- BS Mechanical Engineering 1990
- MS Engineering Mechanics 1992
- PhD Metallurgical and Materials Engineering 1996
Starting Companies Comes Naturally to Alum
“I used to fish at Cole’s Creek,” says Brian Murphy ’90 ’92 ‘96. “I’d eat half my sandwich on the way out there, fish for thirty minutes, and finish my sandwich on the way back to my lab to continue my research.”
That mix of nature and technology forms the core of Murphy’s environmentally focused career. The Tech grad first worked for large companies before starting a number of his own ventures. With his former boss and mentor Russell Black, he started focusing on renewable energy by forming PrimeStar Solar, which Murphy led as chairman and CEO for nearly four years. PrimeStar was recently sold to General Electric and is now GE’s solar division.
“It’s the culmination of five years of work that has led to PrimeStar becoming GE’s solar division,” states Murphy. “They will be building the United States’ largest solar module factory, investing an additional $600 million, and creating 400 US jobs.”
Starting companies has come naturally to Murphy, who is committed to using his knowledge for the betterment of society with minimal impact on the planet. In addition to solar, he’s focused on water or, more accurately, how to keep large water users from harming aquatic life.
To keep aquatic species safe from water intakes at municipal water supplies, power plants, and paper mills, Murphy partnered with the CH2M HILL to form C-Water Technologies in 2010. The company’s separation technology will be housed within steel or concrete structures hundreds of feet long that will be connected to water intakes to safely filter out aquatic life. The technology will be commercially deployed in 2013.
“CH2M Hill engineers performed extensive computational modeling in Oregon; and we are now 75 percent complete with our laboratory testing at Alden Research Laboratory in Massachusetts,” says Murphy. “We are in discussions for pilot-units in California, New York, and the Gulf—power plants and large industrial consumers of water are feeling the pain, thanks to new regulations.”
California and New York have regulations in place to protect fish and other species from large water intakes, he says. And federal regulation is scheduled to be enacted in 2012.
Murphy has looked indoors, too, targeting the challenges of making buildings more energy efficient by reducing the costs of heating and cooling.
“One of our companies, PCM Innovations, is commercializing phase change materials (PCMs) for use in building products. PCMs, like the ‘blue ice’ in your refrigerator, are excellent thermal batteries.” (www.esBITS.com)
Just like blue ice keeps your soda cold on that hot day at the beach, PCM Innovations products will allow insulation, drywall, ceiling tiles, and even concrete to absorb large amounts of heat from people, computers, and solar radiation. “The net result is that the air conditioner does not need to come on until later in the day if at all,” Murphy avows.
Brian thanks Michigan Tech for nurturing this combined love of nature and love of tinkering, which has taken him so far.
ME-EM Professor Bill Predebon and Materials Science and Engineering Professors Bruce Pletka and (the late) Tom Courtney served as his advisors, mentors, and friends. “If it was not for the guidance and support by Bill, Bruce, and Tom, I would not have succeeded in leading five startups to date and counting,” says Murphy.
“I still get back to Tech every two or three years—our first trip to Isle Royale is planned for 2012,” he says. “And my son is a senior and looking hard at Tech. He’s mechanical.”
Murphy hunts and fishes with his son now, in Colorado where another of his companies, Fulcrum Technologies, is located. From its beginnings as a global project management and specialty equipment firm with customers like Alcoa and ST Microelectronics, Fulcrum has grown to its current focus on strategic planning and growth strategies to create ”Sustainable Solutions for Today’s World.” (www.fulcrumt.com)
“This is just the beginning,” says Brian, “With five startups in my first fifteen years out of college, I can’t wait to see what the next fifteen years bring!”