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Pvilion Solar Canopies at The New York Botanical Garden

Aesthetic appeal is important in a botanic garden, which is why the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) chose The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) as the launch site for Pvilion’s Solar Powered Canopy structures. Pvilion, a Brooklyn based solar-powered fabric products company, has installed solar canopies which are not only functional and environmentally friendly, but pleasant to look at when one is standing on the grounds of the Botanical Garden.

 “As the city’s botanical gardens reopen and welcome back visitors to enjoy the peace and tranquility of their living collections, we’re thrilled to support this collaboration between the New York Botanical Garden, Pvilion, and DCAS,” said Gonzalo Casals, NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner.

Intended to provide NYBG visitors a place where they can seek shade, enjoy a beverage and recharge their mobile devices, the eight (8) solar canopies, designed, engineered, and installed by Pvilion, provide ample space to relax while staying socially distanced.

Pvilion engineered a fabric that incorporates photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity with sun exposure. As part of New York City’s emission reduction efforts, seven (7) of the canopies contribute energy directly to the city’s power grid. One (1) structure powers a bank of batteries used by NYBG and by Garden visitors to charge their mobile phones, and other devices.

The solar canopies are a pilot project operated by Pvilion under the Innovative Demonstrations for Energy Adaptability (IDEA) Program, an initiative of the City of New York’s DCAS’ Division of Energy Management. The program encourages businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs to create transformative opportunities and to foster a culture of innovation.

NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Casals added that “DCAS’s IDEA program that funded the installation of these innovative, solar powered pavilions on NYBG’s extraordinary grounds is just one way the City partners with cultural organizations to lead the way in fostering sustainable design – something that’s more urgently needed than ever.” 

The goal is to find solutions to the challenges facing manufacturers and businesses through partnerships with private sector business entities, with emphasis placed on technology to help the City reduce carbon emissions.

“The climate crisis is real and it’s urgent, and that is why the City of New York is taking action to reduce carbon emissions and build a more sustainable future,” said Lisette Camilo, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services. “It’s only fitting that The New York Botanical Garden, a place known for its greenery, will be leading the way with green energy technologies.”

Pvilion’s design stands out for its flexible durability, minimal weight, energy efficiency and ease of installation. With the recent need to shift activity outside, Pvilion’s technology has become a necessary, quick, and reliable solution for shelter and energy. The NYBG structures were erected by a handful of workers and operational within a minimal amount of time. Pvilion’s products are not only visually pleasing, but they are helping the world we live in today to achieve a better tomorrow.

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The Architecture MasterPrize Award

The Architectural Products Design Awards recognizes and awards the greatest architectural product designers and manufacturers. It seeks to celebrate the ingenuity of products and materials that make great architecture possible, and shine a light on those who create well-made, functional, long lasting, sustainable, beautiful and innovative products.

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Pvilion Millenials Make Their Mark in Manufacturing

BROOKLYN, NY/ JULY 2, 2020 – Pvilion continues to shine as the place for millennials to work as FuzeHub awards its employees for the second consecutive year. Ask a random group of people where millennials are being drawn to work and a majority might answer Silicon Valley or rattle off names of companies like Facebook and Google, but small and medium sized manufacturing companies like Brooklyn, NY based Pvilion, which designs, builds and deploys flexible photovoltaic (PV) structures, are proving surprisingly attractive to millennials as places to work. In turn, these millennials are breathing new life into American manufacturing, an industry long viewed as in decline and described pejoratively as rusted as plants closed and jobs were lost or relocated abroad.

Pvilion’s Co-Founder and CEO Colin Touhey, himself a millennial, is an electrical engineer with a focus on renewable energy technology, He has worked in wind, solar, and ocean energy, receiving grants from NASA and NYSERDA. New technologies and his desire to apply them to the production of solar fabric related products drew him to manufacturing. In founding Pvilion, Toughey has been in the forefront of highly educated, and skilled engineers, designers, and architects that are now working in the manufacturing industry.

