Manufacturing Goes Clean and Green
By Mark Kleszczewski
North America’s renewable energy marketplace has seen many changes in the last two years, especially in the solar, wind and biofuel industries which are facing an irregular economic recovery, waning subsidies and growing competition. Yet fossil fuel-based energy prices continue to fluctuate, while energy expenditures represent a growing share of operational costs. This is making the efficiency of transport, infrastructure and buildings a rising priority for private and public consumers alike.
Stricter regulations, heightened end-user demand for greener products and services, plus the growing middle class in emerging markets are also accelerating the adoption of new technologies that reduce negative environmental impacts. These forces are accelerating investments in a broad variety of “clean technology” sectors which include alternative energy, smart grids, advanced transportation, industrial recycling, “green chemistry” and energy-efficient construction.
Clean technologies and innovations are not only widening in scope, they’re leading to substantial economic opportunities. For example, according to a recent report from Navigant Research, the market for smart grid technologies alone is projected to reach $73 billion in annual revenue by the end of 2020, totaling $461 billion in cumulative revenue from 2013 to 2020.
Such long-term trends bode well for regions and manufacturers across North America that are focusing on clean tech industries. Helping companies and consumers meet the challenge of transitioning to a more energy-efficient and lower-carbon economy is not only yielding environmental benefits, but also driving the growth of jobs — and even fueling the nascent trend of some manufacturers “reshoring” their production back from Asia.
New Markets Energizing Old Industries
The pursuit of low-carbon and resource-efficient technologies to reduce fossil fuel use for transportation is one of the most intensive areas of investment, research and development in clean tech today, note industry analysts at Ernst & Young’s Global Cleantech Center.
Despite the current challenges related to market adoption, price competitiveness and achieving commercial scale, clean tech innovations in electric automotive technologies are well underway in Cambridge, Ontario. That’s where the Canadian and Ontario governments are investing to help re-tool and expand a Toyota Motor Corp. plant.
The initiative will increase local manufacturing capacity by 30,000 vehicles to 104,000 units annually, including 15,000 Lexus RX 450h hybrid electric vehicles, creating 400 new jobs at the plant by early 2014.
“In 2004, Ontario became the top vehicle-producing jurisdiction in North America and we’ve remained there ever since,” says Dr. Eric Hoskins, minister, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, through a spokesperson. “In order to remain an automotive powerhouse, we’ve got to keep continually strengthening our auto sector and our partnerships. That’s what our recent investment in Toyota’s Cambridge facility is all about.”
Toyota is putting in over CA$100 million toward the new assembly line, while CA$16.9 million has been earmarked from Canada’s Automotive Innovation Fund, with the Ontario government matching that investment through its Strategic Jobs and Investment Fund.
“Toyota’s Cambridge facility is the only plant outside of Japan currently producing Lexus vehicles,” Hoskins points out. “That says a lot about the skill level of our workers, the state-of-the-art facilities available and the leading edge research and innovation taking place in Ontario.”
Auto OEMs are starting to diversify, so scientists in Ontario aren’t just engaged in electric vehicle research, adds Julie Washburn, acting manager — automotive unit, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Thousands of researchers in the province are re-thinking virtually every aspect of design and vehicle assembly at nearly 30 public research facilities including the Centre for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing, the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research and the Centre for Advanced Coating Technologies.
“Thanks to these R&D resources, what we’re also starting to see here is a crossing over of innovation from the automotive industry and into aerospace because they both have the same issues — planes and cars are very heavy and fuel is very expensive,” Washburn says. “In particular, the coming of CAFE 2025-based fuel economy standards are forcing auto OEMs to really look at the powertrains they’re putting into vehicles. So there’s a huge push here toward lightweighting and getting more biomaterials inside of plastics — all of which are beginning to spin off into other industries.”
Specializing in Sustainability
Focusing on clean tech is benefitting the environment and manufacturers looking to source sustainable materials in South Carolina, which has recruited more than $790 million in capital investment and more than 1,500 new jobs in the recycling-related sector since January 2011.
