Business

In Lexington, Solar Is Coming

By Andrea Smardon   |   Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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Feb. 10, 2011

A tour of 1366 Technologies | Jess Bidgood/WGBH


BOSTON — One of the state’s largest alternative energy companies, Evergreen Solar, is in the process of closing its manufacturing plant in Devens. But the landscape for solar manufacturing in Massachusetts isn’t all bleak. A solar startup in Lexington, 1366 Technologies, is looking to open a new plant in Massachusetts  — and they’re hiring.
 
Frank van Mierlo, the CEO of 1366 Technologies, is a tall, energetic man from the Netherlands.  On a brisk walk to the machine shop, he passes a poster with a drawing of a horse and rider, that reads “Solar is coming,” a nod to Paul Revere’s historic ride through Lexington.  Like Revere, Van Mierlo is on a mission , and he’s in a hurry. 

Silicon is seen in the various stages of refinement it goes through before it becomes a solar wafer, a crucial building block of solar cells. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

 “We make manufacturing equipment, so it’s very important to be hands-on, and that means that you should quickly do stuff, quickly try something, quickly draft something, and quickly make it, and so this fast prototyping ability is an important part of our company,” Van Mierlo says.
 
According to Van Mierlo, solar has made tremendous progress in the last 30 years.  And by bringing down the cost of photovoltaic cells, the part of a solar panel that converts sunlight into electricity, 1366 is taking the industry a step closer to competing with fossil fuels.
 
“We’re in the neighborhood. If we keep on going, in the next decade or so, we can actually be competitive with coal.  It’s doable, and we have some of the technologies to do that in house,” Van Mierlo said.
 
In the lab, engineers are focused on turning silicon  — an abundant material found in rocks — into thin wafers.  These wafers are the building blocks for solar cells, and the most expensive part of the supply chain.  1366 has invented a machine that could turn a multi-step process into a single step, producing silicon wafers at a fraction of today’s price.  Van Mierlo says this kind of innovation is made possible by a special blend of talent and venture capital that comes together in Massachusetts.

Engineer Tom Dusseault analyzes solar wafers that have undergone a texture treatment process. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

“That combination of talent, good living conditions, excellent universities — that makes it possible to assemble a group like this,” Van Mierlo said. “And then of course the availability of capital to actually try this — and this is where the US venture community comes in. That does not really exist elsewhere. There is a reason we are more innovative than anybody else.”

Emanuel Sachs is the brains behind the company.  Once a consultant for Evergreen Solar, he’s now a mechanical engineering professor at MIT and the Chief Technology Officer of 1366.  He says the start-up is almost ready to begin manufacturing; they plan to build a pilot factory, and they want to keep it near their Research and Development headquarters. 

 “It’s incredibly beneficial to have your core R&D team very close, ideally co-located with a factory. So they can put their ideas into practice, and see the results themselves.  There’s no doubt that that’s our preferred way to go,” Sachs said.
 
Richard Sullivan, the new State Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs, says being a leader in green energy is a priority for the state, and they will do everything possible to make companies like 1366 want to stay. 

Emmanuel Sachs, the CTO of 1366, stands in the lab. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

“What the Commonwealth can do as a whole is create that supportive environment that makes not only the research & development which I think we’re extremely successful at, but also showing that there’s lot of places in Mass. where the manufacturing can stay here and can be competitive,” Sullivan said.

To help 1366 secure a federal grant, the state has provided $300,000 in matching funds. In total, 1366 has received $7 million in public money, with the bulk of the start-up’s funding – about $45 million -- coming from private venture capital. 

 Frank van Mierlo is optimistic that new energy technologies can be successful here — they just need a level playing field.
 
“There is 10,000 times more solar energy than we need to power our entire civilization. You can do this with solar, but there has to be ground swell support for that,” Mierlo said.
 
1366 already has early customers waiting for their wafers in South Korea and Germany.  The company is focused now on finding a location for its pilot plant and hiring people to help lead that effort. Van Mierlo says 1366 hopes to break ground before the end of the year. 

Setting Catch Limits With Limited Information

By Heather Goldstone   |   Friday, February 4, 2011
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An Insiders View Of The Restaurant Business

Friday, January 14, 2011
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As Goes Janesville

Monday, October 8, 2012
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Lobster: Cheaper than Bologna

By Toni Waterman   |   Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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July 17, 2012


Listen: Toni Waterman reports and WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone adds her perspective.

 
SOUTH BOSTON, Mass. — If you’re the type of person who associates lobster with big, celebratory events, then you’re in luck. With prices lower than they’ve been in decades, something as simple as — well, a Tuesday night can be reason to celebrate.
 
It’s 6 a.m. at Medeiros Dock in South Boston. The sun is just coming up as lobsterman Steven Holler gets his boat, the November Gale, ready for a day at sea. He steps into his bright orange bib pants, slips on his galoshes and then effortlessly glides his boat to the bait dock.
 
He loads $700 worth of fish on to the deck. And by 6:15, Holler and his crew of one set off to haul lobster traps in the waters off Boston’s Harbor Islands.
 
