Tri-Cities group focuses on clean energy efforts

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writer March 17, 2012 

The Tri-Cities is where clean energy innovation is happening, according to the CEO of a new economic development group.

Kim Zentz explained how Innovate Washington is focusing on encouraging the growth of clean energy efforts in the state.

Innovate Washington was formed as a private and public hybrid in August 2011 to turn research into competitive industries, create sustainable jobs and leverage the state's investment, Zentz said. They also help individual businesses.

An Innovate Washington office is expected to open in the Tri-Cities Research District in June.

Sirti, a Washington state-funded economic development agency, and the Washington Technology Center merged to form the new group, Zentz said. The state Legislature created the agency in a 22-page statute.

The first sector Innovate Washington is focusing on is clean energy. Transitioning into the next energy economy will change how every company does business, just like the internet did, Zentz said.

Energy is going to have to be better, cheaper and cleaner, she said. It has to increasingly become more efficient and affect the environment less.

Eastern and central Washington are where the crops for biofuels are going to be grown, Zentz said. Those areas are leading the way with bioenergy, she said.

"There is a lot of talk west of the Cascades. There is a lot of doing east of the Cascades," she said.

She pointed to the in-kind support and intellectual leadership Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has provided for innovation efforts. PNNL Director Mike Kluse helped with forming Innovate Washington.

And, Zentz said, PNNL partnered with Washington State University Tri-Cities to create the Bioproducts, Sciences & Engineering Laboratory on the university's Richland campus.

The laboratory was created to find new ways to recycle waste into fuel and other usable products.

Research and federal investment for energy generation is happening the Tri-Cities, Zentz said. It's where leadership is driving efforts. And the Tri-Cities has been working for years on the communication and collaboration needed to make efforts successful, she said.

Gary Morgan, who retired from PNNL, already is working as an executive entrepreneur, and the group plans to add a business consultant in the Tri-Cities.

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