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russian dandelion roots may give bounce to rubber production

The demand for natural rubber will exceed supply by 15 to 20 percent within the next five years, says William Ravlin, Ph.D., associate director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center of The Ohio State University.

“It’s not so much a case of diminishing supply as it is a sharply increased demand for rubber from China and India,” he explains. “The situation in the United States is one of national security, the economy and the growth of major corporations that depend on a sustainable approach to obtaining natural rubber.”

Rubber is used in a wide variety of products made in Ohio, and our traditional manufacturing economy relies upon its continued avaialbility. Slowly but surely, critical research is taking place to identify new sources for this material.

The Program of Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives (PENRA) was formally established in 2012 to help address this problem but, according to Dr. Ravlin, the founding members have been collaborating on it for the past five years. The founding members are Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Bridgestone America, Cooper Tire, Ford Motor Company and Veyance Technologies, an Ohio company. The United States Department of Agriculture, the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Guelph in Canada are also collaborators.

Research scientists involved in PENRA have discovered that the roots of an unlikely candidate – the Russian dandelion – are able to produce rubber that’s comparable to rubber used today. Seeds from USDA expeditions in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been planted in field plots and greenhouses in Wooster, Ohio.

There are many challenges, however. “Planting a huge amount of seeds only nets a small harvest of good ones, so it’s a time-consuming and ongoing process,” Dr. Ravlin notes. “Large amounts of the root material need to be processed at the front end to produce enough natural rubber for industries to conduct large-scale tests. Plus, the rubber must meet exacting standards. Airplane tires, for example, are made of 100 percent natural rubber.”

PENRA funding sources include a grant from the OSU Ohio Research and Development Center and the Third Frontier program, with additional support from Bridgestone America, Cooper Tire and Veyance Technologies.

“We have 20 senior research scientists, each with several employees, working on this project,” Dr. Ravlin says. “We’ve completed the construction of a pilot processing plant in Wooster, and we’re in the midst of a testing phase that’s progressing very well.”

Source:  William Ravlin, P.h.D., Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, The Ohio State University
Writer:  Lynne Meyer

university of cincinnati leads effort to create biodiesel on regional scale

Fueled by a US EPA grant, University of Cincinnati faculty and students are leading an effort to transform cooking grease into biodiesel on a regional scale.

This project is a collaboration among UC, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Bluegrass Biodiesel of Falmouth, Ky. The partners will test three methods to extract oil from the grease, including one the University is planning to patent.

Longer term plans are that this oil could be used in a biodiesel mixture to power diesel equipment and vehicles.

Grease hauling is an industry vital to restaurants, which pay haulers to dispose of used cooking grease. But the grease has to disposed of, usually in landfills.

"MSD receives grease from haulers," says project leader Mingming Lu, UC associate professor of Environmental Engineering. "The grease -- a mix of solid and liquid -- are from restaurant grease traps. MSD also has grease from the waste water it receives. The two kinds of grease are mixed, skimmed and condensed. This is called trap grease. It's stored in a pond and then sent to a landfill."

The EPA awarded the biodiesel effort an $87,000 grant during the the 8th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in May. The project was chosen from among 300 presented by college and university innovators across the country.

Up to seven UC students will be involved in the effort, Lu says. It's set to start in September and should last two years. It will include pilot demonstrations and a 100-gallon pilot treatment facility in collaboration with MSD.

"This is technology verification. We will try several technologies and see which one is the most effective for MSD," Lu says.

By Feoshia Henderson
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

innovation fund disperses $375,000 to entrepreneurs in quarterly awards

Dennis Cocco has a good problem: he and other leaders of Lorain County Community College's Innovation Fund have a hard time choosing winners each year because applications are so strong.

“We’ve been doing this for four-plus years,” says the director of the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE), a partner of the Innovation Fund. "The quality of the business idea, the entrepreneur and the presentation are better today than what we saw back in those early days. It’s because of the ecosystem we’ve created here in Northeast Ohio to mentor, lead and help young businesses understand the process to be an entrepreneur. We now have one of the better ecosystems in the country.”