Millennials, like Touhey, are in the vanguard of resurgence in American manufacturing and last year Touhey’s contribution was recognized by FuzeHub, an organization dedicated to championing small to medium manufacturing across New York State, when he was named a recipient of its 2019 Millennials in Manufacturing Award.

FuzeHub launched its Millennials in Manufacturing Award to recognize the young professionals leading the renaissance in manufacturing across New York State. New York’s small and mid-sized manufacturing industry realizes it must adapt new technologies to be competitive and to continue to grow. These changes can and are being driven by the young people who immerse themselves in these new technologies.

This year FuzeHub again recognized Pvilion as the place where millennials want to be, when it named not one, but two Pvilion employees, Udok Eze, 24, and Zhiheng, “Zach” Wu, 26, among the winners of its 2020 Millennials in Manufacturing Award.

Udok Eze grew up in Lewisburg, PA, but now lives in Brooklyn. He became interested in engineering at a young age. With his parent’s encouragement, he studied hard, applied to and was accepted to Cornell, receiving a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in solid mechanics of tensile structures. Eze says he was drawn to Pvilion by its vertical business structure, “I love contributing to each phase of Pvilion’s process: client collaboration, fabrication, product delivery and design. I genuinely love being a part of the Pvilion family.”

Zach Wu also resides in Brooklyn, but he calls China home. Zach is an architect at Pvilion and works very closely with Todd Dalland, Pvilion’s Co-Founder, President, and an award-winning architect himself. Zach attended Tsinghua University, Beijing, China where he received a degree in architecture. He then decided to continue his studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, from where he received a Master of Fine Arts/Interior Design.

“Without young, highly motivated people like Udok and Zack, without there innovative thinking, Pvilion could not compete,” Robert Lerner, AIA, a Pvilion’s Co-Founder and Vice President, says. “It is their talents and work ethic that make Pvilion successful.”

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Pvilion Awarded Air Force SBIR Phase II Program For Rapidly Deployable, Solar Powered Structures

CBS 19 NEWS NOW  |  April 7, 2020

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, April 7, 2020 — PVILION, a leading solar powered fabric provider, announced it has been awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract by the United State Air Force (USAF) to continue its development of rapidly deployable, solar powered structures.      

Through a competitive awards-based program, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization.

The USAF’s Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO) and AFWERX have partnered to streamline the Small Business Innovation Research process in an attempt to speed up the experience, broaden the pool of potential applicants and decrease bureaucratic overhead. The RSO’s goal is to increase mission readiness by rapidly identifying, applying, and scaling technology essential to the operation and sustainment of the United States Air Force. 

 In moments of crisis, the USAF needs to be able to deploy structures in forward areas to support personnel, equipment and operation centers. These structures need to be agile in that they must be easy to set up quickly and be independently powered. Additionally, the structures can provide climate control.    

The USAF has favorably evaluated the products Pvilion presented for cost, complexity, sustainability, required manual labor as well as for energy independence all with the goal of maximizing mission-objective readiness. 

Pvilion’s solar technology is significantly lighter and more adaptable than traditional solar options. It is integrated entirely into a system already being installed; e.g., a tent, shade canopy, hangar, etc. With fully integrated photovoltaic fabric panels, Pvilion’s structures allow for the multi-capability use by providing power, shelter, lighting, and climate control.

Pvilion’s numerous commercial customers use its solar fabric technology in structures used for events such as music festivals, in temporary industrial worksites and in structures found in parks, municipalities, universities, and corporate campuses. Pvilion’s solar fabric products have been commercially available for eight years. 

