July 17, 2018 | ° F

Café discusses energy options

Photo by Enrico Cabredo |

Kevin Lyons, associate director of Business Innovation, exhibits his eco-friendly experiment of growing pink orchids without soil yesterday during “Energy Café” at the Busch Campus Center.

Serpil Guran brought the University’s energy needs to the table when she discussed alternative energy options over coffee yesterday during “Energy Café.”

Marketing environmentally friendly products and putting them into everyday usage is tough challenge to overcome, but will be economically beneficial once completed, said Guran, director of Rutgers EcoComplex, the University’s Environmental Research and Extension Center.

“The economy should serve the environment and humans to achieve better results,” she said. “It should be utilized as a mechanism between nature and humans. The way the economy works determines the stability of society.”

Guran said the economy should connect to the issue of sustainable development and meet the challenges of a growing energy demand.

“We need to scale-up emerging alternative energy technologies through demonstration, deployment and commercialization,” she said.

Using alternative energies could result in employment growth, creating jobs in alternative energy fields, Guran said.

She said energy sources should be reassessed with biomass resources, which include materials like corn, soybean and wood chips.

“There are emerging pathways with biomass to energy,” Guran said. “It needs to include environmental sustainability, economic viability and social equity.”

She said biomass resources should be efficient and specifically engineered to benefit a certain ecological need, including a power generation sector and transportation sector.

Applications for biomass resources include the gasification of biomass, converting algae to fuel and utilizing hydrogen for renewable fuel cells, she said.

Rutgers EcoComplex has already aligned itself with several major New Jersey organizations to achieve its goals of finding alternative energy sources, Guran said.

“Our mission is to be a catalyst in developing alternative energies,” she said. “We also want to conduct research and demonstration on innovative alternative energy and environmental technologies.”

Kevin Lyons, associate director for Business Development at Rutgers EcoComplex, used pink orchids as a prop to show an example of an EcoComplex incubation system product that utilizes a hydroponics system, a method of growing plants without soil, to grow orchids.

“This is pretty straightforward and simple,” said Lyons, an assistant professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management and Marketing Sciences. “The challenge for this particular incubator is, ‘How do you introduce it to the market and get it out there?’”

He said the technology exists to grow orchids hydroponically, with nutrients from water alone, but growers needs a way to market it.

Lyons said his challenge is to work with manufacturers to reform their designs and reduce their environmental footprint.

“You as the consumer are the responsible party for making sure that waste gets in the right place,” he said. “If you buy the product, then you buy the waste, and you have got to find a way to get rid of it.”

He said the idea of alternative energy could be challenging to markets because some people do not see the importance of reducing their carbon footprint.

“Oftentimes it’s hard to figure out a way to market these things. Eventually we just think, ‘Well, let’s just do it before they take our money away,’” he said. “There’s a lot of different policies and segments that cripple the message getting out.”

There are programs such as “green purchase,” which sets out a type of contract where buyers refuse to buy a product if the manufacturers do not reduce their environmental impact, Lyons said.

“We’re pushing companies to get involved in contracts, which is a powerful document that involves [life cycle] criteria or they’ll lose our business,” he said.

Through these contracts, buyers would have to pay for products along with the waste that accompanies it, he said.

Lyons said these environmental contracts would give manufacturers an incentive to minimize waste and their prices to become more competitive in the market.

Paul Falkowski, director of Rutgers Energy Institute, said tackling the challenge of marketing environmentally friendly products would be a great marketing project for undergraduate business students.

“A lot of what has happened at the University is because of the students,” Lyons said. “If you’re really interested in this, then get involved.”

Lyons said students have the ability to make a difference if they want to see something changed.

“The students at this university have unlimited power, and not the kind that you plug in,” he said. “Collectively, you guys can change this university however you want.”

He said students who want to see the dining halls get rid of Styrofoam cups should voice their concerns.

“You can use social media,” he said. “You have a lot more power than when I was your age.”

Beatrice Birrer, program coordinator for the University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said “Energy Café” is a program that has grown to include graduate students and faculty members from an exclusive undergraduate program.

“The idea is that we’re all at the family table, sharing ideas and discussion,” she said.

By Adam Uzialko

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