing this in the future and I'd really like to sit down and talk with you about it."

"He was like 'I don't know if you realize, but with this business plan, you have everything you need to start one,' " Bova said. " 'Start entering some of these competitions if you want to raise money, but get your business going. What better time than now? Don't wait.' "

So, on Dec. 29, 2015, Bova was in Chicago with his girlfriend, visiting her parents for the holidays.

"It was maybe one in the morning and I couldn't sleep," Bova said. "So I decided to start a business. I popped open the secretary of state website and entered all of my information and $300 later, I had an LLC. I was like 'Wow, this is really great.'

"I talked to Lynn later and he said 'Yeah, you probably should have waited until Jan. 1 because then you wouldn't have to pay the mandatory tax for those two days that you existed.' ... It's a fun story."

Since then, Grow Bioplastics has entered several business competitions. It started with "What's the Big Idea," hosted by the KEC and the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce.

"We had a three-day bootcamp weekend where we really dove into what the business model would be and we learned a whole lot," Bova said. "We didn't win."

Grow Bioplastics then entered the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston.

"That experience, I think, has shaped us the most because we were immediately thrust into a situation where we weren't being judged by judges, but actual investors, industry experts," Bova said. "There were 300 different judges across the competition. We pitched four times, each to a room of at least 20 people, and we had great, great feedback and we evolved a lot in our presentation skills and everything there."

Grow Bioplastics has since been accepted to 14 competitions and won a total of $68,500 in cash prizes.

"It's super exciting," Bova said. "We've gone from $300 out of pocket to just over $68,000 in non-equity funding. We've come quite a long way. Now we're in the process of writing some additional grants to a few government funding agencies to get up a bit more funding and looking to bring on our first employees in the next three or four months so we can be ready for the next phase."

Grow Bioplastics has been invited to the SXSW Eco pitch showcase in Austin, Texas. It's a three-day event featuring "a ton of people, all of them interested in sustainability and green things in some way, shape or form."

Bova said that he has since learned that Grow Bioplastics wasn't ready for the competition at Rice in April.

"We had only been around for four months and hadn't been able to craft everything and understand exactly what we were," he said. "But now we have a much better understanding of that. SXSW is a well-recognized name on a national stage. It's really exciting for us to be able to get to that point where we can go and ask for the support, either connections or funding, that we need to get us to the next step."

Grow Bioplastics has proved that it can make some of the material in a lab. The next challenge is to show it can produce the material on a large scale and that it can make the plastic in a continuous production.

"The way we make them right now is small batches at a time," Bova said. "I can maybe make 25 to 300 grams, so like a pound of it at a time. So, moving forward to something where we can show that we have continuous production and a smoother manufacturing process and then getting a partner in the plastics processing industry that can be interested in helping us get this to a point to where we can form it into these thin films for that specific application. Those are our biggest milestones right now.

"So, can we make a lot of it? And does it actually do what we say it does? Which, from an educated standpoint, based on all of the literature we have and all of the results we have, it should. But we want to make sure all of those claims are sound and we have science to back them up."

The Knoxville entrepreneur community has been a huge help to Bova and Grow Bioplastics.

"The groundswell of support has been the biggest help," Bova said. "We won the Vol Court competition that was sponsored by the Anderson Center at UT two times in 2014, with our first idea of 3-D printing materials, and this past spring. The prize for that was $1,500, which is enough money for us to fill out more paperwork and get to the next point where we are applying for things, a little bit of travel money that allowed us to go to Rice.

"But we also got a year of free legal services from David Morehous, who is a local lawyer in the startup community, a year of free office space at the research incubator, and then a year of free consulting for finance and general business consulting from Pershing Yoakley & Associates, specifically from Tom Ballard. And I think those three things alone ... have been way more valuable than the dollars. Because, one, it has a dollar value to it, but at this stage in our company, money won't teach us the things that we don't know. Those things will."

Bova, originally from Mentor, Ohio, near Cleveland, is thankful he chose to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee.

"Knoxville is a newer, more progressive city, so there is definitely a different vibe here than the other places that I've lived, and I really like it," he said. "It feels like this new, young community. There's almost something new opening once or twice a month, be it a new restaurant or some other new business. I like to see that kind of growth and I'm excited to be part of it.

"To be honest, when I came here, I didn't know if I would stay here after I graduated. Now I think that I might for a while. With the business side of things, all of the pieces are starting to fall into place. We can locate ourselves here. There are people who are really encouraged that we may stay and really offering to help us get to that point.

"The knowledge base that exists between Oak Ridge and UT, it's so invaluable. There's a lot of really intelligent people here, who we can potentially hire as employees, or in the future, have as mentors."