Cocco says that those companies who don’t get funded (this year there were over 40 applications with 6 winners) can come back next quarter. In the meantime, “We offer a debriefing, explain what we saw as their strengths and weaknesses, how to make their businesses better.” Cocco says that because of this support system, there are more people starting businesses than four or five years ago.

Innovation Fund awards go to startups in the fields of alternative and advanced energy, advanced materials, instruments, electronics and controls, biomedical innovations, and advanced propulsion – categories determined by partner/funder Ohio Third Frontier.

This year’s awards went to startups in Elyria, Massilon, Hiram, Shaker Heights, Parma Heights, and Concord. They include alternative financing for retailers (IGW Finance Alternative); products to improve the energy efficiency of heating, cooling, and lighting systems (Paragon Robotics); a faster method of testing biological samples (QURA Scientific); a coating material to control corrosion (Tesla Nanocoastings); a sensor-based system to transmit patients’ clinical data to nurses’s stations (Future Path Medical); and a marketing platform for musical events (In2une).

Source: Dennis Cocco
Writer: Catherine Podojil

university of akron entrepreneurs win launchtown award for spinal implant

Tom Barratt owns a company that helps early-stage entrepreneurs to gain access to capital, expertise and high-level contacts, so it's no surprise that in 2006, his expertise was essential to creating LaunchTown, an annual "best idea" competition in Northeast Ohio.

Barratt was inspired by the efforts of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation as well as a business professor at John Carroll University who wanted to create something for his students, The first year involved students from John Carroll and then grew to include universities and colleges across Northeast Ohio.
Barratt  says that the mission of LaunchTown is to give back to young people by “creating opportunities for students with great ideas to launch their businesses here and not take their talent and creativity to another part of the country after graduation.” The event is supported by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.
Through Barratt’s contacts, he’s been able to gain the support of the North Coast Angel Fund, Akron’s ARCHAngel Network, JumpStart and other organizations.
Businessweek has recognized winners from 2010 (LifeServe Innovations) and 2009 (CitizenGroove) by naming them among the top 25 young companies created by individuals who are under 25 years of age. LaunchTown winners have also beaten teams from Harvard and Yale in national competitions.
Each year since 2007, finalists have brought their best ideas in science, engineering and the biomedical fields to compete for a $10,000 first prize and additional advisory services that are valued at $20,000.
This year’s winner, announced at an event in mid April, is University of Akron’s “Telkesis,” a four-student team who created a unique spinal implant that insures greater safety, flexibility and efficiency for patients who need spinal stabilization.

Source: Tom Barratt
Writer: Lee Chilcote

UC research leads to innovative wind turbine maintenance software

University of Cincinnati research has led to cutting-edge software that will monitor wind turbine health, allowing the machines to work as efficiently as possible.

Students and faculty at UC's Center for Intelligence Maintenance Systems are testing an early version of the software, based on real-world data from commercial wind farms near Shanghai, China, and in Taiwan and North America.

The software is potentially groundbreaking because most wind turbine performance figures are based on computer models. Since the technology is so new, there is still much unknown about the real-life, long-term performance life and maintenance needs of these high-priced energy generators.

"This is a very closed community. It's tough to get them to open up. We were very lucky to get the (real-world) wind data," says UC doctoral student Edzel Lapira, who co-authored "Wind Turbine Performance Assessment using Multi-regime Modeling Approach." His paper, which was recently published in the Journal of Renewable Energy, analyzed two years’ of operating and environmental data from commercial wind turbines, as well as information on the maintenance software.

This data in essence drives the software, which has several aims, according to UC:
  • To predict maintenance needs so a wind turbine experiences near-zero downtime for repairs.
  • To aid just-in-time maintenance functions and delivery of needed parts.
  • To decrease spare-parts inventory.
  • To ultimately predict and foster needed redesigns for wind turbines and their parts.
The team behind the research includes engineering master’s student Dustin Brisset, engineering doctoral students Hossein Davari and David Siegel, and Ohio Eminent Scholar Ohio in Advanced Manufacturing Jay Lee, professor of engineering.

