CleanFuture’s John Thornton to Speak on Idle Reduction Technologies: How to Lower Your Fuel Consumption and Save Money

CleanFuture principal John Thornton will be delivering a presentation on idle reduction technologies at the Louisiana Alternative Fuels Conference & Expo on April 14, 2016 at the Cajundome Conference Center in Lafayette, Louisiana.


Mobilizing Industry: Energy Intensity Reduction Goal Setting for Competitiveness

One of the keys to the food processing industry’s ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace is its ability to use energy efficiently. Members of the Northwest Food Processors Association recognized the competitive benefits of pursuing energy efficiency and became the first industry group in the nation to establish an aggressive energy intensity reduction goal.

This paper describes the process to mobilize the regional food processing industry to set an industry-wide energy intensity goal. It also highlights the establishment and characterization of an industry-wide baseline, and progress to date toward achieving the goal. Barriers will also be identified as well as recommendations to overcome those barriers and lessons learned along the way.

Read more….


Barrow, Pamela and John Thornton. 2013. “Mobilizing Industry: Energy Intensity Reduction Goal Setting for Global Competitiveness.” In Proceedings of the ACEEE 2013 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry, 5:1-14, Washington, D.C.: American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy.

Collaboration Across Organizational Boundaries: A Successful Model of Industry Sharing to Build Competitiveness


Thornton, John, et al. 2013. “Collaboration Across Organizational Boundaries: A Successful Model of Industry Sharing to Improve Competitiveness.” In Proceedings of the ACEEE 2013 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry, 6:1-13, Washington, D.C.: American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy.

Drive Oregon and Oregon Innovation Plan recommended for investment by legislators

Yesterday the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development passed SB 5528, the biennial budget for “Business Oregon,” the Oregon Business Development Department. The Budget now heads to the full Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
The budget includes some key provisions to support major opportunities to lower Oregon’s stubbornly high unemployment and lagging personal income levels. These include:

The Oregon Innovation Plan

The Oregon Innovation Plan is now in its third round of funding and has delivered impressive results for the state. The Subcommittee allocated sixteen million dollars this biennium for the Innovation Plan, a suite of initiatives to enhance industry innovation and the commercialization of research. The funding will go toward three industry initiatives and three signature research centers. The industry initiatives include improving innovation and productivity in the food processing industry (IPC) ($500k), catalyzing Oregon’s emerging electric vehicle industry through Drive Oregon ($1.2 million), and putting Oregon on the map for wave energy development and manufacturing through Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) ($2.5 million). The Signature Research Centers include the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnology Institute (ONAMI) ($5.3 million), Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (BEST) ($3.8 million) and the Oregon Translational Drug Institute (OTRADI) ($2.8 million).

In the midst of a historic recession, the Oregon Innovation Plan developed by the Oregon Innovation Council has been successful at incubating new ideas into growing businesses, helping established industries become more competitive and creating a new economic future for all Oregonians. In less than four years of state funding, the six initiatives of the Oregon Innovation Plan have brought $195 million in federal and private grants back to Oregon and are on track to generate more than $7 for every dollar the legislature has invested, not to mention the creation of 1117 jobs and the incubation of 15 new companies.

For more details on how the funding will be used, visit

Northwest Industrial Energy Efficiency Summit coming to Portland

3rd Annual Northwest Industrial Energy Efficiency Summit

Bringing industries and partners together to support and advance industrial energy efficiency

Find out how your industry peers use energy efficiency as a competitive advantage.  Hear real-life energy savings success stories (and challenges) from industry personnel.  Case study examples include:  Strategic Energy Management; Quick Starts to Energy Efficiency; Emerging Applications of Existing Technology; and Energy Information Systems.

Network with companies who are implementing energy efficiency programs and projects; share and lean from their experiences.

Connect with energy services providers about technical and financial opportunities to help you save energy.

You should attend if you are involved in plant operations, plant engineering, energy management, sustainable practices, energy efficiency programs, services or products, or are interested in industrial energy efficiency.

Date:  January 19, 2011

Location:  Oregon Convention Center – 777 NE MLK, Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR 97232

See here for additional information about the Energy Summit or send an email

Life-cycle costs are established early

Time and money are scarce resources.  It’s a fact in both our personal or professional lives. 

