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A Solar-Powered Renaissance for Allentown, PA

Air Products of Allentown, PA is building a 1.5 megawatt solar installation to power its corporate headquartersAllentown, the city that songwriter Billy Joel used as a symbol of 1980’s Rust Belt decline, is showing more signs of an economic revival powered by clean, renewable energy and new energy storage solutions.  One indication came earlier this year, when hometown manufacturer International Battery announced that it won a new contract to supply lithium-ion batteries for NASA, for use in developing the space agency’s new “smart” energy storage systems. Now another manufacturer, Air Products, has announced plans to build a 1.5 megawatt solar installation that will provide about half the energy used in its corporate headquarters in Allentown, with the help of a state alternative energy grant.

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Both of these projects illustrate the important role that government will play in the development of a safer and less risky energy future for the U.S., just as the government has provided billions to support the oil, coal and gas industries.  Allentown is also an example of a city that supports private industry while also putting public sector resources to work for the public good, as aptly demonstrated by the city’s own photovoltaic installation at its public works department.

International Battery and Future Energy Storage

Government research has been a critical driver of technological developments that cross over to the private sector (just look at the Internet).  International Battery’s contract with NASA could help resolve  key energy storage issues, which in turn would enable intermittent sources like solar and wind to generate a steady, reliable stream of power.  For the icing on the cake, International Battery has developed a new water-based process for coating electrodes, a key step in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries.  The new process eliminates the use of toxic organic solvents and lowers costs by greatly reducing the need for specialized vapor recovery and waste disposal systems.

Air Products and Solar Power

Air Products is a gas-product specialist with a strong background in sustainability, and the company has been supplying raw materials for thin film solar panels and other types of solar cells for years, so it stands to reason that eventually it would get a solar installation of its own.  Funding came in the form of a $1 million grant through Pennsylvania’s 2008 Alternative Energy Funding Bill. The 12-acre solar farm will begin construction this fall and is expected to be in operation early in 2011, upon which it is expected to reduce carbon emissions from the corporate headquarters by more than 1,000 tons annually.  It will also alleviate the need to construct costly new conventional power plants in the future, should local companies like Air Products and International Battery continue to grow and bring more green jobs into the region.

Image: Allentown skyline by twg1942 on flickr.com.

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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