The group continues working on the software, while seeking a wider community of wind farms to test, Lapira says.

"Prediction, that is the overall goal," Lapira says. "Eventually the software will predict that there is a fault, where it is and what part would be needed to fix it. Right now (turbine) manufactures will look at a large number of systems and if they see something wrong, call the operator who will look into it. It's still manual and takes expert knowledge. We are trying to automate that expert knowledge."

Source: Edzel Lapira
Writer: Feoshia Henderson

ohio fuel cell coalition seeks to lead ohio's energy future

Pat Valente, executive director of  the Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition, is convinced that fuel cells are the future of energy. The OFCC is a group of industry, academic and government leaders who seek to propel Ohio into a global leadership position in fuel cell technology.
Ohio has a competitive advantage in fuel cell technology, says Valente. “We have the supply chain (components), a skilled workforce, and ongoing research on college campuses and in business. We like to say that every fuel cell manufactured in the U.S. has an Ohio component.”
Valente touts the clean energy of hydrogen fuel cells. “The only emission that comes out of the tailpipe is water vapor,” he says, referring to the use of fuel cells in vehicles.
But fuel cells aren’t just for cars, trucks and buses anymore. Honda is working on an advanced fuel cell that could power a conventional household for six days. Stationary fuel cells are in the works that can power a shopping center or a small community, completely off the grid.
In late April, Valente was preparing for the Ohio Fuel Cell Symposium, which took place from May 1st-2nd at Lorain County Community College. “We’re expecting Honda, GM, Daimler, Hundaii, and Toyota,” among others. He thinks government needs to step up with stricter emission requirements, which would further encourage the fuel cell technology.
With a rising middle class in China and India, Valente believes it’s just a matter of time before the oil runs out to power all those cars. “We need wind, solar, fuel cells, a little bit of everything. “

Source: Pat Valente
Writer: Catherine Podojil

etutoring program expands to cover all of ohio

Students at 21 Ohio colleges and universities can currently seek course help through an e-Tutoring program run by the Ohio Board of Regents. Next year, new funding from the Ohio Tech Consortium, eStudent services, and the Ohio State Fund will enable every student enrolled in all 107 colleges and universities in Ohio to access this service.
Karen Boyd, Ohio eTutoring Coordinator, says, “There are other e-Tutoring programs in the country, but Ohio is the only statewide collaborative program.”
According to John Charlton, Deputy Director of Communications at the Ohio Board of Regents, “Ohio is a perfect place for such a program because of our '30-mile promise.' There’s a college within thirty miles of every citizen.”
E-tutoring is offered in accounting, anatomy and physiology, biology, calculus, chemistry, math, and statistics. Most students also seek guidance in writing.
Balee Peth studies marketing and communication at the University of Toledo. She praises the friendly and quick response of her eTutor, who helped her express herself  through her writing.
Kyle Steele, a biomed major at Capital University, says, “Even with a science background, it helps me to get advice [with my writing]. You submit your writing and your eTutor reviews it and sends back suggestions for improvement.”
ETutors need not be at the same institution as the student seeking help. For example, three students in China, who currently study online at the University of Akron, use eTutoring for their papers. Next year, two of them will spend the academic year in Akron, where they will attest to the value of the eTutoring program. They will also be able to demonstrate their ability to use technology as teachers when they return to China.

Source: Karen Boyd, John Charlton, Balee Peth, Kyle Steele
Writer: Catherine Podojil

upclique - 'the facebook of academia' - matches students with perfect colleges

When Jeremy Amos and Matt Benton were working together at a bank a few years back, they constantly heard from potential investors about how difficult the college admissions process was for their children. They found that finding the right college was often confusing, complicated and even expensive.
So, in 2011, Amos and Benton came up with Upclique -- a free forum to connect students with the information they need to find the college that fits their needs, and allowing colleges to attract quality students. “We offer students a very detailed search tool that helps them narrow down their number of potential schools to a list that is manageable,” says Amos. “Once they have narrowed their list we provide them with all the necessary info they will need regarding the school to make a quality decision.”  
Amos describes Upclique as the FaceBook of academia. “Our main goal was to create a site where students, parents, college counselors and college personnel come together,” says Amos. “They can come to our site not knowing a thing about what to do or where to go and we can immediately help them from this point."
Since its official launch at the end of February, Upclique has recruited 180 colleges, 35 high schools and 150 students and parents. “We’ve had really great growth,” says Amos.
Upclique’s revenue comes from third party sponsors in academics. They recently received an investment from Ancora Advisors in Beachwood, and they are endorsed by the National Catholic College Admission Association, which represents more than 200 colleges across the country.
Amos and Benton recently hired a CTO, who contracts with four outside developers.

