backtop


Print 48 comment(s) - last by William Gaatje.. on Mar 28 at 5:09 PM


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. 



Comments     Threshold


This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: And then the unions...
By bhieb on 3/25/2009 11:26:51 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
You want our product (labor) you will have to negotiate and pay for it.

If it were that simple sure, but the tactics that put these unions in power were not capitalistic. When a scab will work for less money, and has to be threatened into not doing so your labor price is not market value. Obviously the market would have worked for less if they were non in fear of doing so.


RE: And then the unions...
By JediJeb on 3/25/2009 3:25:40 PM , Rating: 2
A friend of mine's company was in a trade show in Chicago a while back. Their booth was shut down for 2 hours because one of their salesmen stepped up on a ladder to straighten a banner. Apparently that was a job that only the union workers at the convention center was qualified to do. Later they needed a 220v extension cord plugged into an outlet, have to call the union workers, wait an hour for them to show up, then get charged an hours labor for two of them to plug in an extension cord. The cord was already laid out to the outlet, just couldnt plug it in' if they plugged it in them selves then their booth would again be shut down.

Unions did have a place in the past, but this kinds of stuff is evidence of how they have gotten completely out of hand. No wonder so many jobs are being sent overseas.


"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher














botimage
Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki