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Published: Friday, 6/1/2007

Magazine cites Toledo's efforts in 'clean tech'

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE SCIENCE WRITER

With a backhanded compliment, the Economist, a British business magazine, mentions Toledo as one of the nation's contenders for the title of "clean energy capital."

While the story focuses on Boston, the Silicon Valley, and Austin, it adds:

"A few other places - experts mention New Jersey, Arizona, and (strangest of all) Toledo, Ohio - are also trying to attract clean-tech start-ups."

But, Hello? Economist? Buy a clue, will you?

Dan Johnson, the former University of Toledo president and now president emeritus who today focuses on the city's science and technology corridor, says Toledo has alternative-energy credentials that go way back.

Still, he was delighted when he stumbled on The Economist article at bedtime the other night, despite the little jab that accompanied it.

"When I got to the paragraph that said Toledo, even though it was rather late, I felt like getting up and calling my friends,'' he said.

"I believe we are beginning to gain recognition for the important research that's going on in this field,'' he said.

Alvin Compaan is one of the key figures in the community's rise to clean-technology prominence. As a leader in solar technology research - as well as chairman of the UT physics and astronomy department - he knows well the commitment to environmental technologies.

The Economist's "reference is a little bit strange. A lot of people are surprised about good things out of Toledo, but we do have of course a very strong group in clean technologies, particularly photovoltaics - one of the technologies growing the most rapidly worldwide," Mr. Compaan said.

"In the United States, the University of Toledo is certainly considered by many people to be within the top three in terms of research on photovoltaics," he said.

Photovoltaics are also known as solar cells. The other two leading universities are Georgia Tech and the University of Delaware, he said.

UT recently received an $18.6 million Wright Center of Innovation grant to develop and commercialize solar film technologies. While UT is the lead institution in that grant, it also includes 13 Ohio businesses and Ohio State and Bowling Green State universities.

In addition to the university's powerhouse research, Perrysburg is home to First Solar Inc.'s solar panel manufacturing facility. The company is the world's largest solar panel manufacturer, with $135 million in sales last year.

Plus, UT researcher Xunming Deng is making progress with his spin-off company, Midwest Optoelectronics, a start-up working on thin-films and hydrogen generation technologies.

Another local company, Solar Fields LLC, has developed a new process for rapid production of large solar devices. The company was founded by the same man who created First Solar. Harold McMasters founded Solar Fields not long before he died in 2003.

"This statement in The Economist - one of the world's most distinguished financial magazines - is more evidence of Toledo's rising position and reputation as a City of the Future," Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said in a written statement yesterday.

Contact Jenni Laidman at:

jenni@theblade.com

or 419-724-6507.



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