Source: Jeremy Amos
Writer: Karin Connelly

10-xelerator showcase shines spotlight on latest ohio startup talent

If you had 10 minutes to pitch your business to a dream audience of potential investors, where would you begin?       

The 10 startups featured in this month’s 10-xelerator Winter 2012 Showcase recently pondered this exact question. Their paths to the dream pitch began 12 weeks ago when they entered the intensive 10-xelerator program of the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University.

Recently, they took the stage for the 10x Winter 2012 Showcase, sponsored by OSU's Center for Entrepreneurship. Mike Lisavich, Program Manager for the 10-xelerator, describes the event as "the culmination of all of their efforts."

Startup teams enter the 10-xelerator at different stages of development. Some have little more than an idea, while others have already built a functioning beta website or found their first investors. The selected companies spend the early weeks sharpening their real-world applications, followed by months spent with potential clients and collaborators to learn their target markets.

Teams are mentored by and attend workshops with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors throughout their time in the program.  A wider circle of potential investors were in attendance at the final 10x Showcase.

“The ability to have that group of people in attendance is not something that comes together very often, and the buzz and energy in the room makes for something very special,” says Lisavich. "The Showcase affords new 10x teams the opportunity to connect with an array of investors and community members."

“The great part about the diversity of investors in the audience is that each of them has their own space where they like to invest," adds Lisavich. "I think there was at least one company within the ten that sparked each investor’s interest.”

The 10x Winter 2012 team portfolio includes One Exchange Street, an online exchange for bankruptcy claim buyers and sellers; MorphCARD, a mobile application for storing and redeeming gift card values; and Rooftop Down, a property management organizational application.

Source: Mike Lisavich, 10-xelerator
Writer: Kitty McConnell

case's swagelok center 'best facility on planet' for microstructural analysis

Arthur Heuer spends a lot of his time studying how to make stainless steel harder and improve its resistance to corrosion. His research is possible thanks to the equipment at the Swagelok Center for Surface Analysis of Materials (SCSAM) on the CWRU campus.
The center has 20 electron microscopes and other instruments for microstructural characterization of materials and surface and near-surface chemical analysis. Basically, SCSAM is home to a lot of expensive equipment that allows industrial and academic users to conduct surface analysis, structural analysis and optic microscopy.
Industrial companies come from around the world to use the $20 million worth of equipment at SCSAM. “We don’t know of any place that has the diversity of instruments and staff that we have,” says Heuer, who is the center’s director. “I modestly claim it’s the best such facility on the planet.”
In a typical year, SCSAM sees 300 users who pay a service contract to use the equipment. Many industrial clients come on a weekly basis. “Our industrial clients like us because we are one-stop shopping,” says Heuer. Academic users pay a lesser rate to use the facility.
The fees cover the operational costs. The service fees are far less than investing in the equipment, even for companies that come to SCSAM on a regular basis. “We break even,” says Heuer. “The university doesn’t need to subsidize us.” Seven full time engineers maintain the equipment and train users.

Source: Arthur Heuer
Writer: Karin Connelly

startup weekend athens is a 56 hour dash to catalyze new businesses

Jennifer Simon, Director of the Innovation Center at Ohio University, has been spending a lot of time cheering on the Bobcats lately. Yet the weekend of April 19th-21st, she'll be switching her loyalties to a different set of teams with winning potential as she cheers on the inaugural Startup Weekend Athens, a new initiative to help grow businesses.

