Sustainability and Technology

No product? No problem for firm looking to expand globally

Mackinac Technology’s energy-efficient window insulation system is drawing interest from as far away as China.

July 14, 2017
| By Pat Evans |
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Before officially launching a product, Mackinac Technology Co. has garnered demand from across the globe and already is setting up a Chinese office.

Mackinac Technology was one of 19 private companies awarded an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grant from the Department of Energy in 2015. In turn, former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz included Mackinac Technology as one of five companies to highlight at a Paris Climate Accord meeting.

The $2.5-million ARPA-E grant is helping the company drive its window product to begin manufacturing and launch, which is expected within the next two years. The company created a transparent film that lets in 90 percent of sunlight but blocks ultraviolet and thermal-infrared energies to reduce heat loss and gives windows the same insulation value as a wall. The retrofit window system can go on the inside of a window in its own frame.

According to CEO John Slagter, the product can reduce a building’s total energy demand by 10 percent.

The Business Journal profiled Mackinac Technology’s partnership with Calvin College in August 2016. The company also collaborates with German research firm Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, as well as the U.S. Air Force Academy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

There were 41 ARPA-E grants total, culled from more than 4,000 applicants. With so many applicants, to have Moniz mention Mackinac Technology in an international setting as one of five examples of energy companies the U.S. is funding to address carbon issues was invaluable to the potential demand, said Slagter, the company’s founder and owner.

“Back then, it was an important thing,” Slagter said. “It was published internationally with us No. 2 on the list. Since then, I’ve been getting calls from all over the globe with potential customers.”

Mackinac Technology also received a $1.1-million contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Research and Development Center.

Part of the international demand stems mightily from China, said Slagter, who will take part in the Michigan delegation put together by Gov. Rick Snyder heading to China July 29-Aug. 8. The Michigan China Trade Mission will take the delegation to Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hangzhou.

Slagter was a finalist for the Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards but didn’t think he’d be able to make the trip as he had initially missed the deadline. But when he presented at a Michigan Economic Development Corp. event, he was invited to several one-on-one meetings with Michigan economic development offices from different countries, including representatives from the Chinese office in Shanghai.

As he presented to the Chinese office, they said, “There’s a market for this in China,” and that there would be room for him on the trade trip.

Working with the Michigan Shanghai office, there already are nearly 30 meetings on the books for Slagter’s trip.

Along with the trip, Mackinac Technology is setting up an office in China. A Michigan State University graduate was a United States employee as his student visa expired. Slagter had hoped to support him with an HB-1 visa, but he was not approved.

As a Chinese national with the recent developments for Mackinac Technology in China, Slagter said it would make sense for him to operate the branch in China, allowing him to build and maintain relationships in a nation with 1.4 billion people and a concerted effort to control its carbon emissions.

While the U.S. window market will remain the No. 1 target for Mackinac Technology, Slagter said China will be a close secondary focus, along with the rest of the growing international demand.

“With my first discussion with anyone about China two-and-a-half months ago, it’s interesting to see how things happen,” Slagter said. “This is potentially a great opportunity, because China is putting a lot of focus on energy efficiency and carbon reduction.”

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