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A New Era of Opportunity

Innovation Valley:
Rising for the Merrimack Valley Region of Massachusetts  
John Michitson & Seth Itzkan  

“—a silver cascade which falls all the way from the White Mountains to the sea, - and behold a city on each successive plateau, a busy colony of human beavers around every fall. Not to mention Newburyport and Haverhill, see Lawrence, and Lowell… When at length it has escaped from under the last of the factories it has a level and unmolested passage to the sea…”

- Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1839

History: The Merrimack River - The Brawn of American Industry

In 1839 Thoreau described in his journal the brawn of America’s industrial revolution – The Merrimack River. Starting from “above the clouds” in the White Mountains to its mouth at Plum Island on the Atlantic, the mighty Merrimack flows 117 miles through the core of industrial New England, and was, until fairly recently, the principal energy source for the entire region.

What the river gave this region, in addition to its obvious power, was an incentive for innovation and an identity as the birthplace of America’s industrial revolution. The mills that blossomed on its shores were unprecedented in their mechanical sophistication and hydropower engineering. The Merrimack River Valley was the Silicon Valley of its era, the original Route 128. It was where material science, resource management, skilled labor, and profits all converged on a grand scale.

A New Era

Today, this legacy is reawakening. A new era of innovative, energy smart approaches to manufacturing and economic development is on the march – and helping, we believe, to recreate an industrial revolution in America.

Innovation Valley

To help move this process forward, we have started the Innovation Valley Initiative (http://www.ivalley.org). The Innovation Valley Initiative seeks to inspire a new era of economic growth in the region that was the birthplace of America’s industrial revolution. It seeks to do this through the application of innovative practices across all germane sectors, including: housing, industry, transportation, and energy. The initiative envisions the entire Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts, from Lowell to Newburyport, as a single collaborative region, creating in the process corridors of innovation.

Eco-Industrial Networking

One innovation we are working on advancing, particularly germane to energy and the industrial base of the region, is known as Eco-Industrial Networking (EIN). Eco-Industrial Networking is an emerging voluntary practice in industry that is stimulating growth while reducing energy consumption and minimizing environmental impacts.

Specifically, Eco-Industrial Networking means the cost-effective coordination of resources and energy flows among diverse industries in close proximity. It creates mutually beneficial opportunities to manage neighboring industries like shared facilities, so that profits are maximized and risks mitigated. Because it depends on industries in close proximity, each implementation has a distinctly regional impact. In practice it has saved participating firms tens of millions of dollars and significant reductions in waste products and ground and surface water usage.

The Merrimack Valley Region is particularly well suited for an aggressive EIN campaign. Its concentration of tightly packed industrial complexes along the river is legendary. Specifically, as tabulated by the Merrimack Valley Planning Council (mvpc.org), there are 19 managed industrial parks and 1,700 industrial parcels. These occupy 8,500 acres, or 5% of the total land mass of the region. An EIN campaign that helped regional industries maximize their by-product exchanges could be an overall boon for the region.

There are several models we are learning from. Below is a quick summary of two:

·England’s National Industrial Symbiosis Program (NISP) (·http://www.nisp.org.uk/): This is a national by-product exchange database and industry paring service. In their own words: “NISP is the first industrial symbiosis initiative in the world to be launched on a national scale…NISP is a business led initiative. It facilitates links between industries from different sectors to create sustainable commercial opportunities and improve resource efficiency.” The NISP database currently has information on 1094 resource streams at 463 sites across their UK network. It is easy to see how this approach, with a similar database and paring service, could be applied to the Merrimack Valley.

Kalundborg Industrial Symbiosis (·http://www.symbiosis.dk): In June of 2004, Seth Itzkan had the pleasure of touring what is commonly believed to be the world’s leading example of an industrial symbiosis (“eco-industrial network”).

The location is Kalundborg Denmark, a city of 20,000 on the northwest cost of the Zealand province. Their symbiosis is a comprehensive resource flows network involving several major industries, including the country’s largest oil refinery and its largest coal fueled power plant. There is nothing tentative or small scale about it.

They estimate that each year they are saving $15 million in operating expenses and resource expenses, reducing their ground and surface water intake by 3 million cubic meters, and diminishing their oil demand by 20,000 tons.

Green Chemistry

Of course, Eco-Industrial Networking is not the only energy saving innovation that shows promise for the region.

The Merrimack Valley is also home to the world’s only Ph.D. program in Green Chemistry, a field that is revolutionizing product design and manufacturing (http://www.greenchemistry.uml.edu).

This program is offered through the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and has promise to become a boon for job creation and industry interest. Green Chemistry is an emerging practice in chemistry that designs toxicity out of the manufacturing process. This, as it turns out, is done through low-energy techniques that produce similar or superior products without the toxic effects and with reduced energy production needs. According to the program director, John Warner, American industry spends almost as much on environmental compliance as it does on research and development. Clearly, if the toxic factors of the products and their production could simply be designed out of the manufacturing process, it would be a huge advantage. Indeed, this is just what is happening.

Applications for green chemistry principals are being applied to all manner of manufacturing: from microchips, to photography, to adhesives. If it can be made, it can be made safe. Warner believes that Green Chemistry manufacturing could help the Merrimack Valley Region to reinvent itself as a leader in industrial innovation, and it’s easy to see why.

Hydropower – The Dammed and the Undammed

No stranger to hydropower, the flow of the Merrimack River today is used to generate electricity at sites up and down its route. From Bow, New Hampshire, near its source, on down to Amesbury, Massachusetts, near its mouth, there are long established and prototype power plants.

One particularly compelling innovation in this area is known as undammed hydropower. These are underwater turbines that spin like windmills. No damming is required. The Merrimack with its quick flow and wide basins is well suited for this type of technology. Currently the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust is supporting a prototype installation in collaboration with Verdant Power and GCK Technology.

Conclusion – Industry Interest

In conclusion, we are happy to see the growing interest from the industrial and economic development sectors for energy saving and innovative approaches to business growth and retention. Particularly, we are happy to the see the involvement of the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council, Inc. (http://www.mvcouncil.com/), and the creation, through their leadership, of the Eco-Industrial Networking / Green Chemistry Roundtable.

This roundtable, comprised of business, academic, and government interests, has the ambitious goal of moving forward with both Green Chemistry and Eco-Industrial Networking efforts in the Merrimack Valley. We solute their efforts, and look forward to seeing the fruits of this labor translated into a new era of economic growth and quality of life enhancements for the Merrimack Valley.

John Michitson is President of the Haverhill City Councilor and has been a councilor for  10 years. He is  also a manager and electrical engineer at the MITRE Corporation in Bedford, MA. This is Michitson's last year in politics. You can email him at michitson@mitre.org. Seth Itzkan is president of Planet-TECH Associates, a consulting agency identifying innovations in economic development. Recently, Mr. Itzkan helped The Boston Foundation to conceptualize and implement their Hub of Innovations tool. You can email him at seth@planet-tech.com      

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