Pvilion has successfully developed ways to modify framing systems and fabric to be built lighter in weight with highly insulated walls. Pvilion’s high efficiency structures are integrated with solar cells for a turnkey solution that includes climate control, improved thermal performance, and increased equipment performance and are well suited for on-site additive manufacturing. The integrated technologies will reduce cooling power requirements while simultaneously generating the power needed. This is the first product of its kind to properly align solar, energy storage, cooling and heating for a fully off generator expeditionary system capable of operating in most climate conditions. The lighter technology and increased thermal performance specified by the Air Force will have applications in the commercial market, as well. Pvilion’s product will both reduce the manpower required to set up renewable energy and shelter solutions, while also reducing the dependency on costly, loud, and environmentally dirty diesel generators.

“We are thrilled to have won the award and we are excited to have the opportunity to work with the USAF,” said Colin Touhey, Engineer and Pvilion CEO. “We’re now working hard to quickly delivery solar structures to Airmen who need them most. In this challenging time, instant access shelter, power, and climate control is key. This project is very important to Pvilion and, I believe, the nation as whole,” added Touhey. “My partners, Robert Lerner, Todd Dalland, and I, have been developing this technology and fielding it all over the world, and there’s no greater tent customer than the US Military. This project means the world to us.”

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Engineering Success with Colin Touhey of Pvilion

Pvilion of Brooklyn designs and manufactures flexible photovoltaic (PV) structures and products. Examples include deployable solar tents for the U.S. military, Tommy Hilfiger solar clothing, a solar fabric carport at Google, and fold-up solar chargers. In February 2019, researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) were awarded a Manufacturing Grant from FuzeHub’s Jeff Lawrence Manufacturing Innovation Fund to help Pvilion automate its solar fabric manufacturing process.

Listen to podcast:

Colin Touhey, Pvilion’s co-founder and CEO, recently caught up with FuzeHub in a NYS Manufacturing Now podcast. Touhey’s voice may be familiar to attendees at last year’s New York State Innovation Summit (part of the NYSTAR Annual Meeting), where he participated in a panel discussion at the “Navigating Start-Up Capital” session. An electrical engineer specializing in renewable energy technology, Touhey also spoke at a NYSTAR Defense Diversification workshop that was powered by FuzeHub in August 2018.

Listen to FuzeHub’s podcast with Pvilion to learn more about the rise of this dynamic company. In addition to telling Pvilion’s story, Touhey shares advice for startups and addresses challenges that manufacturers face. He also describes Pvilion’s successes and explains how his company has benefitted by working with NYS-funded assets. Click play below to listen to FuzeHub’s interview with Pvilion’s Colin Touhey.

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A bright future: fabrics that generate electricity

Pvilion’s Colin Touhey is working to forge strategic partnerships to integrate photovoltaic technology into all kinds of fabric products.

Specialty Fabrics Review  |  Jill C. Lafferty  |  July 2019

Pvilion is the 10-year-old partnership between Touhey, an electrical engineer, and fabric structure industry veterans Todd Dalland and Robert Lerner, AIA. Dalland is a pioneering designer and inventor in the field of lightweight structures and a recipient of the Bruce Wodetzki Award—the tent rental industry’s highest honor. Lerner has led new technology development programs involving lightweight, deployable structures for NASA, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. The three connected when Dalland and Lerner were working on integrating photovoltaic cells with fabric for the U.S. Department of Defense. 

“Todd and Robert had started FTL Solar and were making flexible PV fabric products and structures for military, tent rental and car park projects. Joining them as a summer intern when I was in college was an exciting opportunity for me,” Touhey says. With an eye toward expanding into architectural, commercial and consumer markets, the three became partners and reformatted the business as Pvilion in 2011. 

Supply and demand

What Pvilion does is simple in theory—and complicated in reality, Touhey says. “We integrate solar cells with fabric, and we build fabric products that generate electricity,” he says. “Effectively, any surface, any fabric that is getting hit by the sun, can be a fabric that generates electricity.”

While it may seem futuristic to the general public, the Pvilion team says the technology is proven in the field. Dalland and Lerner worked on the first photovoltaic tent more than 20 years ago, which led to research and development funding from the U.S. Army. That helped show the world that it can be done, Lerner says.

