UMass Amherst Assisting Small Firms with Environmentally Friendly Technologies

AMHERST, Mass. - An innovative program at the University of Massachusetts is aimed at assisting fledgling companies in bringing state-of-the-art environmental and energy-related technologies to the marketplace. The Massachusetts Strategic Envirotechnology Partnership (STEP) is a collaboration between UMass, the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and the Department of Economic Development.

One example of STEP’s work is its assessment of a system which uses computers to significantly lessen the danger of hazardous materials leaking from underground fuel tanks. The technology, dubbed SiteWatch, automates tank monitoring, and alerts owners to leaks or theft within 24 hours - rather than weeks or months afterward, when potentially hazardous fuels have seeped deep into the soil. The technology, designed by Environmental Management Technologies (EMT) of Milton, is primarily aimed at industrial users, such as gas stations and hospitals.

Before the automatic tank-monitoring technology was available, owners often were unaware of a leak or spill until fuel had saturated the soil. "Fuel leaks cannot be avoided, but now they can be detected earlier," says Dragoljub "Beka" Kosanovic, one of the UMass scientists who assessed the system. Early detection reduces environmental hazards and makes for an easier clean-up, Kosanovic says.

The University’s role in STEP, according to Eric Winkler, a staff research scientist who coordinates environmental technologies for STEP at the Amherst campus, is to review the technology and offer companies business plans that consider market needs, financing, environmental implications, and potential competitors. UMass also provides the companies with faculty expertise - for instance, a chemical engineer might consult on a wastewater treatment project.