Social Entrepreneur exists at the intersection of profit and purpose. We tell positive stories from underrepresented voices, focused on solutions.
A Former Oil Executive Transforms Waste to Energy, with Dave Goebel, enVerde
enVerde converts organic waste into sustainable clean energy.
The Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC) is the office at the University of Minnesota whose mission is to facilitate the transfer of technology to licensees. This allows for the development of new products and services that benefit the public good. It also fosters economic growth and generates revenue. Since 2006, the University has spun out 170 startup companies.
But there is a challenge. Technology transfer is not simple. For a venture to be successful, it must be desirable (the market wants it), feasible (an organization can produce a market solution), and viable (the cost structure and returns are sustainable).
There is a vast desert from license to commercialization. Research can create an idea that is desirable but is not viable or sustainable. It takes time to prove out and commercialize a technology. The time and effort to commercialize a technology is often called the commercialization gap.
On today’s episode of Social Entrepreneur, we talk to Dave Goebel, CEO and Founder of enVerde. enVerde has licensed a thermochemical catalytic technology from the University of Minnesota. The catalyst converts organic material into heat energy. enVerde provides circular economy solutions by repurposing carbon-containing waste into clean, sustainable energy and chemicals.
The Problem with Organic Waste
Every day, the average American generates 4.4 pounds of waste. That includes paper, plastics, yard trimmings, food waste, wood, rubber, leather, textiles, and more.
At the same time, the US Energy Information Administration predicts nearly 50% increase in world energy usage by 2050.
What if we could use organic waste to provide clean, renewable energy?
That’s the promise of enVerde. They are addressing the nearly infinite amount of organic waste and the growing need for energy. They do so in an environmentally friendly, cost-effective manner.
Waste becomes a resource instead of a problem.
“Waste is stored energy and we have a clean way to liberate, free, that energy for our use,” says enVerde Founder and CEO, Dave Goebel. “We economically transform organic wastes into a product called syngas. We also produce heat in the process. Both syngas and heat can be power sources for making electricity.
“Syngas is also convertible into new clean fuels like hydrogen, methanol, or dimethyl ether. It can be green precursor for other chemical processes displacing petroleum products.
“Agricultural, industrial, commercial, and other organizations decrease their operating expenses by significantly reducing their waste streams and creating clean fuels/heat they can use locally and immediately.”
enVerde is finding some successes along the way. The inventor of the technology, Dr. Paul Dauenhauer won a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award.
enVerde was also selected as a member of the next cohort with Creative Destruction Lab. Creative Destruction Lab accelerator program is based out of Calgary, Alberta.
Learn More About David Goebel and enVerde:
enVerde: https://www.enverdellc.com enVerde on Twitter: https://twitter.com/enVerdeLLC enVerde on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/enVerdeLLC University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization: https://research.umn.edu/units/techcomm/about-us/overview Dr. Paul Dauenhauer, MacArthur Fellow: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/1056 Creative Destruction Lab, Energy: https://www.creativedestructionlab.com/streams/energy
An Ecosystem of Environmental Entrepreneurship, with Sebastian Sajoux, Arqlite
For extended show notes, look here: https://tonyloyd.com/sebastian-sajoux/
93% of plastic is not recycled.
Only seven to nine percent of the plastic that is generated on an annual basis is recycled. Sebastian Sajoux explains, “The plastics go to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF, pronounced “Murph”), and then go into a recycling system. Still, 50% of plastics that are manufactured are impossible to recycle with current technologies.
“The number that’s really scary is, by 2050 the amount of plastic used and discarded will double.”
“We are in this race to become more efficient in separation and recycling, but we are still manufacturing products that cannot be recycled.”
Why Some Plastic is Born Unrecyclable
"Plastics are divided into categories,” Sebastian told me. “Usually, you see the numbers one through seven in a recycling system. They can only be recycled within the same stream.
“There are also rigid plastics, such as a shampoo bottle, and flexible plastic, which is a wrapping, for example, for an Oreo Cookie or Lays Potato Chips.
“For flexible plastics, because it is so thin, it requires different layers to work together to be safer, to keep the product for more time. So, you exchange thickness for another technology. If you combine two different types of plastics, it is automatically unrecyclable.
“What we are addressing is all of the flexible packaging out there that was born unrecyclable. It seems like a wrapper from, let’s say a butter toffee, it’s harmless. But people discard them every day.
“So, laminates are our main focus.”
A Solution to Unrecyclable Plastics
Arqlite takes unrecyclable mixed plastic and produces a gravel that can be used in construction.
When compared to traditional mineral gravel, Arqlite’s smart gravel is three times lighter, ten times better insulator, doesn’t break or produce dust, and doesn’t require hydration. These are all characteristics that are desirable in the construction industry.
Lighter gravel is easier and cheaper to transport. It can be manufactured locally, reducing costs and greenhouse gas emission. And, it does not require mining to produce.
Builders who use Arqlite smart gravel can gain LEED points. The material is recycled, it is locally produced, and it improves insulation.