I had a recent conversation with a firm’s leader in the context of early alignment of product development with process development to ensure a successful outcome.  Initial product design decisions are interconnected with initial process decisions, i.e. choices made during product design often dictates process.

 Product development is expensive and time consuming: 

  • It costs a lot of money to conceptualize, research, design, develop, test, tool and launch a new product. 
  • The timing / schedule element gets tricky – not only because “time is money” as it relates to the spend rate of a project, but also there’s an associated opportunity cost (for instance, there’s often too many projects to get done, with the possibly a passing up the next best choice). 
  • Time delays (also known as schedule slips) are not uncommon and exacerbate the costliness.  The causes of delays are many.  Yet with sound practices and countermeasures one can maintain and preserve a development schedule – though worthy of a completely separate discussion.
  • Suffice to say that development projects can be big and complicated, often with many interdependencies and moving pieces to coordinate. PLUS it is very challenging to “schedule innovation.”

These facts are universal for nearly all companies, an even more so for an early stage company and critical to the new venture’s success.

I was reflecting on a recent conversation with a prospective client this week about the relationship between engineering (product development) and process development (both internal – as inside a manufacturing operation, and also external – as in the supply chain). 

In this case, a startup company, having raised $8 million dollars about a year ago, has been feverishly developing their product in preparation for their first product launch.  This company is in the midst of design validation testing, with “near-imminent” launch of their first product into customer field testing, with a pending production release to soon follow. 

I was having a conversation about my helping this venture to launch their product – though we had two vastly different perspectives on the timing of the need.  My prospective client was thinking the time would be right in about 5 to 6 months as they’re nearing completion of design validation testing and making progress in reliability testing and field testing, at that point they’ll be freezing design and moving from preliminary design to providing design details and thus ready to begin ramping up for production.  Their rationale was that there seemed to be little point in doing much work on manufacturing / supply chain / operations development and preparation as the design would likely go through yet more changes based on testing or field results.  From my perspective the timing was already getting very late to leverage my expertise and maximize their return.
I was recalling several studies that examined the cumulative cost impact of decisions made through the life of a project, as well as my own experience over 20+ years.  Take a look at this figure:

Coming back to the time element, fundamental determinants of product cost and quality are effected at the beginning of the product’s conceptual design stage where very basic design choices are made.  These early design choices will influence (or often dictate) manufacturing processes and therefore a product’s cost and quality. 

These initial process decisions, which are often made unknowingly, also have a profound impact on development schedules.  If things aren’t done right, it often means these tasks will need to be repeated and redone (thus consuming more time).   If the proper process decisions (and oftentimes choices of suppliers) aren’t made correctly at the very first opportunity, the product design nevertheless takes form and solidifies around the wrong process alternatives.  The later on in the project such mistakes are discovered, the more costly and difficult it is to make corrections. 

Once such a mistake has been discovered there are two options, either to live with the mistake which will have ramifications on product cost and quality over the entire product’s life time.  Or the other alternative is to go back and correct the initial mistake, which will likely require redesign and lost time – thus with schedule impact.

Typically “early” manufacturing and supply chain involvement often means at the stage when preliminary designs are available for review.  However as indicated in the figure above, a substantial portion of a product’s life-cycle cost has already been determined at this point.  Oftentimes it is too late to make a meaningful impact – it comes back to leverage. 

Putting early effort and emphasis in the project on aligning process development with product development makes a big difference – there’s a greater ability to control costs combined with a lesser likelihood of re-design efforts because of ill-informed design/process decisions made earlier on.   With up to 80% of a product’s lifecycle cost determined early it is imperative to make the right decisions in the early stage of development.  From my perspective it is seldom or never too early – product and process development often have a profound impact on cost and schedule.  Therefore product and process should be paired and done in concert.

Innovation, not just Insulation

Bill Gates wrote about the challenges of reducing carbon, where he concludes “Conservation and behavior change alone will not get us to the dramatically lower levels of CO2 emissions needed to make a real difference. We also need to focus on developing innovative technologies that produce energy without generating any CO2 emissions at all.” 