“You need to be patient when you are developing new technology and trying to get it out into the market and sell something to people who have never seen it before. A lot of people just don’t want to be first one to do anything,” Lerner says. “I’ve always said we are a little bit ahead of our time; we are usually five years ahead, which is better than being 20 years ahead of your time. We know what technologies are coming, and we are leaders in bringing new technologies to market.”

And there’s no doubt about the market demand for mobile energy generation—or that fabric has the potential to meet that demand. Take the global proliferation of the mobile phone. Technology conglomerate Cisco predicts that by 2020, more people will have a mobile phone than will have electricity in their homes, with the Middle East and Africa expected to have the highest growth rate in mobile data usage. 

“Every person in the world has a phone that needs to be charged,” Touhey says. “And every person in the world has access to fabric. They might be in a tent, they might have an awning, they are definitely wearing clothes. The access to phones has driven the requirement for mobile power.”

Market integration

Pvilion’s strategy has been to build turnkey products—a carport for electric cars, a canopy for a mobile coffee cart, a solar-powered pedestrian bridge, and so on. But recently, the company has begun seeking out partners that are the best in their market segment, with the goal of integrating flexible PV technology into a variety of existing end products.

“If we want to launch an event tent, we’re going to be working with the best and brightest event tent manufacturer to integrate our technology into their supply chain,” Touhey says. “We feel very confident in our technology and our ability to take our technology to different markets with strategic partners.”

One market application Touhey would like to pursue—for which the right partner or opportunity has yet to come along—is large industrial buildings that can’t support the weight of traditional solar panels but would benefit from energy generation and solar tax incentives.

“We’ve started to have preliminary conversations with potential partners,
and we are very excited about that idea,” he says. “We’re pursuing the large-scale roll-out of the technology on our own, with partners, and with the help of grants from New York State.”

While a strategy of finding partners has benefits—such as funding and not reinventing established products and processes—this approach also comes with risks.

“It has been a challenge to share what we do while protecting it at the same time, even with patents and intellectual property protections,” Touhey says. “In the last year, almost 18 months, we’ve just said, ‘Look, in order to make an omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs,’ and we’ve got to be showing this to partners who can scale this in ways that we couldn’t even imagine.”

Beyond specific markets, Pvilion is focused on developing manufacturing processes that are more dependent on robotics and less on labor, thereby reducing costs and increasing volume. The technology isn’t at the commoditization point—yet—but Touhey envisions that with wider adoption, Pvilion will be known as “the technology in an everyday product,” along the lines of brands like Gore and Intel.

Dalland predicts that manufacturers in all IFAI market segments will eventually adopt photovoltaic technology, creating products that serve their original function while also generating electricity. 

“Fabric-based product makers will become electricity business experts,” Dalland says. “For me, there is nothing more beautiful than a flexible solar fabric product that makes electricity and money from day one.”

New ideas

While there is some overlap in the responsibilities of the three partners, Touhey is the most focused on big-picture strategy, forging partnerships and reaching new customers. The challenges Pvilion faces are the same challenges faced by any project-based small business, he says.

“It’s really hard to wait for customers. You have to really fill your pipeline and be ready for a year out or two years out because there are dry spells, and you have to be able to weather that,” he says. “We get a lot of projects where we get paid as we complete them. Well, you’ve got to have cash up front to build it. That’s always a challenge for any small business that’s growing—how much to invest in other people’s projects, and how much to rely on customers to be funding you.”

But being a small and nimble company committed to a technology rather than a specific market means that the Pvilion can make decisions quickly, entering a new market and developing a new product in a matter of weeks or months, he says. 

“Running a business is exciting,” Touhey says. “You are constantly on the edge. It’s up and it’s down; there are new innovations. We are constantly coming up with new ideas. Every day we have a new idea about how to make our product better. It’s rewarding to take the ideas in your head to a sketch on paper into a concept that becomes a reality in the field.” 

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