Maine's Cleantech Industry and Sustainable Food Production

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People attending the inaugural E2Tech Expo on October 1 2015On October 1, 2015, the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech) held its first clean tech expo at USM in Portland. This report is a summary of the day’s events and the talk on the sustainability impacts of Maine’s food supply chain in particular.


The opening address was given by Daniel Goldman, Co–founder of the Clean Energy Venture Group, whose portfolio companies are seeing explosive growth in revenues (average growth 10x from 2013-14). See Daniel Goldman's presentation here.


Cleantech is Maine’s fastest growing technology sector. The Maine Technology Institute recently reported it found job gains of 12% in renewable energy since 2007, and CleanEdge reports that since 2014, Maine had the nation's second-highest jump in its national cleantech ranking. Experts on emerging energy and environmental technologies, investment, and market trends, and state, regional, and national policies spoke about accelerating the industry.


Following this, Senator Angus King gave a video welcome to the assembly; watch it here.


John Mandyck serves as Chief Sustainability Officer for United Technologies Corporation. A global leader in the aerospace, food refrigeration and commercial building industries, United Technologies provides high-technology systems and services that set the standard for performance, reliability and energy efficiency. John is the co-author of the book, Food Foolish, which explores the hidden connection between food waste, hunger and climate change. He has spoken on the topics of energy efficiency, sustainability and future of food strategies to audiences around the world. See Mandyck’s presentation here


Following lunch, policy leaders held a ‘fishbowl’ discussion on producing power in Maine. Maine’s economy is rich in natural resources, and Mainers have deep expertise producing energy products from our woods, waters, wind, sun, and more.

The following panel of policy leaders discussed what policies might lead to product development and process management that tap into Maine’s indigenous energy resources:

Tux Turkel, Reporter – Portland Press Herald (moderator)
Representative Sara Gideon – Maine State Legislature
Joel Harrington, Government & Community Relations – Central Maine Power
Sean Mahoney, Executive Vice President – Conservation Law Foundation
Jeremy Payne, Executive Director – Maine Renewable Energy Association
Michael Stoddard, Executive Director – Efficiency Maine Trust
Jamie Py, President – Maine Energy Marketers Association


Recent reports show Maine’s energy and environmental sector is growing at rates north of 10%. Leaders from the Maine Department of Labor, University of Maine, Southern Maine Community College and Bowdoin College discussed how can we be sure the industry has the talent it needs to thrive here in years to come.


Maine companies take sustainability in their supply chains seriously, but it’s complicated. On the one hand, with increasing consumer demand for sustainably made products and services, companies are not only greening themselves, but demanding greener practices from their partners up and down their supply chains. On the other hand, as new products and services like wind farms and efficiency companies expand Maine’s energy and environmental sector, companies in traditional industries like machining and manufacturing, food, construction, and more are gaining new business. A panel of industry leaders discussed the “ripple” effect of Maine’s emerging energy and environmental sector into the traditional industries that supply them.


The news is full of new Maine companies in the energy, environmental, and cleantech sector, thanks to efforts to seed this kind of innovation “cluster.” Experts from the US Small Business Administration, New England Clean Energy Countil Institute, Maine Technology Institute and St. Germain Collins discussed  both the history and the rising tide of innovation in Maine’s green business cluster.


Dan Bell of Exeter Agri EnergyThis last session was on everyone’s favorite topic: food. The panel was moderated by Betsy Biemann of the Maine Food Cluster Project at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.


The first speaker was Dan Bell of Exeter Agri-Energy and Aricycle Energy. World demand for protein is expected to double by 2050. This begs us to develop innovative and reliable solutions, both to meet this demand and to handle the waste products of food production.

Dairy farms produce lots of manure. Exeter Agri-Energy (EAE) is collecting this bio-waste and converting it to biogas through anaerobic digestion. The biogas then powers an engine that generates renewable energy. Manure and off-farm waste are used in a 70/30% ratio. The process produces enough heat to replace 700 gallons of oil each day.

