TBEIC unveils energy lab

WARREN — It was standing room only Thursday night for the unveiling of the new energy lab at TBEIC — the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center — in downtown Warren, which many involved believe will spur economic activity from businesses from all over the country.

The crowd, which swelled beyond 100 people, heard from TBEIC leaders and elected officials, as well as businesses that are excited to use the new battery technology in the energy lab.

TBEIC Chief Operations Officer and Vice President Rick Stockburger expressed gratitude for the support the incubator has received over the past decade.

“Thank you to our community leaders,” said Stockburger, while also thanking the TBEIC board of directors for the faith they have placed in him. “People here want you to succeed and change the world.”

U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, who secured a $2.2 million earmark in fiscal year 2010 to help fund the restoration and repurposing of what became the incubator building at 125 W. Market St., said the energy lab could be transformative for downtown Warren and Trumbull County.

“These are super high-growth industries that are growing at 25 to 30 percent per year,” said Ryan. “This can help us keep young people here and bring back people who have moved away. These are next generation jobs.”

The centerpiece of the new lab is the grid simulator that will enable companies to test a power source and simulate how it would react in a variety of scenarios, including blackouts, brownouts and lightning strikes. The $60,000 simulator was funded out of approximately $500,000 in grants from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission and the Ohio Board of Regents.

Phil Babuder of Micro Sales, which sold the grid simulator to TBEIC, explained the importance of the simulator.

“A product has to be able to withstand things like lightning strikes and brownouts,” said Babuder. “This allows you the ability to test charging systems.”

While pricing details have not been worked out yet, Stockburger said TBEIC’s prices will be cheaper than anyone else’s because of the organization’s small overhead. The lab will be a key driver of the organization’s sustainability, allowing it to remain viable. Stockburger said one idea is to charge companies a monthly fee to access the lab and the equipment, with an added cost for use of the grid simulator.

Kevin Kline and Tim Wallis of Paragon Robotics in Bedford Heights said the grid simulator is a groundbreaking piece of equipment for them, as it will allow them to analyze and prioritize energy needs at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City if power from the electrical grid is cut off.

“At an Air Force base, certain processes have to be able to continue even if the power goes out,” said Kline. The grid simulator will allow Paragon Robotics to simulate a grid outage and program its software to switch seamlessly to a backup energy source, such as a battery or solar power.

Others, like Dan Rasper of Cuyahoga Falls-based OnNow Digital, will use the lab to help customers become more informed about their power sources.

“A lot of companies don’t understand how to organize their data,” said Rasper. OnNow Digital software allows a battery tester to send information directly to the software to provide a visual display of the battery’s performance, as well as any red flags.

Jason Wilson, director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, said the opening of the energy lab can alter the way the area looks at work.

“We haven’t had an entrepreneurial spirit here in a long time,” said Wilson. “We’ve usually worked for someone at a plant.”

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda is optimistic about TBEIC and its effects on the local economy.

“The idea is to bring new jobs to the area,” said Fuda. “I’m impressed with what they’ve done.”

ckromer@tribtoday.com

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