Professional Sports Embracing Advanced Materials & Sustainability

Professional Sports Embracing Advanced Materials & Sustainability

Another Super Bowl has come and gone and once again, the Lombardi trophy has eluded the Philadelphia Eagles. Alas, it’s now been a decade since the Eagles have made it to the Big Game, and their last NFL Championship was in 1960, 6 years before the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game, posthumously dubbed “Super Bowl I”. However, the Eagles can claim one title for 2015: The Philadelphia Eagles lead the NFL in installed solar capacity with 3,000 kW. Living up to their ‘green’ colors, the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field has installed – through a partnership with NRG – 11,000+ solar panels and 14 micro wind-turbines.

According to recent analysis by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Philadelphia’s stadium ranks only behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the Indy 500, in total cumulative solar capacity in professional U.S. sports facilities. This year’s Super Bowl contesting teams were no slouches either. The Patriots came in at 5th overall and 3rd in the NFL at 1,000 kW and, mirroring the outcome of the game, the Seahawks fell just short at 800 kW, 6th place overall and 4th in the NFL. Can’t make this stuff up.

If you’re curious, the first pro sports team to install a solar system was the Colorado Rockies. In 2007, their 9.8 kW array was designed to completely offset the energy consumption of their LED scoreboard. Today, it’s estimated that over 120,000 solar panels are generating electricity for sports stadiums, raceways, and arenas across the US. We’ve come quite a long way from 2007 and 46 solar panels in Colorado.

Clean energy generation is not the only sustainability initiative NFL teams are implementing. Perhaps influenced by the infamous blackout during the 2013 Super Bowl at New Orleans’ Superdome, or perhaps just because of the dollars and cents impact to the bottom line, LEDs are replacing legacy High Intensity Discharge (HID) systems in a number of venues across North America.

In fact, this year marked the first Super Bowl that was illuminated entirely by LED lights. The value proposition is very compelling: energy savings, improved light quality, reduced maintenance, lower air conditioning demands (metal halide lights get very hot), and better dimming controls with instant-on capability. It seems my 2013 prognosticating has quickly come to pass.

Beyond the silicon and thin film PV technologies and the compound semiconductor LEDs, the NFL is supporting innovative advanced materials R&D and deployment to enhance player safety. As information continues to come out linking concussions from contact sports to long-term, chronic health issues, the NFL is awarding grants to research institutes and companies developing technologies to better protect against brain injury. The NFL, collaborating with Under Armour and GE, launched the Head Health Initiative in March 2013.

Advanced materials play a key role in preventing, diagnosing, and treating brain injuries. Aerogels, foams, microlattices, nanomaterials, non-Newtonian materials, and other smart materials are currently being examined and optimized to better absorb or dissipate energy and transfer momentum. Furthermore, materials and systems are being implemented to better detect, track, or monitor traumatic brain injury. It is envisioned that these wearable technologies will integrate seamlessly in to the helmets, uniforms, and padding of players in the NFL as well as many other contact sports like ice hockey.

Redlen Technologies, one of Pangaea’s portfolio companies is commercializing improved medical imaging detectors based on the compound semiconductor cadmium zinc telluride. Redlen’s technology can enable more precise CT scanning and reduce the radiation exposure of patients. Higher resolution medical imaging not only leads to faster scan times but smaller cameras and devices meaning there could be more immediate and actionable diagnostic information for professional athletes.

Advanced materials enable a more efficient, sustainable, and healthier planet. We continue to eagerly evaluate companies commercializing innovative products enabled by materials breakthroughs that can make our world a better place.

Associate, Pangaea Ventures Ltd. Matt holds an MPhil in Micro- & Nanotechnology Enterprise from the University of Cambridge and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a BSE in Materials Science & Engineering.View Matthew Cohen's profile on LinkedIn

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