Becoming Mainstream

In the early days of a product, it may be seen as novel or even so far out on the leading edge that it may not ever be fully developed. Currently, a lot of materials research in focused on making materials store electricity for dispersal later, much like a battery does and actually replacing the battery itself, or magnetizing a material to enhance its properties somehow. Currently, there is research into glass fabric that includes a thermoelectric (TE) generator embedded into it. It’s flexible enough to be worn as a bracelet and it has been a lack of flexibility that has been an issue with TE generators. The materials required to absorb a significant amount of energy have previously been rigid and difficult to work into a wearable form. Already, the technology currently draws enough to power a watch or a small electronic device.

KAIST Wearable Tech

KAIST Wearable Tech

And where does it get the power from ? The human body. The technology collects the difference in heat between your body and the outside environment. This excess is then converted into energy through thermoelectric generation. It’s like a solar panel targeted to body heat. By using glass fabric, the team at South Korea’s KAIST University (lead by Professor Byung Jin Cho) is able to produce a material that is lightweight, flexible and capable of generating a significant amount of energy per square centimeter. Professor Cho expects “that this technology will find further applications in scale-up systems such as automobiles, factories, aircrafts, and vessels where we see abundant thermal energy being wasted.” This technology is still in development but is likely to emerge as wrist-style wearables like smartwatches and heart monitors.

There was a time when solar and wind power were way out on that kind of leading edge. While an environmentalist’s heart may have quickly recognized the value of infinitely renewable energy early on (say decades ago) the cost was often prohibitive. Those venture capitalists that were the most forward thinking were those who risked their investments to bring about the revolution in energy taking place in today’s world that utilizes a variety of sources to reduce the harmful impacts of an over-reliance on traditional petroleum sources.

According to an article by Michael Grunwald in Time Magazine’s September 8-15, 2014 issue, venture capitalists now see wind and solar as such a safe investment that it is no longer attractive to them. Who we see financing now are the BIG guys (Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs). In other words, solar has gotten too mainstream for the out front, leading edge venture capitalists to enjoy playing. This is good news – clean power appears to be with us for a long haul.

house-solar-and-wind-energy

Certainly, the technology is now cheaper and more predictable – and produces good steady returns for the risk-adverse institutional capital in the economy. Happily, it is stated by Grunwald that green electricity now produces “more than half of new US generating capacity”. And this is good news overall for homeowners and utility rate payers (if their utilities participate in buying wind power). And of course, it IS good news for our planet.

And although refinements to the technical aspects (better solar panels, better wind turbines, cheaper batteries and biofuels) will continue to make clean energy more and more desirable, it is the financial innovations coming from the wizards of Wall Street that are making news at Time magazine. One of these innovations is the solar lease. No longer does a home or business owner have to fund upfront as much as tens of thousands of dollars to go solar. Like a mortgage or car payment, there are now 20-year leases.

Time will tell if this is really good news because most of us have not forgotten, and are still feeling the effects of, Wall Street’s penchant for “securitization”. It still hurts to even think about all the damage such novelties have wrought. The market for commercial solar securities has grown from $1 billion in 2008 to $15 billion today. There are even more obscure schemes a foot and more understandable formats like green bonds (growing from $2 billion in 2012 to almost $17 billion in just the first half of 2014).

When Yemm & Hart first began to market Origins (our 100% post-consumer, high-density polyethylene panels made from #2 plastics sourced from milk jugs and detergent bottles primarily), we were in a brave new world. Those who bought our materials tended to be fringe artists, product developers and university students (and these still make up interest and small purchases of our materials). In our early days, we tried not to influence what someone might decide to make out of our material. We left that door wide open. Our first restroom partitions were created at the request of customers. It was not a huge leap for solid resin partitions were already in the market and accepted but in those days “recycled” was often a scary word for the specifier. After all it was trash or garbage and sorting out the wrong resin types from bales of plastics was a huge undertaking. Cleaning that plastic was also challenging.

Yet over time technology came in and businesses that specialize in the initial stages of making post-consumer waste a reliable material. Along with volume and predicatability of supply quality came mainstreaming. For us, mainstreaming means partnering with specialized business entities – architects and interior designers to recommend the specifications and factories that already had a long track record in the engineering and fabrication of restroom partitions for example. With mainstream acceptance comes new competition but sometimes, what a company does – such as we commit Yemm & Hart to continue to make available – turns out to be too much trouble and not worth the cost (unless the project is so large that such additional costs are easily absorbed).

Origins 304 SF Natural  at NYC Parks, Olmstead Center

Origins 304 SF Natural
at NYC Parks, Olmstead Center

Today, while the product Origins has become a mainstream choice for restroom partitions and countertops, Yemm & Hart is still able to consider a project as small as one stall or a single vanity in a washroom, while at the same time able to meet projects as large as The Pentagon (in post 9/11 repairs), the Ohio DNR renovation of a former department store or a Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. We are confident that we can handle any size of project because we have carefully selected the best partners to assist us in providing the customer with mainstream reliability.

~ Information Resources

“Wearable Tech Powered By Body Heat Could Be Reality” posted by Ryan Matthew Pierson on April 17, 2014 – http://wearableworldnews.com/2014/04/17/wearable-tech-powered-body-heat-reality/

“Wall Street Goes Green” posted by Michael Grunwald on August 28, 2014 – http://time.com/3204258/wall-street-goes-green/

“Origins 304 SF Natural at NYC Parks, Olmstead Center” – http://www.yemmhart.com/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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