Sustainability news roundup

The last few weeks have been a buzz of good news for Tennessee and the Knoxville area in general when it comes to sustainability and envrironmental awareness.  

1. More clean energy jobs

About 2,600 jobs were created last year by employers operating in the energy-efficiency, renewable-energy, clean-transportation, and greenhouse-gas management and accounting sectors -- an increase of 6.3 percent, according to the Clean Jobs Tennessee report. That's nearly triple the state's overall employment growth. Businesses told the report's authors they expect to fill an additional 2,500 positions by 2016.

2. TVA gets behind the Clean Power Plan

TVA is reviewing the more than 1,000 pages of new regulations released this month to regulate CO2 from existing power plants and a second rule that regulates emissions from new fossil plants, all part of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which calls for a 32 percent cut in greenhouse gases by American power plants by 2030, compared with 2005 emissions.  

"For our coal and gas fleet, this plan really won't have much impact at all," Brooks said. "Most of our decisions on which coal units to retire, etc., are already in place and being driven by a 2011 agreement between TVA and EPA. We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels. It remains to be seen what the other impacts will be."

3. A new hotel is leading its brand, and possibly the state, in sustainability

The Knoxville location of Home2 Suites is unique among hotels in the Hilton chain and a sustainability leader in the Tennessee hospitality industry due to the investment in a full-roof solar array by property owner and Oak Ridge native Chandler Bhateja. Some other measures include recycling bins in every room and throughout the hotel's public areas, the use of recycled paper products whenever possible, low-flow faucets and energy-saving LED lighting with timers.

4. Sevier County is one step closer to zero waste in landfills

Sixty percent of all trash gathered in Sevier County, as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is recycled into compost. That's the highest recycle rate in Tennessee, and one of the highest nationwide, but two multimillion dollar projects on the horizon aim to get the county to 100 percent: new sorting equipment to remove recyclables from waste and a gasification system to convert waste into fuel.

2015 Green Achievers

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Congratulations to our 2015 Green Achievers! Their stories are featured in the May Business Journal and available at the links below.

Harrison Construction is putting 20,000 tons of recycled asphalt back on the road as part of its Western Avenue paving project. The company also keeps construction and materials out the landfill by recycling concrete, brick, and other demolition leftovers into base material for contractors, use in its own manufacturing or as landscaping material. As an added benefit, every bit of recycling means less rock that needs to be mined from the region's mountains.

See their story at Demolished buildings get new purpose as road material

Sunshine Industries provides jobs and services to Knox County adults with disabilities, but is also trying to better the community as a whole with its recycling programs. Now the agency is rolling out an e-cycling program with the additional benefit of certifying electronics as destroyed -- rather than resold -- so customers know their data is secure.

Read about the new effort at Social-service agency creates e-cycling advantage

Cool Sports knows running an ice rink in an East Tennessee summer takes a ton of power. It's reducing that need as much as possible by taking advantage of the season's abundant sunshine to power facilities. The company's solar array generates enough electricity to power 14 homes and helps the facility shave off costs. It also eliminates 222,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions among others.

Get the details at Solar power shaves off costs for ice rink, sports facility

La-Z-Boy knows you probably aren't thinking of the environment when you kick back in one of its recliners, but the company is working hard nonetheless to reuse and recycle as much as it can. It's been an ongoing effort. Last year the company recyled 93 percent of its materials. The facility marked Earth Day this year by achieving zero waste at its Dayton, Tenn. facility. 

Learn about the process at La-Z-Boy Tennessee reuses, recycles to avoid landfill

Don't toss that tree! (or the lights)

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Christmas is behind us and many festive trees will soon be stripped of their finery.

If your tree is artificial, then back into storage (we hope!) it goes. But for those who chose a live tree, Knoxville and Knox County have disposal options to keep them out of our landfills and some organizations will also recycle trees and other items. Above, News Sentinel photographer Adam Lau photographed trees dropped off for recycling at Ijams Nature Center.

Knox County residents can drop off their tree anytime in January for free at one of five Knox County recycling centers. Just remove all ornaments, lights, wire, string and other decorations before bringing them to be tree-cycled and reused as mulch and other soil amendments. This option is also open to city of Knoxville residents.

Locations of Christmas Treecycling

  • Dutchtown Convenience Center - 10618 Dutchtown Road
  • Halls Convenience Center - 3608 Neal Drive
  • John Sevier Convenience Center - 1950 West John Sevier Highway
  • Powell Convenience Center - 7311 Morton View Lane
  • Tazewell Pike Convenience Center - 7201 Tazewell Pike

Christmas tree collection for city of Knoxville residents is the same process as for brush collection. Remove decorations and put your tree on the curb. Keep in mind it may stay there for a while -- the regular two-week brush pickup schedule won't resume until Feb. 1, according to the city website.  For faster removal, city residents can also take advantage of the Knox County recycling options above.