Lobsters, lobsters everywhere
 
In 35 years in the business, Holler says he’s never seen a lobster season quite like this one. It all started this spring.
 
“We came out to haul that gear expecting to get 30 or 40 pounds and what we saw was just totally off the charts. Something we’ve never seen before. There were just lobsters everywhere,” he says.
 
Plentiful catches came early, flooding the lobster market up the East Coast. And since it was May, there weren’t enough tourists to eat them up.
 
And if there’s one thing we all learned in economics class: Surpluses make prices plummet.
 
Lobstermen in the Boston area are getting $3 - $3.50 a pound right now. Retail prices are a bit higher at around $5, which means that the price is running pretty equal to a bologna sandwich.
 
“I looked at a slip from last year and it was anywhere between $4.50 - $4.75 per pound,” says Holler. "The price we’re getting is something like you’d get in the '80s — mid-'80s. And we’re paying 2012 fuel prices, bait prices and labor prices.”
 
The problem in a nut lobster shell
 
Lobster is even cheaper further north: The Wall Street Journal reports that some lobstermen in Maine are getting as low as $1.25 a pound. And it doesn’t seem to be going up anytime soon, because now there’s another factor dragging prices down: soft-shells. Those are lobsters that have just shed their shells and are growing into new, bigger ones.
 
The shedding process usually doesn’t start until mid-July, but lobstermen this year have been catching soft-shells since May.
 
“A soft-shell lobster is veal in the lobster world,” says Holler. “It is tender. It is sweet.”
 
Sweet, but fragile — too fragile to ship long distances, which puts even more lobsters in the Northeast supply chain.
 
A solution: Eat up
 
“The public has to know: there’s a lot of lobsters out there,” says Holler. “So the more lobster people buy, hopefully it will be better for the industry and hopefully that trickles down to the fisherman.”
 
There’s one more big factor playing in this perfect storm: Canadian processing plants, which usually buy up any extra lobsters, aren’t. They had strong catches this season too and already have their own backlog of lobsters.
 
Still, Holler says he will keep setting his traps, even if it means catching too much of a good thing.
 


Bill Adler of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association talks about the problem on Greater Boston.

The Cape Cod Shark: Good for Business and Science

By WGBH News   |   Tuesday, July 10, 2012
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July 10, 2012


Listen to the complete conversation from Boston Public Radio
shark
Shark sightings: reason to smile? (@ChathamShark/Facebook)

 
BOSTON — Maybe you've seen the photo or video: a kayaker just 100 feet off the shore of Orleans, Mass. … followed by a fin. And yet the recent shark sighting appears to be triggering more excitement than fear. We asked some experts to explain the phenomenon.
 
The business perspective
 
Paul Pronovost, editor-in-chief of The Cape Cod Times, said the tourism industry was doing its best to capitalize on the interest.

"A lot of merchants have T-shirts and hats and books and little souvenirs — all shark-related because that's what people are coming in and looking for," he said. "It's been fascinating, people coming down to the shorelines, some even brave enough to put their toe in the water, some putting even more than their toes in the water, and really being into this phenomenon — it's created quite a buzz on the Cape."
 
He didn't see any unusual rise in Cape tourism due to the fascination with sharks but he did think vacationers already there were heading to beaches where sightings have occurred.
 
The science perspective
 
While the shark sightings are fascinating to beach bums, they're even more exciting for marine scientists. Technology like acoustic and satellite tags are helping scientists track sharks and better understand the animals' behavior.
 
"Historically, all we really knew about white sharks was based on sightings," said John Mandelman, a researcher at the New England Aquarium. "But now with this new technology we're starting to learn a lot more about where these sharks are going … and that's very exciting, because [for] the Atlantic there's been an absence of information on white sharks, whereas other areas around the world have been able to gain a lot of information about their population."
 
Does climate change have anything to do with sharks swimming close to our shore?
 
"Theoretically, climate change will have an effect on various levels, not just on the sharks … I think in this case, though, sharks are still coming up here based on water temperature," Mandelman said. "I don't think anything is going to happen in a 4- or 5-year period that could be attributable to climate change."
 
Marine scientists think the warmer water temperature is why we have more seals appearing on our beaches and it's those seals … not kayakers … that are attracting the hungry sharks looking for their next meal.
 
The shark's perspective
 
We've heard what the experts say. But what does the shark think? What drove him to pursue that particular kayak? Well, the shark — and June's Massachusetts celebrity animal, the black bear — has taken to social media to explain what he's all about ... without the intermediaries. Here's a rundown.
 

About the Authors
Heather Goldstone Heather Goldstone
Heather Goldstone is the science editor at WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station. She holds a Ph.D. in ocean science from M.I.T. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and spent a decade as an active researcher before leaving the lab to become a writer. In her nine years with the Cape and Islands NPR Station, Goldstone has reported on Woods Hole’s unique scientific community and key environmental issues on Cape Cod. Her reporting has appeared in venues ranging from NPR and PBS News Hour, to Cape Cod Times and Commercial Fishery News. Most recently, Goldstone hosted the blog Climatide – an exploration of how climate change is impacting coastal life in the region. 
WGBH News
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 

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