Research and development activities are abundant throughout Greater Peoria—and have been for quite some time. A 2001 study showed more than a billion dollars being spent annually on applied research in this region, and a more recent report shows that Illinois leads the Midwest in R&D expenditures at universities and colleges.
According to the Illinois Innovation Index created by the Illinois Innovation Council, colleges and universities in the Land of Lincoln spent $2.1 billion in 2009 on research and development. The Greater Peoria Region has been a strong contributor, thanks to being home to the USDA’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (Ag Lab), Caterpillar world headquarters, Bradley University, the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, and major hospitals, which all have a heavy focus on R&D.
Impact Beyond the Region
History has demonstrated that much of the research that has happened in this region has had an impact far beyond its geographic boundaries. For example, the Ag Lab developed the first patents for such industry-changing products as penicillin, Xanthan gum (used to extend the life of oil wells), high fructose corn syrup, and the absorbent gel used in disposable diapers. Today, we have even more products on the path to commercialization, thanks to the R&D efforts right here in our own backyard. Take a look at some of the startup companies associated with Peoria NEXT that have a bright future in the area of R&D:
- Ag Defense Systems is developing a handheld food monitoring device that can inspect food items and detect viruses, fungus, bacteria and parasites within minutes.
- zuChem is a biotechnology company focused on the development and commercialization of novel manufacturing methods for the production of glycochemicals.
- EcoThermics Corporation has developed a compact, high-pressure compressor, a critical component for the emerging CO2 heat pump market.
- IEM is the largest independent full-line manufacturer of electrical distribution and power quality equipment in the United States, delivering customer-specific solutions to meet the changing power requirements of growth industries.
- Arvens Technology, Inc. is developing pennycress from the field to the fuel pump as a sustainable, non-food crop for biofuel production.
- ESSEN Scientific LLC is a pharmaceutical research-and-development service company specializing in custom synthesis and contract R&D services.
- Lumec Control Products, Inc is creating and redefining next-generation process control technologies.
- Peoria Robotics is developing medical simulators to enhance the education and training of medical professionals.
- Intellihot has developed a state-of-the-art, tankless green water heater that provides unlimited hot water and occupies very little space.
There are some amazing minds doing some extraordinary things in this region. By putting their expertise to work, they have the potential to create the next great thing right here in Greater Peoria. Here’s a closer look at the R&D work happening at some of these companies:
Searching for a Commercial Partner
Ag-Defense Systems’ (ADS) mission is to provide technology for a preventative approach to food safety. Food contamination testing is moving toward DNA-based assays, in which DNA extracted from food is analyzed in instruments to identify and quantify microbial contamination. What is lacking, however, is the instrumentation to extract and purify the DNA sample from food. Because the current manual process is tedious, time-consuming and requires technical skill, most food processors send test samples to off-site laboratories.
The long turnaround time usually means that food is on the market before the processor gets results back. If there is contamination, a recall is enacted, which is an economic burden for the processor and a public health threat for consumers. Automated DNA sample preparation, in conjunction with existing analytical instruments, would enable onsite testing with immediate results prior to market delivery.
With plans to become a first-class R&D company, ADS has a DNA sample preparation prototype under evaluation and is searching for a commercialization partner. Future prototypes would enable automated preparation of chemicals and proteins. All of these sample preparation instruments have market potential, not only in the food industry, but also in medical and veterinary testing, environmental monitoring, homeland security and pharmaceutical testing.
Expanding Its Test System
EcoThermics is expanding its Peoria-based R&D center at the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center (PNIC) as part of a strategic alignment and addition of technical resources. The company’s PNIC lab currently houses an advanced, hot water heater/heat pump test-bed system to test compressor performance and system concepts, which also serves as an effective proof-of-concept demonstration for prospective OEM customers.
The PNIC lab will soon expand to include the company’s fully automated, state-of-the-art compressor test bed system, on move from its current location in Lenexa, Kansas. Fully instrumented with an environmental chamber, the system tests not only the performance of compressors in a variety of real-world operating conditions, but also advanced feature concepts.
With the company’s manufacturing partner, Mennie Machine Co., located nearby in Mark, Illinois, and the anticipated hire of several seasoned industry compressor engineers, EcoThermics continues toward its goal of building a sustainable manufacturing business here in central Illinois. The company will retain its prototyping and testing facility in Van Wert, Ohio, and continue to rely on its partner, Herrick Labs at Purdue University, for independent validation testing and design consultation.
Moving to Clinical Trials
Intellihot is the product of Sivaprasad Akasam and Sridhar Deivasigamani, who began to research a new method of heating water for both residential and commercial use in 2009. After the initial legwork was completed in their homes, the two men—both Caterpillar engineers with a dream of launching their own business—quit their day jobs and took to their dream full-time. The pair used the PNIC lab for testing and prototyping, and now the company is moving forward with clinical trials on their device—one that was invented, prototyped, built and tested right here in this region.
Today, Intellihot has a manufacturing plant in nearby Galesburg. Its on-demand, tankless water heaters occupy very little space, use conventional materials and advanced electronics to extract nearly 98 percent of energy, and provide unlimited hot water over their 20-year life cycle. Compare that to the larger, traditional tank water heaters in U.S. homes that utilize less than 60 percent of gas energy burned, run continuously and provide a limited amount of hot water for an average of seven years. Intellihot is revolutionizing the water heater market, and is, like all of these R&D companies, on its way to the next big thing. iBi