EAE also produces animal bedding and compost as by-products, which increases dairy productivity. Liquid wastes are stored in traditional lagoons to be used as cropland fertilizer, as on traditional dairy farms. This helps grow crops to feed cattle.

EAE and Agricycle Energy work together.  Agricycle Energy has built a collection network to gather farm waste from all over New England. They also supply the only other anaerobic digestion units currently operating, in Lewiston Auburn.

In the near future, EAE plans a plant expansion from 1 MW to 3 MW, which would process the equivalent of 150 tons/day or 50,000 tons per year of organics. This would all be pulled from the landfill stream. There is also a 6 MW facility being built in Clinton to handle twice the load of the Exeter plant. Both plants have 20-year power purchase contracts to give them a secure market for their energy. They also plan to create a Bio-CNG facility for onsite fuel production for their internal trucking fleet. 

Q: Is there a potential to turn green crabs to energy?

Bell: Potentially, yes.

Q: How contaminated is the waste stream and how do you deal with it?

Bell: We work to educate stores, restaurants, etc. and also have new technologies that allow us to remove contaminants.

Matt Jacobson of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative photo by Kay MannLOBSTER

The second panelist was Matt Jacobson of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. The business problem for Maine’s lobster industry is that prices are lowest when production is high in the summer. MLMC did a study to try to solve this and found that 80% of lobster is consumed in restaurants nationwide. They also found that lobster was being served with condiments other than butter. While lobster is not on the menu at many restaurants, the notions of sustainability, seasonality, and farm-to table are “hot” in restaurants these days. Soft shell lobster is now being marketed as “New Shell”, being sweeter and more tender in the prime season. MLMC is working hard in the social sphere to increase awareness, particularly reaching for a broader geographical distribution network.


Tony Kieffer of Arch Solar photo by Kay MannArch Solar offers sustainable year round agriculture and technologies, Tony Kieffer, the managing director for Arch Solar, was the third panelist.

Maine has a short season and yet there are proven technologies being used in Canada to produce food sustainably year-round. The Dutch use greenhouses to produce peppers year round. These peppers are flown here and driven to our supermarkets, using great amounts of fuel to do so. Arch Solar looked at how we could design greenhouses to produce foods right here in Maine. They worked with the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society, Maine Technology Institute and the composites industry to tackle this problem by designing new greenhouse technologies. Design goals included a controlled environment system, protection from pests and weather extremes.

The result is greenhouse, 45’ across made of fiberglass an polycarbonate, which has an R value 3 times higher than traditional models. It uses solar panels to provide power inside. They are bringing radiant heat to the root zone of crops in in-ground raised beds. LED lighting will provide the right spectrum for plants. It also has a system for thermal heat storage. The system also includes an innovative wood kiln for the farm’s firewood products. 

Kieffer described another building being deployed downeast, which is 3,600 square-foot and produces 40,000 kWh of annual electricity. Sustainable, year-round agriculture benefits farmers, communities, environment and investors. Costs are going down and the time is ripe to deploy these technologies.

Sean Sullivan Executive Director of the Maine Brewers Guild photo by Kay MannLOCAL BREWS

To talk about how we can avoid trucking so much beer from Milwaukee and other places “away”, Sean Sullivan, Executive Director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, next took the podium.

The top 8 brewers in US control 91.5% of the beer market. We have over 4000 breweries in the US so that leaves 3992 to compete for the remaining 8.5% of the market. Maine is rapidly becoming known for its craft beer, winning national contests in taste tests. The number of breweries in Maine has grown from 40 to 64 in the past 2 years. There is room to grow. Local breweries are building community around them, even in the most remote places.

There is a great deal of collaboration that happens between so-called competitors in this local industry. Sullivan cited an example of one brewery that shut down to help another brewery to move in and set up. It is being called “co-opetition”, rather than competition, similar to the model we have seen in the organic farming industry.

Both movements bode well for local consumption. We don’t see or taste the fossil fuels that are expended to bring us our food and beverages, but they are in there.