I found this content here, along with a long string of comments.  A key factor is innovation in transportation and electricity.  Here is a link to Gates’ piece on climate policy:

People often present two timeframes that we should have as goals for CO2 reduction – 30% (off of some baseline) by 2025 and 80% by 2050.

World Leaders Debate Global Issues At Clinton Global Initiative

I believe the key one to achieve is 80% by 2050.

But we tend to focus on the first one since it is much more concrete.

We don’t distinguish properly between things that put you on a path to making the 80% goal by 2050 and things that don’t really help.

To make the 80% goal by 2050 we are going to have to reduce emissions from transportation and electrical production in participating countries down to zero.

You will still have emissions from other activities including domestic animals, making fertilizer, and decay processes.

There will still be countries that are too poor to participate.

If the goal is to get the transportation and electrical sectors down to zero emissions you clearly need innovation that leads to entirely new approaches to generating power.

Should society spend a lot of time trying to insulate houses and telling people to turn off lights or should it spend time on accelerating innovation?

If addressing climate change only requires us to get to the 2025 goal, then efficiency would be the key thing.

But you can never insulate your way to anything close to zero no matter what advocates of resource efficiency say. You can never reduce consumerism to anything close to zero.

Because 2025 is too soon for innovation to be completed and widely deployed, behavior change still matters.

Still, the amount of CO2 avoided by these kinds of modest reduction efforts will not be the key to what happens with climate change in the long run.

In fact it is doubtful that any such efforts in the rich countries will even offset the increase coming from richer lifestyles in places like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.

Innovation in transportation and electricity will be the key factor.

One of the reasons I bring this up is that I hear a lot of climate change experts focus totally on 2025 or talk about how great it is that there is so much low hanging fruit that will make a difference.

This mostly focuses on saving a little bit of energy, which by itself is simply not enough. The need to get to zero emissions in key sectors almost never gets mentioned. The danger is people will think they just need to do a little bit and things will be fine.

If CO2 reduction is important, we need to make it clear to people what really matters – getting to zero.

With that kind of clarity, people will understand the need to get to zero and begin to grasp the scope and scale of innovation that is needed.

However all the talk about renewable portfolios, efficiency, and cap and trade tends to obscure the specific things that need to be done.

To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn’t enough work going on today to get us to where we need to go.

My point is not to denigrate efficiency. Slowing the growth of CO2 ppm is of course a good thing. And there are of course lots of cheap, and in many cases self-funding efficiency gains to be made.

We should at the least fix market barriers and dysfunctions that prevent these gains from being realized. That’s just being smart.

But it’s not enough to slow the growth of CO2 given the strength of demand driven by the poor who need to get access energy. And, we have to actually stop it at some point.

No amount of insulation will get us there, only innovating our way to essentially 0-carbon energy technology will do it. If we focus on just efficiency to the exclusion of innovation, or imagine that we can worry about efficiency first and worry about energy innovation later, we won’t get there.

The world is distracted from what counts on this issue in a big way.

Innovation will take longer and be more unpredictable than conservation and efficiency.  Markets need to be revised to account for externalities and remove barriers for developing and deploying clean technologies.  All play a role but we can’t dimmish the time nor efforts to develop and implement zero net GHG energy technology (if such a thing exists). 

Let’s get started……

Technology, Innovation and Youth

I saw an interview last night by Anderson Cooper with Dean Kamen on AC360, discussing innovation, technology, and the future. 

Interesting discussion about the role of government and innovation, the importance of education for competitivenes, the state of healthcare and other topics.

At about 11:00 into the video, Dean makes an observation about the US and how the culture has aged; becoming more mature, conservative and risk averse.  Kamen posits the rest of the world are now focused on education, instilling work ethic, and encourating capabilities in science, technology and innovation.  He feels that although the US historically has been at forefront of innovation, he believes that the US is threatened with losing that innovative edge. 

With FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), he founded an organization to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

Pretty cool things those kids are doing with robots and competitions.  I’m enthused to think about all the great things these kids will do make a difference when they grow up!

