Four winners of “Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards” have East TN ties

“Imagine if we could capture the carbon dioxide that power plants put into the air and make it into something useful. One East Tennessee start-up, SkyNano, is trying to make that possible”

SkyNano Technologies, the City of Maryville’s Water and Sewer Department, a company spun out of Technology 2020, and a long-time Northeast Tennessee environmental leader are four of the 11 winners of “Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards” this year.

An inaugural member of the first cohort in the “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, rapidly growing SkyNano won in the “Clean Air” category for its innovative use of carbon nanotubes. The start-up became a member of the “Spark Innovation Center” at the University of Tennessee Research Park after graduating from the two-year IC Fellowship.

The announcement of the win read in part: “Imagine if we could capture the carbon dioxide that power plants put into the air and make it into something useful. One East Tennessee start-up, SkyNano, is trying to make that possible. The company has produced its first nanotube made from carbon emitted by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s John Sevier Combined Cycle Plant in Rogersville. The carbon nanotubes the company manufactures could be used to make practical, durable items like batteries and tires.”

The City of Maryville recognition was in the “Water Quality” category and read in part: “The Maryville Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant (MRWWTP) serves over 22,000 sewer customers from the cities of Maryville and Alcoa as well as the Knox Chapman Utility District. In 2021, the facility underwent major expansion and renovations that included biological nutrient removal, utilizing anaerobic and anoxic zones in combination with oxidation ditches, the Autothermal Thermophilic Aerobic Digestion (ATAD), and the launch of a composting facility. Through this composting initiative, city employees are leading the charge to redefine the wastewater process by taking a portion of the ‘waste’ out of the East Tennessee waterways and landfills. It is estimated that the city has saved over $200,000 annually in tipping fees, not including associated hauling costs.”

Another winner – Pathway Lending – was recognized for its impact across the state in the “Energy and Renewable Resources” category. Spun out of the now defunct Technology 2020 in Oak Ridge, Pathway was recognized for its “Tennessee Energy Efficiency Loan Program.” Since its launch in 2009, the initiative has served as a source of capital for flexible, below-market-rate loans to implement projects that would reduce energy use, improve cash flow, and provide opportunities for growth and job creation. In the 13 years, 327 loans totaling $60.5 million have been provided, resulting in reduction in energy use by 76M kWh annually. Loans were made to a range of entities, including 116 small businesses, 29 women-owned businesses, 82 non-profit organizations, 36 religious organizations, 24 private schools, and six farmers.

Finally, Judy Murray, who has led an inspired life dedicated to conservation in Southern Appalachia, has been named winner of the 2022 “Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award.” She is one of the founding members of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, a nonprofit established in 1974 to protect the many treasures of the Roan Highlands and the Southern Appalachians.

The awards program is administered by the Office of Sustainable Solutions in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.