The solution is scalable. “I didn’t want to make countertops and sell 100 countertops per day,” Sebastian says. “I wanted to make gravel and sell 100 trucks per day.”
Learn More About Sebastian Sajoux and Arqlite:
Arqlite on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/arqlite_us
Arqlite on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arqlite
Arqlite on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2aC0VRGB6dLgKxEtCkAI6A/videos
Turn on Your Heat Without Heating Up the Planet, with Steven Downey, Harmony Fuels
How do you reduce your carbon footprint without breaking the bank?
Did you turn on your heat this week? A lot of people in the northern hemisphere either already did, or they will soon. For 12 million homes in the US, that meant burning heating oil or propane, both of which contribute to climate change.
For single family homes, the cost of replacing oil and propane furnaces is unrealistic. According to Bankrate, only 40% of Americans could absorb an unexpected expense of $500 or more. Lots of people want to reduce their carbon footprint, but they don’t have extra money to spend.
That’s where Harmony Fuels comes in. They are the only carbon-neutral provider of home heating fuel in the US. They didn’t invent a new oil or propane. They make it easy for consumers to reduce their carbon footprints by offering carbon offsets. For each gallon of heating oil or propane its customers purchase, Harmony Fuels buys the equivalent number of pounds of carbon offsets from certified green energy projects.
Steve Downey is the president of Harmony Fuels. He admits that carbon offsets are not a silver bullet, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Learn More About Steven Downey and Harmony Fuels:
Steven Downey on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevenjdowney
Harmony Fuels: https://www.harmonyfuels.com
Harmony Fuels on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/harmonyfuels
Harmony Fuels on Twitter: https://twitter.com/harmonyfuels
Harmony Fuels on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/harmony_fuels
Parents: Reduce Your To-Do List and Your Carbon Footprint, with Lauren Gregor, Rent-a-Romper
For a extended show notes and a full transcript of this conversation, see https://tonyloyd.com/lauren-gregor.
Rent-a-Romper makes parents' lives easier while reducing the negative effects of the fashion industry.
For just a moment, think about your clothes. At some point in time, you chose each item and brought it into your home. Your neighbor did the same thing. So did the house down the street, and the one several miles away. The same thing happened in a house on the other side of the world.
The global population is increasing. The middle class is growing. And so is our demand for fashion.
By 2030, the world population will increase from 7.8 billion today to 8.5 billion. You can watch the world population increase in real time here.
Not only are there more people on the planet, our standard of living is increasing. The GDP per capita is growing at 2% per year in the developed world and 4% in the developing world. That means more demand on our world resources.
Apparel consumption is expected to rise by 63% by 2030, from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons in 2030. That’s the equivalent of adding 500 billion T-shirts to the environment.
Why is that a problem?
The fashion industry produces about 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
By 2030, the industry’s CO2 emissions are projected to increase by more than 60%. That’s like adding 230 million more passenger vehicles on the roads.
And, it’s not just greenhouse gasses that are a problem. Fashion requires fresh water. The fashion industry consumes 79 billion cubic meters of water per year. That’s equivalent to 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. But that’s today. By 2030, the fashion industry’s water use will increase by 50%.
Apparel production puts toxic substances such as mercury and arsenic into our waterways.
Most of the clothing waste ends up in landfills or is incinerated. Only 20% of clothing is collected for reuse or recycling. The amount of solid waste produced by the apparel industry is going to increase about 60% by 2030.
So, the environmental impact of apparel is increasing at the same time we need it to be decreasing. If we have any chance of limiting global warming to a 1.5°C increase, we need carbon emissions to be reduced by 45%.
One Small Step in the Apparel Industry
Lauren Gregor is a mom. She saw what was happening in her own house. With two small children two years apart, she was horrified by the parade of cardboard boxes showing up on her doorstep.
“I would get frustrated by the amount of waste that we're generating,” Lauren explains. “But also, how often I felt like I was turning around and getting back to the stores to buy them new things, especially clothes. My boys are tall, they grow fast, they grow very fast at those young ages and I just felt like I was constantly having to do things on my to-do list.”
Lauren came up with a solution. She calls it Rent-a-Romper. Rent-a-Romper makes parents' lives easier while easing the negative effects from the fashion industry. Parents can sign up for a monthly subscription and receive a customized capsule of clothing to meet the needs of their growing children.
Learn More About Lauren Gregor and Rent-a-Romper:
Rent-a-Romper Website: https://www.rentaromper.com/
Rent-a-Romper on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rentaromper
Rent-a-Romper on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rentaromperus
When Sustainability Isn’t Enough, with Mary Jane Melendez, General Mills
General Mills is blending regeneration and philanthropy to create impact.
How do you feed a hungry world without destroying the planet? And, how do you do so in a way that is just and equitable?
Agriculture and forestry activities generate 24% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The world population will reach 9.7 billion in 2050. And, a growing middle class in emerging countries is straining our global food supply.
Mary Jane Melendez is Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer for General Mills. She also serves as President of the General Mills Foundation. “It’s broader than philanthropy and broader than sustainability,” Mary Jane says. “It’s those two areas coming together to drive greater social impact.”
