EarthTronics Blows Into New Outlet

August 1, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — EarthTronics Inc., a new company here that markets award-winning "green" CFL light bulbs and plans to produce a miniature wind turbine for consumers next spring, has just taken possession of commercial condo space for its corporate headquarters at the new Hines Building downtown.

Dave TenCate of Capstone Real Estate LLC of Grand Haven, which owns the Hines Building with Clifford Buck Construction, said the deal with EarthTronics closed last Wednesday. The purchase price for the entire third floor of the building — 10,400 square feet — was not disclosed.

Reg Adams, president of EarthTronics, said the new space will be the global headquarters for the company, which was organized last year and began sales of "green" energy-efficient light bulbs earlier this year. Adams said about a dozen EarthTronics employees will be working in the corporate headquarters as soon as their interior build-out is completed.

"But that's start-up," added Adams. "We'll have quite a few more by the time we get the rest of the lighting program up and going, and the turbine project. Obviously, the launch (of the miniature wind turbine project this fall) will take a whole series of people just in itself."

Adams said EarthTronics plans to begin production in April of the WindTronic 720, a small, gearless wind turbine developed recently at Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon. EarthTronics, a privately held company, had been leasing space at the center up to now.

According to an announcement by GVSU, the turbine was invented by Imad Mahawili, MAREC’s executive director. Measuring 36 inches in diameter and with an expected retail cost of around $2,000, the device will be sold at home improvement stores and is designed to generate at least 20 percent of the electricity required by the average home during peak use. While it was designed to produce at least 700 watts of power at wind speeds of up to 10 miles per hour, Adams said it can generate much more than that and does not have to be shut down in wind speeds over 25 to 30 miles per hour, as do other wind turbines.

At a wind speed of 15 miles per hour, it will produce about 2.4 kilowatts, according to Adams.

"We're not releasing the data of our peak power at this point," he said.

“This is a breakthrough wind turbine technology that was developed with specific focus on low cost of manufacture and high efficiency," said Mahawili.

Mahawili heads E-net LLC, a company that has licensed the technology to EarthTronics, which already manufactures energy-efficient light bulbs in China. He serves as the chief technical advisor to the board of EarthTronics, according to Adams. Mahawili is also a member of the board and a shareholder in the EarthTronics wind turbine venture. Some of the principals of Ameriform, a thermoforming company in Muskegon, have also invested privately in EarthTronics, according to Adams, but he said EarthTronics is not part of Ameriform.

Adams said the "tentative plan" at EarthTronics "is to produce the initial turbines here in Michigan. We're working out some details and will be talking to some folks at the state level." He added that "several Michigan vendors are already involved in the project" as well as some "global vendors" of parts.

Adams said the typical wind turbine uses gears to transfer power from the rotating blades to the shaft that spins the coil.

"Ours is a gearless windmill. We use a different technology," said Adams. He declined to elaborate on the mechanism designed by Mahawili. However, the innovation enables the WindTronic to begin turning at a wind speed of two miles per hour, and to start electrical generation at three miles per hour. As the wind speed approaches five miles per hour, it is generating more than 200 watts, with peak efficiency at about 15 miles per hour, when it is generating about 700 watts of power. The typical wind generator doesn't begin turning until wind speed reaches eight miles per hour.

EarthTronics is already on a roll with its compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs, according to Adams. In May, the company's Micro T2 EarthBulb won a silver award for Green Innovation at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. It is now being sold in Menard’s stores as well as other major retail chains.

"Our competition are the big boys: General Electric, Phillips, Sylvania," said Adams.

He said the key benefit of the EarthBulb "is that it is the first one in North America to be RoHS compliant."

RoHS is a European Union standard that restricts the use of lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous substances in new electrical and electronic equipment. California is considering legislation to enact the RoHS standard there in 2010 for all CFLs.

The EarthBulb is also a smaller version of the standard CFL bulbs on the market, so it fits easier into confined areas, yet it puts out more light — 900 lumens — and lasts up to 12,000 hours, according to Adams.

EarthTronics offers a large variety of "green" CFLs, and is also marketing "green" medical devices and motors. It also provides consulting to business owners and managers who want to increase their company's energy efficiency and decrease their environmental impact.

Ironically, the new EarthTronics headquarters in the Hines Building should offer a good view of a functioning example of the other light wind turbine making a splash in West Michigan business.

Diagonally opposite the Hines Building at the intersection of West Western Avenue and Third Street is the Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts, which is owned by the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. A Swift Wind turbine manufactured by Cascade Engineering of Grand Rapids will be installed on the roof of the Frauenthal this week, according to Michael Ford of Cascade Engineering. The turbine, the first one sold by Cascade Engineering, was purchased earlier this summer by the Foundation through its Eklund Energy Innovation Fund set up through a donation from Louis and Ann Eklund of Fleet Engineers Inc.

Ford said last week Cascade Engineering will begin full production of the Swift roof-mounted turbines in September for sale throughout the U.S. and Canada. They expect to sell from 1,000 to 2,000 units in the first year, at a retail cost of about $8,500 for the equipment plus another $2,000 or so for installation.

The Swift is a roof-mounted light wind turbine producing up to 1.5 kilowatts of power. The five blades, made of an advanced plastic material, are mounted within a ring (or rotor) that measures almost 7 feet in diameter.

The first Swifts were introduced in Scotland in 2003 by Renewable Devices, which has licensed Cascade Engineering to assemble them here for sale in the U.S. and Canada. However, Cascade Engineering is now making the plastic blades and rotors for all new Swift turbines, including those still being assembled in Europe.

It is a coincidence that the first installation of a Swift wind turbine is almost within a stone's throw of the headquarters for the WindTronic wind turbine. Arn Boezaart, vice president of Grants and Programs at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, said last week he had been in touch with an executive at EarthTronics earlier that day. "We're certainly not in competition with them. We're intersted in collaborating with them, to get the rest of the world to take a serious look at this way of generating energy."

Adams of EarthTronics would agree. "What Cascade is doing, we think is fabulous. Anybody working on wind, we think is fabulous," said Adams.

The Frauenthal Center will have a display in the lobby showing the actual output of the Swift turbine on the roof, along with real-time data on the wind speed and direction.

"This is an educational demonstration project," added Boezaart. "We're really out to demonstrate the applied use of this technology, first of all. And secondly, it's about generating some usable energy" for use by the Frauenthal Center.

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