Other recycling options can help you give back to community organizations, or earn you a discount on next year's decorations.

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Residents have an opportunity to recycle documents and safely dispose of old medications at this year's America Recycles Day celebrations 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, November 1, in downtown Knoxville on Market Square.

Photo: Wayne Bailey and Scott Harmon, hidden, public service workers with the City of Knoxville, deliver recycling cartsfor the free curbside recycling program. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Knox County organizations aiming for lower or zero waste events can now get a free helping hand from Keep Knoxville Beautiful.

Thanks to a grant from the Alcoa Foundation, KBB now offers an Event Recycling Trailer that holds 35 recycling containers and bags to be set up throughout any event.

The group can also help with planning a reduced-waste or waste-free event, said Allison Teeters, KBB executive director.

In addition to the recycling containers, the trailer includes bags, event signage, instructions, a fold out table and stop litter information.

KBB is also accepting sponsors for the trailer, which will feature their logos on the back.

For more information or to schedule an event visit the Keep Knoxville Beautiful website.

The latest updates from the city of Knoxville's Office of Sustainability show reductions in emissions and energy use both for city operations and the community as a whole.

The city's Energy and Sustainability Initiative, now in its seventh year, measures energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions through sustainability improvements for Knoxville. The eventual goal is a 20 percent reduction by 2020.

As a municipality, the city reduced its energy consumption by 6.5 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with city operations fell 13 percent.

At the community level, the emissions associated with energy use, transportation and waste management fell 7.8 percent from 2005 levels.

"These savings reflect the success of projects like the city's conversion of traffic signals to LED technology and energy efficiency upgrades at city buildings," said Jake Tisinger, Project Manager for the Office of Sustainability, in a press release. "Residents and businesses are using less energy than in 2005, and improved fuel economy and cleaner electricity generation have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

From 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26th, at the Krutch Park Extension on Gay St. Knoxville and Knox County residents will be able to shred documents or dispose safely of old medications as part of Amercia Recycles Day events sponsored by the City of Knoxville, Knox County Solid Waste Offices and area organizations.

Old or unwanted documents will be confidentially shredded and recycled by Goodwill. There is no limit to how many documents residents can bring for secure disposal.

Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union representatives will provide free information on how long old documents should be kept and when it is appropriate to dispose of them.

An Unwanted Unused Medication Collection event is provided by the Knoxville Police Department. Residents can turn in unwanted and outdated prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines and used mercury thermometers. The mercury thermometers can be exchanged for digital thermometers for free.

Keep Knoxville Beautiful will demonstrate using recycled goods to create art.

Also part of the event, the Knoxville Recycling Coalition will be giving away home recycling bins and the Water Quality Forum will answer questions about water quality and the Adopt-a-Stream program.

Other groups scheduled to be on site are the City Parks and Recreation Department, Fort Loudoun Lake Association, Waste Connections and the Knox County Solid Waste Office.

English: 2011 Chevrolet Volt under the hood. R...

A 2011 Chevrolet Volt under the hood. Right side: the power inverter on top of the electric drive unit (electric motor) used for traction. Left side: the 1.4-liter gasoline-powered engine used as generator to provide power to the electric motor or to engage mechanically to assist propulsion when the battery is depleted. Taken at the 2011 Washington Auto Show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once they've finished powering electric vehicles for hundreds of thousands of miles, it may not be the end of the road for automotive batteries, which researchers believe can provide continued benefits for consumers, automakers and the environment.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are studying five used Chevrolet Volt batteries to determine the feasibility of a community energy storage system that would put electricity onto the grid. Over the next year, researchers from ORNL, General Motors and the ABB Group will conduct studies and compile data using a first-of-its-kind test platform.

"With about one million lithium-ion batteries per year coming available from various automakers for the secondary market beginning in 2020, we see vast potential to supplement power for homes and businesses," said Dr. Imre Gyuk, manager of the Energy Storage Research Program in DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability in a press release. "Since these batteries could still have up to 80 percent of their capacity, they present a great opportunity for use in stationary storage devices before sending them to be recycled."

Last year in San Francisco, a GM/ABB energy storage system provided 100 percent of the electricity needed to power a temporary structure for several hours. A similar application could one day power a group of homes or small commercial buildings during a power outage or help make up for gaps in solar, wind or other renewable power generation.

The ORNL platform provides 25 kilowatts of power and 50 kilowatt-hours of energy that could potentially provide cost-effective backup energy, said Michael Starke of ORNL's Energy and Transportation Science Division.
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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Cortney Roark published on January 10, 2017 4:40 PM.

Grow Bioplastics named Sizzle TechStart's first incubator client was the previous entry in this blog.

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