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Infininia's J.D. Sitton stands in front of one of his company's Stirling engine solar prototypes. Mr. Sitton is looking to take over the production that the auto industry in abandoning, producing solar generators that are far more efficient than today's best commercial solar panels.  (Source: CNN.com/Catherine Ledner)
Retooling auto engine lines to Stirling Engine lines could create a booming new economy

For better or worse, the domestic automakers in the U.S. are in decline for the time being, as are their foreign competitors.  Now the question arises of what to do with all of the production facilities that these companies and their suppliers are dumping off or repurposing.  Among these facilities are engine factories.  Engine-making is a complex process, and retooling these facilities for an entirely new task would be far more expensive than it is worth, in most cases.

That's where J.D. Sitton CEO of Infinia, a Stirling engine solar firm, comes in to play.  After years of struggling to find a home, Mr. Sitton has helped his company enter a renaissance of funding and become a phoenix rising from the ashes of the recession-stricken auto industry.

Infinia has been around for a long time now.  In 1985, the company was founded by six University of Washington professors who hoped to commercialize a Stirling engine-powered heart pump, which never needed a replacement battery.  Unfortunately, the heat source -- a medically save tiny chunk of Plutonium-238 -- turned out to be the project's undoing, as the government feared terrorists kidnapping people to gain access the radioactive material.

Next the organization went through a string of other lackluster projects, including a contract to build the power source for the NASA deep-space exploration probe, a project which has never finished.  Ultimately the company was struggling for lack of direction, despite having some dynamite technology.

That all changed in 2002 with the recruitment of CEO Sitton, who has righted the ship.  In 2005, he demoed a solar dish/Stirling engine setup that converted 24 percent of the energy striking a solar dish to power, more than most commercially available solar cells.  Thanks to that demo, the company secured over $70M USD in venture capital.

In order to make a production-quality version of its solar generators, it has contracted two top-tier Detroit automotive suppliers -- Autoliv and Cosma -- to make the dish and engine.  These companies can now, with minimal retooling, keep their engine facilities thriving at a time when others are closing and face an indefinite future.  In total the company is contracting 60 other domestic engineering companies to design and build the components it needs.

Gary Gereffi, a professor at Duke University and solar industry expert praised the Infinia's progress and growth.  He states, "All this technology is made up of regular parts that manufacturing companies are making all the time.  The difference between our economy and a green economy is not as substantial as people think."

Gregg Clevenger, Infinia's CFO believes that his company will soon produce solar power that's cost equivalent to coal without subsidies, in certain areas.  He adds, "Companies that wouldn't take our calls a couple of years ago are now pursuing us aggressively.  They want to focus on a growth industry rather than a shrinking industry.  We can get to where we look attractive relative to the cost of coal plants.  When that happens, there's no limit to the number of solar systems we can sell."

If his company can succeed at that, they might not just create a solar revolution, but they might save one of the vital manufacturing sectors of the United States -- the Detroit manufacturing industry. 



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RE: And then the unions...
By Tsuwamono on 3/25/2009 11:04:02 AM , Rating: 4
Wooooo!!!! Hurray for Unions.

Personally i love how useful they are because without them the workers would be working 16 hours a day at 6$/hour with no benefits.

.....


RE: And then the unions...
By bhieb on 3/25/2009 11:23:45 AM , Rating: 2
They do serve a purpose to right a wrong, but the problem is after the injustice is corrected they stick around sucking more and more $$$ out of the parent company to justify their dues.

I have no problem for forming up and fighting for a fair wage, but once that goal is complete dissolve and get back to work.


RE: And then the unions...
By dever on 3/25/2009 11:37:28 AM , Rating: 2
It seems like unions are a big problem... but really it's the government who interfere with union-company relationships. If government had not given unions special privileges over the years, we would not be in this position.

Government, as always, is the problem. You can't inject a power with the legal use of force into otherwise voluntary negotiations and expect a good outcome.


RE: And then the unions...
By Radnor on 3/25/2009 11:57:53 AM , Rating: 2
And then Employers would freeze their wages or take " exceptional Measures " to down them or increase profits.

We people also like to earn money, you know.


RE: And then the unions...
By kellehair on 3/25/2009 12:49:12 PM , Rating: 4
Isn't it amazing that me and millions of other Americans can thrive without the aid of a union? If a union rep came into my office and offered to help unionize our staff, in return for a nice chunk of our paychecks of course, I'd kick him square in the nuts.


RE: And then the unions...
By TheSpaniard on 3/25/2009 1:35:51 PM , Rating: 1
whoever needs the other more is who needs the union

when people couldnt move around as much/data traveled slower, workers needed unions to level the playing field with the sometimes sole job provider of the town (in this case unions are needed)

no that people and information travel rapidly around the country, where as a building cant get up and move too fast, the companies are forced to compete with each other for the most qualified candidates (in this case unions are not needed)

of course both of these scenarios avoid the more common problem of the jobs moving overseas, which is something neither situation can solve.


RE: And then the unions...
By meatless on 3/25/2009 5:04:32 PM , Rating: 3
Of course you don't need a union. There is likely competition in your field.

Even in a down market my employer would have trouble replacing my particular skillset, and may even engage in bidding to retain valued employees.

When the "skill" is operating a machine that stamps stuff out, and there are fifteen thousand people qualified to run that same machine in the same area, that's when unions kick in.

A union's sole purpose is to tip the scale back to the worker when supply and demand would force wages below subsistence.


RE: And then the unions...
By hackedtwice on 3/25/2009 12:04:33 PM , Rating: 2
That was one of the most clear and concise evaluations of unions I've heard. Most people are either very pro or very con unions. I agree they do serve a purpose when the workforce is mistreated, but then can become a burden on both that same workforce and the employer with the unionized workers. Unfortunately most folks just focus on one issue or the other, now I just have to figure out how to rate you up.


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