The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Knoxville continues to foment a green industrial revolution

Written by

IMG 3713Spark CleanTech Accelerator participants join Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon during an Aug. 31 awards ceremony. Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Knoxville celebrates sustainable technology startups from across the country

KNOXVILLE — Leaders of start-up green businesses specializing in services and products ranging from carbon reduction to cleaning products and piping wrapped up some warp-speed lessons Aug. 31.

At the conclusion of the three-month Spark CleanTech Accelerator the leaders of environmentally sustainable businesses from across the country took home some awards and got a strategic pep talk from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.

“I’m very committed to all things green and sustainable,” she said. “Orange and green are complementary colors." She spoke of making Knoxville a “clean tech hub,” not just for Tennessee but internationally. She envisioned “a cleaner Knoxville and a cleaner world.”

The program regularly held at the University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm helps businesses working on environmentally sustainable technologies gain investors, network with universities and receive training from mentors.  The program gets funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the city of Knoxville, Launch Tennessee and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation

“Eligible technologies will primarily focus on solutions, preferably hardware, that address climate mitigation, resilience and natural resource conservation including but not limited to bioenergy, buildings, energy efficiency, vehicles, fuel cell, advanced manufacturing technologies, grid modernization technologies, carbon capture, and related fossil energy innovations,” according to the program’s website.

Tom Rogers, the president and CEO of the University of Tennessee Research Park, the event’s host, said in an interview it was the third such event.

Rogers said the event drew companies from Houston, Philadelphia and other cities, as well as some in Tennessee. He said several of the out-of-town businesses are considering making Knoxville a “permanent home.”

“I want the park to be the place where the best clean tech companies come,” he said. “Our region has some of the best technology resources.”

Jhana Porter of the company Frakktal said the event was her first time in Knoxville. Her company works on plant-based and more biodegradable alternatives to PVC for uses like flooring. She said her alternatives would last less time in landfills and reduce reliance on petroleum.

“It’s a beautiful city,” she said of Knoxville. She said that her time at the Accelerator was “an unbelievable experience,” adding the mentoring was what stood out the most for her.

“Nothing but a home run for us,” said Edward Chan, CEO of Groundstar. His company, as stated on Linkedin, works with climate adaptation, carbon capture and CO2 as feedstock. In his interview he spoke of flooding in Pakistan and Kentucky and a drought in the West. He said “more severe events that you don’t anticipate” will happen if people and companies don’t act.

Another participant was Ryan Ginder of Windfall, a company that recycles durable materials, including old wind turbine blades. He received a doctorate from UT in mechanical engineering.

“It has been immensely helpful,” he said of the Spark CleanTech program.

Two other Accelerator participants were also on hand at the event: Kay Baker of Green Llama, and Dave Castley of RAEV (Ride an Electronic Vehicle), which involves pay-per-use electronic vehicles.

The Spark Cleantech Acceleration program also includes prototyping services through the University of Tennessee’s Center for Materials Processing and partnerships with organizations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the city of Knoxville and members of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

Call Ben Pounds at (865) 441-2317, email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Related items

  • Orange STEM: UT links East Tennessee students with Science, Technical, Engineering and Math studies
    in News

    327549472 642836650863409 3091744227317001155 nHigh school students from across East Tennessee got to check out the latest career offerings in fields like robotics and virtual reality at the Jan. 21 Big Orange STEM event.  JJ Stambaugh/Hellbender Press

    The TN Lunabotics, science and sustainability get together at BOSS event

    KNOXVILLE What do environmental, social and economic sustainability have in common?

    There are numerous ways to answer that question, but for those who pay close attention to education or economics it’s an accepted fact that the future belongs to societies that invest heavily in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). 

    That’s why educators at all levels are pushing students towards those subjects at every opportunity, as was evidenced Jan. 21 at Big Orange STEM Saturday (BOSS) at the University of Tennessee.

    About 150 high school students picked from communities across East Tennessee spent much of their Saturday at John C. Hodges Library, getting a first-hand taste of what awaits them should they choose to pursue careers in STEM through the UT system.

  • Knoxville Urban Wilderness will be love at first sight
    in News

    Knoxville Urban Wilderness — Baker Creek Preserve mapTrails at Baker Creek Preserve.  Visit Knoxville

    City cultivation of urban nature amenities proceeds apace

    KNOXVILLE — The latest phase in a multimillion dollar plan to turn the southern end of the James White Parkway into an integral part of the city’s Urban Wilderness officially kicked off Monday afternoon (Dec. 19). 

    Numerous officials, including Mayor Indya Kincannon, showed up for the groundbreaking of the Baker Creek Pavilion, a key component of the ambitious project.

    The city is pouring $2.7 million into the Baker Creek area of the Urban Wilderness Gateway Park, which will offer public restrooms, a picnic area and plenty of parking.

  • You can help Knoxville become a wood-powered tree city
    in News

    image0This is a basic breakdown on the social benefits associated with robust tree canopy in cities, including the city center of Knoxville, shown here.  Knoxville City Government

    City kicks off ambitious project to expand the tree canopy that benefits us all

    KNOXVILLE — The people in this city sure seem to love their trees.

    There is at least one tree for every two people who live within the city limits, but officials say they want to add even more over the next 20 years. 

    How many should be planted is currently up in the air, as is the right mix of species and where they should go.