"People come up with fantastic ideas, but when it comes to whether or not there's a customer, that's a different question," explains Simon, whose 56-hour event is part of a network of Startup Weekend events. "We'll spend the weekend on customer validation, developing a beta version of the product and testing it."

The intense, often sleep-deprived Startup Weekends are geared towards budding entrepreneurs who have a business or product idea and want help developing it quickly. Over 56 hours, would-be company founders pitch ideas, form teams, develop business plans with the help of mentoring from successful entrepreneurs, and compete for hefty cash prizes of up to $2,500 in a final competition.

Only 10 entrepreneurs will have the chance to develop their ideas. The event kicks off with 60 second pitches followed by audience voting to pick the top 10. Those entrepreneurs who are not selected can join other teams and work on building relationships with other individuals with complementary skills.

In addition to meeting other like-minded innovators, participants will be able to network with successful company founders, venture capitalists and angel investors. Startup Weekend is open to both students and professionals, and Simon says she expects some registrants to travel from outside of the area.

"This is the first time OU has done this, and it's an opportunity for us to develop deal flow," says Simon. "There is a lot more entrepreneurial activity in Athens and the surrounding area, in part thanks to additional resources from Ohio Third Frontier developed a few years ago. The pipeline has really opened up."

The Innovation Center is a 36,500 square foot incubator space. Currently, the Center is about 95 percent full. The Center for Entrepreneurship is also housed on campus, and provides a range of business clients with technical assistance. Finally, TechGROWTH Ohio, an organization funded by Ohio Third Frontier and located at OU, helps to catalyze startup businesses throughout Southeast Ohio.

Source: Jennifer Simon
Writer: Lee Chilcote

ohio supercomputer center's new system souped up and ready to go

There's a reason why Ohio Supercomputer Center's new $4.1 million,  HP Intel Xeon, processor based system has been dubbed the Oakley Cluster. Like the legendary Ohio-born sharpshooter and social advocate Annie Oakley, it's fast as hell, doesn't miss a shot and is improving the lives of Ohioans.

Just ask Ashok Krishnamurthy, Executive Director of the OSC, a facility that is funded by the Ohio Board of Regents and has been in existence since 1987. "We have more than 2,000 academic users across the state, and they're discovering new materials and developing advanced energy applications," he says. "To be competitive, we must provide the highest performance system, and this represents a new level of capability."

OSC's new supercomputer can achieve 88 teraflops, which is tech speak for 88 trillion calculations per second. Yes, in case you're wondering, that's lightning fast.

OSC's new system will help to achieve its mission of assisting academic and business users. Large companies such as Proctor and Gamble and Rolls Royce use OSC as a "second level system when they have needs beyond what their systems can support," says Krishnamurthy. OSC helps small and midsize companies develop and test prototypes virtually rather than investing in actual models, while academics use the system to complete their cutting-edge research.

"We give them access to software and expertise," says Krishnamurthy. "Once they understand the value of what this can do, it changes how they do business."

As one example, Krishnamurthy cites an Ohio company that is developing an LED projector small enough to fit inside a phone. How do they convince various manufacturers that their device can handle the projector's heat without testing every single one? That's where OSC's computer modeling comes in.

"You can simulate how the heat is dissipated," he says. "It's an easy, low-cost way to show potential customers how your design can be incorporated into their products."

OSC has also helped to develop courses for students at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, as well as professionals who are seeking continuing education. "OSC is in a fairly unique position," says Krishnamurthy. "It is the most consistently state-funded center of its kind in the country."

Source: Ashok Krishnamurthy
Writer: Lee Chilcote

UA researcher designs computer model to improve testing of space docking seals

Breathing in space is something astronauts working on the International Space Station can’t take for granted.  So the door seals that close air chambers and keep fresh air intact are taken very seriously.

But the testing for these docking seal materials is an expensive process, involving thousands of hours of time and costly facilities.

Thanks to University of Akron mechanical engineer and researcher, Nicholas Garafolo Ph.D., some of the time and expense may be shaved off this process due to computer prediction models he has designed.

