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Green construction fuels growth at Serious Materials

Emma Ritch

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Serious Materials is preparing to open its fifth factory next month as it continues its aggressive growth despite the economic downturn.

CEO Kevin Surace told the Cleantech Group that the company has about 200 employees but could grow to nearly 900 if it reaches full capacity at its two newest production facilities.

“You know a certain percentage of projects are going to get postponed right now, so in effect you have to sell a lot more than you think you have to sell,” he said. “But aside from that we’re having record quarters and record years.”

McGraw-Hill Construction predicts a 7 percent decline in U.S. construction starts in 2009 to $515 billion, a slight improvement over 2008’s 12 percent decline.

But green building is comprising a growing segment of the shrinking building sector. The U.S green building market in 2005 was valued at $7.8 billion, or roughly 2 percent of the commercial building sector. McGraw-Hill projects it will grow to $60 billion, or 10 percent of the market, by 2010.

Serious was one of two or three of the 20 venture-backed green building materials companies already in production when the economic downturn began, Surace said. The company is …

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Alarming energy use in emerging industries

Emma Ritch

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says modern manufacturing systems are energy hogs, using between 1,000 and 1 million times the energy of traditional manufacturing to produce the same amount of output.

The study by Professor Timothy Gutowski of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering compares the energy use per pound of output of 20 manufacturing processes.

The study casts light on the soup-to-nuts energy consumption of clean technologies such as solar panels. Solar was singled out in the study as being extremely energy inefficient, detracting from the technology’s lifecycle energy balance (the energy it takes to produce versus the energy it can generate).

“Claims that these technologies are going to save us in some way need closer scrutiny. There’s a significant energy cost involved here,” Gutowski said. “Each of these processes could be improved.”

The study is comparing widely disparate methods and end products, but Gutowski said the results still have resonance. Cleantech needs to improve the energy efficiency of its processes before ramping production, he said. Liquid phase processing, for example, has the potential to be a more energy efficient solution if it’s further developed.

“The seemingly extravagant use of materials and energy resources by many …