Graduate UMaine students work with their professor on the research and development at UMaine’s AEWC composite laboratories for offshore wind develpment, gaining experience and skills needed for the growing sector in Maine, which UMaine is leading. Photo courtesy of UMaine
By Ramona du Houx
The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) Board of Directors met on April 16th and approved 8 Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF) awards totaling more than $4.85 million and leveraging nearly $12 million in matching funds.
The Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF) was developed under the Baldacci administration for targeted investments in cluster growth areas of Maine. The award recipients represent private sector companies, non-profit research institutions, and the state's research universities.
“This MTI-administered bond program is highly competitive and applications are very carefully and thoroughly vetted. All 8 projects awarded funding in this round have strong economic and scientific value to the State of Maine," said Martha Bentley, Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF) Program Manager.
Funded projects help fuel economic development by expanding research and commercialization activities, and attracting additional federal funding. Spin-off companies created from these successful R&D investments also help develop Maine’s skilled workforce, and create technology jobs.
Governor John Baldacci and lawmakers took a Brookings Report on where to invest in Maine for growth to heart in 2008 and approved the new MTAF program. Voters then overwhelmingly said yes at the polls to successive bond funding rounds in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for MTI and the MTAF program.
The state's cluster growth program for Maine Built Boats, developed by the Baldacci administration, was so successful the federal government awarded Maine a $10,000 grant for the effort. This Maine Built Boat cluster program added jobs and training for the industry and brought boat builders to work together instead of competing against each other. Working together to promote all Maine Built Boats has increased sales and the state’s reputation as a place for quality boat manufacturing. The program became the template for economic growth.
The Legislature and voters approved an additional MTAF funding bill in the amount of $3 million in 2009. Those funds, including approximately $900,000 not awarded from earlier rounds and augmented by another $921,871 in MTI funding is the source of funds awarded in this 4th MTAF round.
Jackson Laboratory, Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), UMaine AEWC and others listed below received funding before and have worked together on projects that have created high paying jobs in Maine.
Jackson Laboratory received funding from MTI to help with various projects, which have helped the Laboratory become renown in genetic research leading the way to help map the geno. Under the Baldacci administration the Laboratory received a substantial MTAF grant, amongst others, to expand their facilities and employ more scientists and technicians.
ORPC went to UMaine AEWC for technological assistance in the development of their tidal energy machine. That project became to first tidal power machine in the America's to generate electricity and has become a world renown company. ORPC received it's first grant to start the project from Gov. John Baldacci's first round of MTAF funds. Federal grants followed along with investors.
UMaine AEWC, is an advanced composite laboratory making breakthrough R&D discoveries. They developed the bridge-n-a- backpack that literally has the components needed to build a composite bridge from what is inside a backpack. Grants from MTAF helped that project.
AEWC is recently most known for developing floating ocean wind turbines - yes floating windmills. These structures can capture the winds of the deep ocean and do not obstruct the views from citizens on land. They are stronger and will last longer than conventional turbines. Most importantly they float, which makes maintenance and construction easier - and cost effective. They are currently testing special ships and marine structures to help this program into the next phase. UMaine program directors envisage capturing deep ocean winds - of which Maine has the equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants offshore. The Baldacci administration and Maine's Congressional Delegation saw the potential here to create 10,000 jobs and lower electricity rates, so they helped gain federal grants to propel the project. In the initial stages it was MTAF funding, approved by the voters of Maine, that kick-started the initiative.
Another exciting thing about MTAF grant awards to educational institutions like UMaine is that under grads and graduate students work on the projects getting first hand experience and training for Maine's needed skilled job force. The MTAF program is in desperate need of a new round of bond funding.
But Gov. Paul LePage has held up progress on these projects and others by not issuing a new round of MTAF bond funding for voter approval — and by holding back these bonds from being awarded earlier.
Lawmakers have tried to put forth bonds for the voters to approve but LePage refuses to look at the importance research and development bonds have for the growth of Maine’s economy. Successive legislatures have proposed MTAF R&D bond programs only to see their legislation killed by the LePage administration.
The MTAF funds were awarded to the following Maine entities and projects:
- Jackson Laboratory $1,740,000 Next-generation vivarium for research models
- Acadia Harvest Inc. $367,500 Aquaculture continuum from R&D to production
- ORPC Maine $900,000 The OCGenA TGU commercial construction project
- Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center $452,397 Building out capacity for aquaculture innovation
- UMaine Process Development Center $525,488 Advanced paper surface enhancement project
- UMaine Animal Health Lab $500,000 Detecting emerging threats to Maine agriculture
- UMaine AEWC $351,092 Testing for vessels and marine structures
- UMaine Sensory Evaluation Center $13,668 Mobile advanced sensory evaluation system
This round of MTAF funding followed a similar competitive process used for the earlier rounds. The full process for applying, eligibility requirements, and the criteria for evaluating the applications, as well as the process timeline was publicized in a Request for Applications (RFA) released in November 2014. Ultimately, 21 MTAF applications seeking over $14 million in funding were received by MTI by the published deadline.
All applications were subjected to a two-phase review process undertaken with the assistance of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as outlined in the (RFA). Each application was evaluated and scored on its economic impact, and technical and team merit by a minimum of three peer reviewers during the first written review stage, which informed the subsequent interview panels held April 7th and 8th. The interview panel developed a final ranking of project requests for the MTI Board of Directors based on all five criteria published in the MTAF RFA. Only the eight top-ranked proposals were able to be funded with the monies available.
MTI is a publicly financed, private, nonprofit organization created by the Legislature in 1999 to stimulate research and development activity leading to the commercialization of new products, processes and services in the state’s seven targeted technology sectors. For more information about MTI or its suite of funding and assistance programs, please visit www.mainetechnology.org.
The Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF) is a state approved bond fund to build the research and development infrastructure and capability in Maine. The intent of MTAF was to support the development of high technology, good paying jobs in Maine, and to build Maine’s R&D capacity for long term growth.