A look under the hood

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The nice folks at Colorado State University were kind enough to give us a tour of the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab earlier this month, and we came away with a few things we’d like to share.

Cool stuff. If you’re ever in northern Colorado, and you’re the type who enjoys those reality TV shows about how things work, get in touch with the RamTracks office at CSU and have them arrange for you to spend an hour at this place. Housed in what was once the coal-burning power plant for the City of Fort Collins, the Lab is a testament to the fact that cleantech can be fun. Grad students, faculty and entrepreneurs can be found monitoring the performance of turbochargers being pushed to their limits, measuring the efficiency of biochar-burning stoves, analyzing batches of homegrown super-algae, and testing the effects of various fuels, gadgets and processes on engines the size of guest cottages. The whole building smells like solvents and sounds like you’re standing under a jet. If you like looking “under the hood,” your blood will quicken when you step into this place.

Upbeat environment. This is a special place in the world of cleantech innovation. While CSU is an academic launching pad for the scientists and engineers behind some of the most interesting generation, storage and efficiency technologies you’ll ever see, Fort Collins is the chosen home of dozens of early-stage companies founded by those same people. It’s an environment that rewards community loyalty with work-life balance. Which creates community loyalty … and around it goes. Trying methodically to improve something, often over the course of years, is hard work. And yet the positive vibe at the Lab is palpable.

Hands-on approach. We didn’t see a single laptop or iPhone. Not that we don’t love those things. (We do, a lot.) But these guys obviously spend a lot more time doing things than talking about them or writing about them. This is also not a place where the primary focus is on funding or marketing (yet). And frankly, it was nice to be in a deal-free zone for the afternoon.

Global outlook. One of first things you notice when you walk into the building (besides the sights, sounds and smells of all the experiments going on) is a giant wall covered with photos and the logos of companies that have spun out of (or into) the Lab. And it’s immediately clear that this is not a local enterprise, or a Colorado enterprise, or even a national enterprise. Products are designed and used worldwide. Talent comes here from all around the globe. And the companies commercializing the innovations born and nurtured at the Lab are operating in dozens of countries. It’s a state-school organization with a planetary perspective: think global, act global, live and play local. By the looks of it, it’s a recipe for success.

 

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