    Those are just some of the questions that will be answered in coming months as the Knoxville Urban Forest Master Plan is developed by officials from the city and the non-profit group Trees Knoxville in conjunction with several other agencies and interested citizens.

  • Seeing the city for the trees
    in News

    IMG 2632This mighty oak is but one of many growing for decades in South Knoxville.  Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

    Contribute to the master plan to grow tree canopy in Knoxville

    KNOXVILLE — No matter where you are in the city, you’re not far from a patch or two of trees.

    These copses range from small groupings of oaks or dogwoods that are commonly used to mark property boundaries to lush belts of temperate mixed-hardwood forest that sprawl across hundreds of acres. 

    While Knoxville may be blessed with an abundance of these urban forests, many local residents and leaders believe it’s nowhere near enough.

  • Whiskey business: Help UT save white oaks for your liquor drinks
    in News

    images 2 

    UT forestry efforts benefit whiskey and ecological chasers

    KNOXVILLE — Volunteers, distilleries and two universities came together this fall to collect white oak acorns to ensure the survival of the species for commercial and ecological purposes.

    It was a key part of a conservation effort started by distilleries worried about the future of oak barrels and casks used to age whiskey and bourbon.

    It’s about more than that though, as white oaks have many uses not just for people but for an estimated 2,000 other species, including bats, birds, turkeys, deer, rabbits and hundreds of butterflies and moths. But because the trees are slow to grow, they may be at risk, especially as the region grapples with the uncertain outcomes of climate change.

  • Its importance punctuated by the pandemic, Knox Food Policy Council celebrates 40 years
    in News

    Food policy councilKnoxville city public information specialist Paige Travis; senior Knoxville-Knox County planner Jessie Hillman; Nourish Knoxville Executive Director Charlotte Tolley; and Food Policy Council advisor Vivian Williams (from left) share a laugh during a celebration of the FPC’s 40th anniversary.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

    Beardsley Farm and others provided vital food essentials during the pandemic and are better prepared for the future

    KNOXVILLE — Disparate groups banded together as one during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure all Knox County citizens had reliable sources of food in the midst of disaster. 

    They told their stories at the Knoxville-Knox County Food Policy Council 40th Anniversary Celebration on Sept. 21 at the Community Action Committee (CAC) Beardsley Community Farm.

    University of Tennessee students formed the Food Policy Advisory Council in 1982.

    The oldest municipal food policy council in the United States

    The anniversary program included remarks and proclamations from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, and state officials. Individual achievements on food-related issues were also honored. 

  • Plant native species to help the world just outside your door
    in News

    IMG 3876Gerry Moll is seen in the native garden of his home in the 4th and Gill neighborhood of Knoxville.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

    People are restoring native plants on their properties. You should, too.

    ‘There are a lot of messes out there and this is something that you can do right at home that has a positive effect.’

    KNOXVILLE — If you want to help native wildlife and attract it to your yard, plant some native plants and kick back on your porch and watch them grow. That’s a good place to start.

    That’s the message from Native Plant Rescue Squad founders Gerry Moll and Joy Grissom.

    People walking by Moll’s garden in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood off Broadway just north of the city center will see tall plants; not hedges or other foreign plants, but various short trees and native flowers. It looks like an explosion of growth on both sides of the sidewalk, but it’s not chaos.

  • UTK has quite the collection of earthly remains

    Editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape 1871

    WBIR: UT got good bones

    KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee boasts an incredible collection of animal skeletons — from hummingbirds to bison, according to a story from WBIR. It’s among the largest such assemblages in the country. (There are also skeletons at the Body Farm, but that’s a different story).

    The skeletons are part of the UT Anthropology Department’s Vertebrate Osteology Collection.

    “We have over 12,000 vertebrate specimens in our collections. So that’s 12,000 skeletons of individual animals,” Dr. Anneke Janzen, an assistant professor in UT’s Anthropology Department, told WBIR.

  • Sam Adams raises trees like healthy children at the University of Tennessee
    in News

    IMG 0122University of Tennessee arborist Sam Adams stands in front of a blooming dogwood on the campus of UTK.  Keenan Thomas/Hellbender Press

    First campus arborist continues climb up Utree Knoxville

    KNOXVILLE — Students at the University of Tennessee walk by hundreds of trees every day without thinking about them.

    Sam Adams was thinking about them even before he became UT’s first arborist.

    Adams, 58, has cared for trees in the field of arboriculture for decades. He’s worked privately and publicly, including as arborist supervisor for Sarasota County, Florida. He graduated with a degree in environmental studies at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, where he initially pursued a degree in English.

  • Zigging and zagging to find the Zigzag
    in News

    Zigzag salamander UT doctoral student Bryce Wade examines a Southern zigzag salamander he found at Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville. Keenan Thomas/Hellbender Press

    On the happy herping trail: Bryce Wade searches for salamanders

    KNOXVILLE — Bryce Wade scours the nature trail, turning over rocks and logs. On this overcast day at Ijams Nature Center, he searches beneath the leaves on the ground for one creature: salamanders.

    Underneath the rocks, logs and leaves, salamanders populate the cool, moist earth, avoiding the sun whenever they can. Wade is looking for a particular type: a winter species informally called the Southern zigzag salamander (Plethodon ventralis).