Improved LED lights, high tech air filtration systems and lighter, stronger and easier-to-ship materials - all developed locally - are fueling a promising, and increasingly green, future for the Knoxille-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley.
Entrepreneurs and local companies in the Innovation Valley economic development region can work closely with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Department of Energy's Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, and the University of Tennessee/Knoxville.
Concrete examples of the region's technical and entrepreneurial synergies are easy to find.
LED North America's Andy Wilhem wants to make LED lights last longer. Using a lightweight carbon foam developed at ORNL that reduces temperatures in LED engines by as much as ten degrees Celsius, Wilhem says he can double the life of LEDs. That, he argues, could represent an "industry game changer" with an effect most immediately apparent in public LED applications in schools, streets, parking garages and office buildings.
In another example of Innovation Valley technology at work locally, Knoxville-based Bandit Lites, one of the entertainment world's largest lighting providers, is gaining a competitive edge by working with GRNLite, the company has develop a full range of rugged, bright and affordable LED fixtures that reduce onstage heat, use 90% less electricity and reduce truck space, cutting related fuel and emissions. Bandit Lites is also bringing lightweight carbon fiber stage rigging systems to market.
"The progress we're making with LEDs and carbon fiber materials ties in directly to advances at the Oak Ridge National lab and at the University of Tennessee," Strickland says.
Technology transfer is also at work locally at Industrial Ceramic Solutions, which produces ceramic fiber filters for industrial and diesel exhaust applications. The company, headed by former Oak Ridge materials research scientist Dick Nixdorf, is also developing high performance reinforcement fibers to improve durability of combustion chamber liners in coal-fired power plants. Nixdorf's company also works with carbon nanotubes, which could improve fuel cells and lithium. The underlying technology developed was a joint effort by ORNL and Y-12.
The synergies between research and the region's economy are perhaps best symbolized by ORNL Lab Director Thom Mason's chairmanship of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley economic development partnership and by such events as the June Technology Resource Showcase, which will connect local researchers and their innovative technologies with local companies.
"I believe in the adage, 'companies innovate or they die'," said Jesse Smith, technical director for the Innovation Valley partnership. "We ask companies, why would you want to be anywhere else? What better way that to tap into DOE's largest energy materials lab and the innovative products coming out of Y-12 and the many collaborative efforts with a major university?"