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A decade ago, petroleum geologist and geochemist Bill Ullom was browsing the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where he discovered an expired patent for a chemical process that promised to turn petroleum-based waste back into crude oil.
Ullom refined the technology called thermal depolymerization and, together with businessman Jim Garrett, founded Vadxx Energy.
Fast forward to 2014 and Vadxx has become one of the most promising start-ups in the waste-to-energy industry. The NorTech cluster member recently bought five acres of city-owned land in Akron and broke ground for its first commercial-scale plant. The 20,000-square-foot facility, which is scheduled to come online in the spring of 2015, will recycle almost 20,000 tons of waste plastics a year and turn them into approximately 100,000 barrels of petroleum product. Revenues are projected to be above $11 million a year.
|As a trusted advisor for Vadxx, NorTech:|
|Introduced Vadxx to Rockwell Automation|
|Authored a white paper supporting Vadxx's technology|
|Connected Vadxx to leaders of industry trade organizations|
|Spoke in support of Vadxx at public meetings|
Vadxx has operated a 1/50th-scale pilot plant for several years. It recently secured funding from Liberation Capital, a private equity firm, to build its first full-scale plant as well as others.
Vadxx has enlisted the help of fellow advanced energy cluster member Rockwell Automation to grow its business. Thanks to the funding from Liberation Capital, it recently awarded a $15 million contract to Rockwell to engineer, procure and construct its first plant.
"Vadxx is focused on implementing our first commercial unit in Akron successfully as an important first step toward global expansion," Vadxx CEO Jim Garrett said. "Liberation Capital, Rockwell Automation, feedstock suppliers, and other partners will play key roles in our growth and success."
Rockwell is the world's largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., it employs about 22,000 people serving customers in more than 80 countries.
"This win is significant for us because it demonstrates our sustained effort to become an industry leader in alternative energy solutions, helping to preserve the world's natural resources and promoting a cleaner environment," said Terry Gebert, vice president and general manager of Rockwell Automation Global Solutions. "Our team is helping Vadxx reduce risk, shorten its time to market, and expand to other global regions."
Rockwell is one of several large anchor companies in Northeast Ohio that NorTech connects with promising, smaller businesses in the region's emerging industries. Giving small companies such as Vadxx access to these global market leaders to potentially become part of their supply chain is crucial to their success.
"Rockwell Automation strengthens our technology by providing complete design, build and commissioning of our new plant," said Jeremy DeBenedictis, vice president of operations at Vadxx. "We'll have a process technology solution that will enable us to rapidly deploy our technology globally."
Vadxx has been a cluster member since joining NorTech's Waste & Biomass to Energy Roadmap Working Group early on. Rockwell joined the cluster later seeing value in connecting with new developments in the region's advanced energy industry.
Through several NorTech events and meetings, Vadxx and Rockwell connected and held early-stage discussions around a potential partnership. NorTech then recruited Rockwell to have a significant presence at its Advanced Energy B2B Conference & Expo, where Rockwell and Vadxx began serious discussions about a partnership. In November 2011 the two companies first announced that Rockwell would provide services that allowed Vadxx to scale its solutions.
NorTech has also been a trusted advisor and public supporter of Vadxx. NorTech authored a white paper in support of Vadxx's technology that was presented to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., connected Vadxx to leaders of industry trade organizations and answered questions about Vadxx's technology at public meetings.
In addition to NorTech, MAGNET played a critical role in helping Vadxx accomplish its goals. It gave the company technical and logistical help, which provided Vadxx with a credible model to present to potential partners, funders and investors.
The support of a global market leader as well as regional economic development organizations like NorTech and MAGNET is one reason why Vadxx is building its business in Northeast Ohio.
"From a pure business perspective, we couldn't put Vadxx in any other location in the world," Garrett said. "Now, we are going to try to pay it back with jobs and being a good corporate citizen."