Garafolo is part of a research team testing polymer/metal seals being considered for future advanced docking and berthing systems. The university researchers work with partners in Cleveland at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, which is responsible for developing the main interface seals for the new International Low Impact Docking Systems (iLIDS). Their work is being supported by a multi-million dollar grant from NASA.

NASA has been developing low-impact docking seals for manned missions to the International Space Station, as well as for future exploratory missions. Common to all docking systems, a main interface seal is mated to a metallic flange to provide the gas pressure seal.

“These seals must not allow any more leakage of air per day than that you would find in the top of a filled water bottle,” says Garafolo.  “There are very tight requirements.  This computer modeling enables us to find baseline measurements before any fabrication of the seals so it saves time and money.”

Garafolo says that the design and testing phase of the seal development can take years and testing can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  “This could potentially cut back on numerous tests, so by doing so it could save tens of thousands of dollars.”

Source: Nicholas Garafolo
Writer: Val Prevish

University of Dayton forms critical research partnership with German institute

The University of Dayton (UD) and the Fraunhofer Institute of Non-Destructive Testing in Dresden, Germany have created a collaborative center of excellence at the UD School of Engineering. The project, which began with a faculty exchange program between the two organizations in 2004, will allow UD and Fraunhofer to exchange faculty, graduate students and critical ideas.

The focus of the new center will be on ways to implement or improve structural health monitoring, non-destructive evaluation and nano characterization. Structural health monitoring and non-destructive evaluation examine how to use sensors to check for structural defects without stopping production. Nano characterization looks at the materials that are used to create sensors and equipment on a molecular scale. It then determines or mitigates responses to fracture and fatigue based on how materials are welded and joined.

Now that the Center has officially opened, its leaders are ready to pursue grants and investors within Ohio.  According to Dr. Tony Saliba, Dean of the School of Engineering at UD, “The center has already received grants from the European Union. Contracts and funds from companies associated with Fraunhofer will be brought here. We are putting together teams to write proposals here."

He continues, “As we continue to win grants we will hire more researchers, faculty, and assistants.”

Meanwhile, work is already in progress with the ball bearing, metal and steel manufacturer Timken Company in Canton, Ohio.  The center has also done work with Ethicon of Johnson and Johnson on titanium probes and Depuy of Johnson and Johnson on titanium hip implants.

The University of Dayton and Fraunhofer Institute for Non-Destructive Testing-Dresden Project Center has potential to boost economic growth and employment in the region. “Job creation is going to come as new sensors are developed and implemented through Ohio manufacturers,” affirms Dr. Saliba.

Source: Tony Saliba
Writer: Mona Bronson-Fuqua

rocket ventures brings technology networking event to bowling green

A crowd eager to learn about entrepreneurial opportunities in Northwest Ohio flooded Olscamp Hall at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) on March 7th for the TechConnect event organized by the nonprofit organization Rocket Ventures.
The crowd of 200-plus acolytes gathered to brainstorm, network and hear a keynote address by BGSU’s new president, Mary Ellen Mazey. Dr. Mazey was formerly Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Auburn University in Alabama, which houses the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship.
Dan Slifko, President and Director of Rocket Ventures, was enthused about the potential of TechConnect events to help business ventures come to life. “The whole idea is to connect minds, motivation, and money in the same room,” he says. “We want to help connect ideas with people who can help make them happen.”
Rocket Ventures, LLC is an entrepreneurial support organization and venture capital firm serving Northwest Ohio. Through events, funding and mentorship, the group brings together the necessary partners to help startups become successful. Specifically, the group provides pre-seed funding for tech-based companies.
TechConnect events take place quarterly and typically draw large crowds, suggesting the value of such networking opportunities as well as the growing entrepreneurial community that exists across the four corners of Ohio.
The TechConnect message will continue to spread across Northwest Ohio, with the next event scheduled for June in Findlay. Meanwhile, Rocket Ventures is doing its part to connect money, minds and motivation. The organization recently invested $300,000 in the startup InnerApps LLC, creator of the Identity Syncronizer platform for user security, password synchronization and access management.

Source: Dan Slifko
Writer: Mona Bronson-Fuqua
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