General Mills is a leading global food company whose purpose is to make food the world loves. They are a 150-year-old company that is using their scale to produce more quality food while reducing their footprint.
“Our work is rooted in the earth,” Mary Jane explains, “and we want to restore it. We share a unique bond with nature. When there are threats to nature through changes in climate, those are threats to our business. At General Mills, this is a business imperative and a planetary imperative.
“Today, about a third of the world’s topsoil is degraded. We have lost about 40% of insect species on the planet, including pollinators that are important to our food. There is nothing about that fate that should be sustained. We don’t want to sustain declining ecosystems.
“At General Mills, what we’re being very thoughtful about is our responsibility to move beyond sustainability and think about regeneration.”
General Mills has commitment to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030. Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming practices that enhance soil health, pulling carbon from the air and storing it in the soil. It helps land to be more resilient to extreme weather events.
100% Renewable Energy
Scale can be a force for good as demonstrated by General Mills’ commitment to regenerative agriculture. But scale can also be a burden on the planet. In 2015, General Mills was the first company to publish a goal approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions across the company’s full value chain by 28% by 2025. That means that, no matter how much they grow, they committed to reducing their 2010 greenhouse gas emissions.
Last April, General Mills also set a goal of 100% renewable electricity worldwide by 2030.
“Technology changes quickly,” Mary Jane told me. “As new technologies come online, we are constantly keeping our eyes open for new ways to activate that technology, drive the investments to help reduce our greenhouse gas “
Learn More About Mary Jane Melendez and General Mills:
Mary Jane Melendez on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mary-jane-melendez-4a45915/
General Mills Global Responsibility Report: https://blog.generalmills.com/2020/04/2020-global-responsibility-report/
General Mills and Regenerative Agriculture: https://www.generalmills.com/en/News/NewsReleases/Library/2019/March/Regen-Ag
General Mills and Renewable Energy: https://www.generalmills.com/en/News/NewsReleases/Library/2020/April/General-Mills-commits-to-100-percent-renewable-electricity-globally-by-2030
General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening’s LinkedIn post from June 4: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/where-we-go-from-here-jeff-harmening/
Comfortable, Efficient, and Healthy Buildings, with Deepinder Singh, 75F
Optimizing building energy efficiency can be complicated and expensive. According to Deepinder Singh, it doesn’t have to be.
The world has more than 230 billion square meters of building space with another 65 billion square meters coming online in the next decade. Buildings account for 6% of global greenhouse gasses.
With the ongoing global pandemic, the CDC has developed guidelines that encourage more fresh air circulation. The goal is to maintain lower viral load in the work atmosphere. Those guidelines could increase energy consumption. Improving energy efficiency could make a significant dent in climate change.
It Started with His Daughter
Deepinder Singh is a computer network engineer by training. He designed some of the world’s fastest core networks for AT&T, NTT, and Verizon. In his work on complex systems, he found ways to simplify operational complexity and to make products intuitive. “If you use Verizon,” Deepinder told me, “there’s a 95% chance it goes over a network I built. My claim to fame is that I had one of the first petabit routers sitting in my garage for five years.”
When he and his family moved to Minnesota, he ran into a problem that was a little closer to home. “My daughter, who was one at the time, would wake up in the night crying. The temperature in her room would drop ten degrees at night. The thermostat was in the mater bedroom, which was west facing. We were nice and warm because the sun would keep it warm in that room. In the rest of the house, the heat would not kick on.
“When my daughter was this uncomfortable, I quit my job to fix the damned problem.” Since Deepinder was not trained in HVAC, he used his computer network skills to solve the problem.
75F, Born Digital to Solve Problems for Commercial Buildings
After solving his own problem, Deepinder realized he had a solution with a commercial application. In 2012, Deepinder and his cofounders launched 75F, an intelligent building solution that utilizes the Internet of Things and the latest in Cloud Computing to create systems that predict, monitor and manage the needs of buildings.
“I found that there was an even bigger problem in commercial buildings. People are there all day, and somebody is wearing a coat during the summer.”
“The building controls industry, the last innovation that they had was in the mid-1990s. They are mechanical engineers who try to design It-controlled solutions. Those solutions are archaic by today’s standards. In the controls industry, people are taking these Lego pieces and they are building a custom solution for each building. To me, that’s an opportunity to disrupt.
“I had none of this baggage. I had no idea what the heck I was doing. We were born digital, so we looked at IOT and cloud computing, and created a completely different architecture. It’s modern. It keeps getting upgraded all the time. We look at the building holistically. We use machine learning and AI to implement things that people are doing manually. The building is continuously adjusting and adapting.”
75F uses smart sensors and controls to make commercial buildings healthier, more comfortable, and more efficient than ever before, all at a disruptive price.
“Normally energy efficiency and comfort oppose one another,” Deepinder commented. “We’re trying to do both at the same time.”
75F helps customers achieve an average savings of 41.8 percent in energy consumption and carbon footprint.
Learn More About Deepinder Singh and 75F:
Deepinder Singh on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FlyingSardar