START-UP NY helps power up waste-to-energy venture
It’s not quite spinning waste into gold, but Sustainable Waste Power Systems (SWPS) is doing the next best thing—transforming cow manure, distillers’ mash and other unwanted byproducts into usable energy.
With a recent move to the TechCity complex in Kingston, N.Y., the start-up has formed a partnership with SUNY Ulster through New York State’s business development program START-UP NY. That relationship brings the company substantial tax breaks, plus a chance to recruit well-trained graduates from several of the college’s programs.
Formed in 2008, SWPS secured a patent in 2015 for its Garbage In – Power Out (GIPO) technology, which uses a process called wet gasification to convert carbon-based waste into biofuel, water and ash. The company has built a demonstration model of its product and is lining up potential customers to watch the process in action. “Our next challenge is to design the system to be mass produced,” says Chief Executive Officer Chris Gillespie.
SWPS focuses on “wet waste,” defined as waste matter containing 50 to 80 percent water. “That is what makes the process unique,” Gillespie says. All other commercially available gasification systems work only on “dry waste,” with a maximum water content of 30 percent. To process waste that contains more water, those systems first must dry out the material, he says. “And the energy required to take out water is quite significant.”
Also, most competing systems—whether based on gasification or anaerobic digestion—are custom designed and built to meet the needs of individual customers. SWPS takes a different approach, with plans to produce its basic “ModuCore” system in volume and then offer optional modules for specific purposes. With the WaterPak module, for instance, a user can harness heat generated by the ModuCore to produce potable water. The PowerPak uses waste heat to generate electricity.
Along with manure and distillers’ mash, other examples of wet waste include municipal waste and byproducts from food processing. “Really, we can work with anything that contains enough carbon,” Gillespie says. SWPS is particularly targeting customers in agriculture and in food processing, especially brewing and distilling.
Such customers can use the system in many different ways, Gillespie says. “For example, if you’re a food processor, you can create steam to sterilize your equipment, or you can use it to distill alcohol. Or you might use it to heat a building.”
Gillespie and his son, Chief Technology Officer Mike Gillespie, moved SWPS from Connecticut to New York specifically to participate in START-UP NY. That program provides tax incentives and other benefits to qualified companies that expand to or locate in designated zones associated with participating colleges and universities in New York State. SWPS was one of 13 businesses admitted to the program in late 2014, joining more than 120 participants to date.
The Gillespies chose to work with SUNY Ulster in part because, at the time they started investigating the program, that college already had its START-UP NY initiative well underway, Gillespie says.
Addressing the broader economic and regional needs of the community is part of SUNY Ulster’s mission, says college president, Donald Katt. For example, the school hosts the Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which has helped to stimulate more than $500 million worth of investments in business start-ups and expansions. “Participating in START-UP NY gives the college another opportunity to assist in growing business and improving the economy in Ulster County,” he says.
Talking with officials at SUNY Ulster, Gillespie soon became convinced that his business and the college made a good fit. “We talked with them about their renewable energy program, their veterans’ program, their STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] programs, and we felt we could bring some value there,” he says.
“Whenever I meet with a prospective business partner, I describe what the college is asking from them as part of START-UP NY— to be available for guest lecturing, to provide internship opportunities for our current students, to provide employment for our graduates, and to serve on our curriculum advisory council to ensure the course currency,” says Katt. Gillespie immediately agreed to all those areas of interest.
SWPS has worked with SUNY Ulster’s coordinator of outreach to veterans to recruit a recent graduate of the college. The company plans to create at least 38 more positions, and Gillespie also hopes to fill many of those with talent from SUNY Ulster. “We can work with the vocational-technical area within the college to find different types of technicians, and with the engineering and STEM group for some other positions,” he says. He especially hopes to hire more veterans.
As a guest lecturer, Gillespie has done presentations for students in the college’s STEM and business programs. “I look forward to doing that again,” he says. The company will also offer internship opportunities, he adds. “Right now, we’re trying to find some interns in to help with our social media.”
Three companies now participate in SUNY Ulster’s START-UP NY program. “We are currently working with eight others and hope to have them approved by the state by the end of September,” says Katt. When all 11 are approved, SUNY Ulster will have helped create more than 140 jobs in Ulster County. We’re very proud of that accomplishment.”
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