Smart Grid Startup Project in Oregon

Interested in getting in on the ground floor of a Smart GridNIST EISA Domain Expert Working Groups Smart Grid entrepeneurial venture?

Here’s a chance to get involved with up to 40 other aspiring entrepeneurs to not only brainstorm and evaluate various opportunities about the Smart Grid, but perhaps also a chance to form a new venture.  Be advised this is intended as a project for skilled professionals and entrepreneurs in the Portland region who have an interest in, contributions to make and a serious commitment to developing one or more Smart Grid business ventures. It is not meant for those seeking a job or consulting assignment or education on the Smart Grid.

Sounds fascinating to me!

The Software Association of Oregon (SAO) and the Oregon Technology Business Center (OTBC) announced the launch of The Oregon Smart Grid Startup Project, a bold new experiment in entrepreneurship designed to quickly create one or more viable Oregon companies focused on next generation smart grid businesses.

Unlike traditional business startups that typically begin with a single entrepreneur and an idea for a new company, the Smart Grid Startup Project will begin with many skilled professionals and a pool of ideas. Through collaborative efforts, the best ideas and professionals will be facilitated for new business development.

The collaboration starts this October 19th with the gathering of selected applicants to a series of brainstorming meetings designed to identify and assess the most viable smart grid business opportunities. A maximum of 40 participants will be chosen to participate in the initial brainstorming sessions through the submittal of an application and selection by the project’s steering committee members. Participants will be chosen based upon a criterion of ideas, interest, entrepreneurial experience, and smart grid expertise. Deadline for applying is October 12th, 2009.

For more information and to apply, contact SAO

Read more

Designing Sustainability: Transforming Supply Chains into Sustainability Circles, part 1

Only through deliberate design does a firm transform from a conventional supply chain into a sustainable value chain.  I define Sustainability Circles™ as a cyclical sustainability chain that encompasses the complete product lifecycle, as opposed to the traditional framework of a linear supply chain. 

I had the opportunity to speak at last year’s 2nd Annual Conference on Business & Sustainability at Portland State University, with the theme of Designing Sustainability.  This theme embraces the philosophy that design is the primary determinant of the social, environmental and financial impact of products, services, processes and business strategies. Deliberate forethought in conceptualizing and implementing sustainable business practices can significantly enhance social equity, reduce ecological harm and raise business value. 

My session track and panel discussion topic covered Operations and Supply Chain and my remarks covered how traditional supply chains as the status quo are changing and we will see an emerging emphasis on sustainability chains – with increasing attention being paid to reverse logistics and end-of-life considerations.  From there we need to move to a cyclical or regenerative model, consistent with Cradle-to-Cradle principles of “Waste makes FOOD” and closed loop design principles.  With a more systemic approach, we’ll need to move to thinking about this as a transformation to sustainability systems and thus redesigning our supply chains. 

Conventional Supply Chains

A conventional supply chain is typically a linear flow, optimized for one-way operations and local efficiencies only. Tracing the supply chain from the beginning, resources are extracted from nature by material suppliers. These raw materials are converted into component parts, and the component parts are assembled into end products and eventually are sold to the end user. Often there is little consideration for end-of-life or more typically there is reliance on a completely different entity or industry for product disposal at the end-of-life.

As an example, in the current automotive end-of-life dismantlers remove selected high value components and fluids are drained. Then the car is literally crushed, shredded and destroyed – this takes a tremendous amount of energy to reduce a car into fist sized pieces. After shredding, the metal and non-metallic pieces are separated with the metals sorted based on ferrous and non-ferrous content and often sent long distances for recycling. The remaining shredder residue being sent to landfills as “daily cover.” Although much of the content is recycled, it is still an energy intensive and wasteful process.

A Better Way

There is a better way. Though before we move on to describe the transformation into a sustainability chain there needs to be more consideration for the lifecycle assessment, including not only use (and the product should be designed for a long and useful life; for example, designed for reliability and durability).  And as things eventually wear out or fail (which they will), there needs to be a conscious design for serviceability. By this I am referring to the ability to easily repair, replace and service the product. And of course there needs to be a design for efficiency throughout the product’s lifetime.

To be continued in my next post on this topic…..