One of the more specialized clean tech technology companies expanding in the state is Florence County-based, ICE Recycling, which processes and monetizes industrial materials that would otherwise be sent to landfills at significant expense.
The company — which ships its finished goods all over the world — specializes in on-site “Total Recycling and Compactor Elimination” for industrial, commercial and municipal facilities by diverting and reclaiming recyclable landfill waste, thereby eliminating associated disposal fees.
“Recycling was once only an idea that represented a huge added cost to businesses,” says Larry T. Gay Jr., co-owner, ICE Recycling LLC (ICE). “Now with new recycling technologies, companies can save money by recycling rather than spending money filling up landfills. We’re one of the only companies doing this, so we’re excited about expanding our capabilities, aggressively growing our customer base and even helping them compete with foreign products.”
ICE’s $1.05 million investment in a new 200,000-square-foot facility has already surpassed the company’s initial job targets and puts them in the midst of another expansion this year, Gay notes. He says the choice to expand the business in South Carolina came from having access to a great workforce, dedicated leaders, economical logistics and proximity to ports and customers.
Over in Tennessee, a decades-long emphasis on environmental improvement combined with cutting-edge infrastructure stands behind manufacturing growth and job creation in the flourishing clean tech cluster centered on Chattanooga.
“We used to be an old-style manufacturing hub, but since the late 1960s there’s been a community-wide focus on doing things in a more sustainable way here and it continues to be priority,” says J. Ed. Marston, vice president of marketing communications, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. “That track record of environmental stewardship has really led to green businesses and major infrastructure projects. Today, sustainability and clean technology have been very broadly embraced in Chattanooga, to the point where we’ve got green power generation, wind and solar companies, major automotive manufacturers making greener cars, LEED-certified developments and companies involved in smart grid projects.”
One such example of how local clean tech innovation is also driving economic development is the recent expansion of Global Green Lighting, a leader in sustainable, low-energy lighting solutions.
The company recently acquired a 180,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Chattanooga to assemble its flagship product, a light-emitting diode (LED) street lamp combined with the latest AMI (automated metering infrastructure) smart grid metering technology, explains Don Lepard, president and CEO, Global Green Lighting (GGL).
“The city has really embraced what we’ve done,” Lepard says. “Something as commonplace as streetlights can now become a revenue generator instead of an operating expense.”
Chattanooga’s deployment of the country’s first community-wide “Gig” fiber network offering up to 1 gigabit-per-second Internet service also inspired Lepard to pair his LED street lamps with a wireless radio-controlled, smart grid-based lighting system that provides city officials with complete control of every light to maximize both energy savings and public safety.
“We also plan to market the lighting technology to private developments and enterprises which can tie their outdoor lighting into the same infrastructure used by the public sector,” Lepard says. “It’s a perfect example of the public and private sector benefiting together by sharing the advantages of a new technology.
“The technology is exciting, but what we’re also very proud of is that we were originally manufacturing the product in China, but shut that down and moved five production lines back to the U.S.,” he continues. “We found a factory that closed and moved 300 jobs to Mexico eight years ago. We brought that facility out of mothballs and today have plans to employ as many as 250 workers, including military veterans and people that were unemployed here locally.”
The Value of Environmental Values
National and regional economies still may be facing headwinds, but the diverse and growing clean tech industry is showing that environmental stewardship, manufacturing and job creation are not mutually exclusive.
“We have an excellent reputation of putting together cars very well, but we’re always open to new investments and looking for ways to help automotive manufacturing be more innovative and environmentally friendly — so it’s a very exciting time for sure,” Washburn says. “We’ve got a lot of R&D here and are hoping to grab our share of the spend that auto OEMs are going to have to do, in order to comply with future mandates.”
“Enhancing the quality of life in an environmental way has been a great platform for growing and recruiting businesses focused on sustainability and environmental products,” Marston says. That approach and a long-standing manufacturing heritage are among our main selling points. For companies involved in clean technology, one of the reasons you want to be in Chattanooga is that our community values are complementary to your corporate values.”
For complete details on the organizations featured in this article, visit:
Illustration by noomhh at Free Digital Photos.net