Scott Eaton, cofounder and director of science and research, SeaChange Group, a Maine-based technology start-up founded in 2009 to develop low-emissions fuels for the heavy shipping and power generation industries.
Where did you grow up?
Where do you live now?
What degree(s) do you have from UMaine and other places? What degree are you pursuing now?
B.S. in mechanical engineering, University of Maine
M.S. in mechanical engineering, University of Tennessee – Knoxville
Ph.D. in chemical engineering, University of Maine
What has your career path been like in the years following college?
My career path has been smooth, but not necessarily linear. After leaving UMaine in 2004, I studied the catalytic reduction of diesel exhaust emissions at Tennessee. In 2006, I became a research associate at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where I worked with Bruce Bunting in the Fuels, Engines and Emissions Research Center. I was involved with the development and testing of alternative fuels in advanced combustion engine platforms. This work was highly enjoyable as I was fulfilling a national need for cleaner, more efficient transportation, while constantly learning and improving the state-of-the-art in emissions reduction technology. In 2009, my family decided to move back to Maine and I took a job as a laboratory engineer at Maine Maritime Academy. I became deeply interested in the maritime industry and particularly how one of the oldest industries can evolve under the modern pressures of global economies and environmental concerns in light of the rising cost of energy. In collaboration with other faculty at the Maine Maritime Academy and entrepreneurs from across the state, we founded SeaChange Group to address these issues. I currently serve as the company’s director of science and research.
How did SeaChange come together? What are the company’s goals?
SeaChange Group is a Maine-based technology start-up founded in 2009 to develop low-emissions fuels for the heavy shipping and power generation industries. The company was started by six of us as co-founders. We are spread across the state, from Caribou to Cape Elizabeth. Currently, our headquarters is in Cape Elizabeth and our research facility is in Bucksport. This allows for close collaboration with the University of Maine and Maine Maritime Academy. The company was formed around the idea that there is no such thing as waste. With the rise of energy costs and stringent environmental regulation impacting the shipping industry, the market is demanding alternative energy options. SeaChange Group is trying to fill this need by utilizing waste energy products and formulating them into cost-effective, emissions-compliant fuels to serve that broad-based industry. We have raised more than $240,000 from the National Science Foundation, Maine Technology Institute and private industry to fund activity in this area, and have developed an initial patented fuel product. Our intention is to focus on the development and production of this product and distribute it in late 2012 to those niche players most affected by environmental regulations. We hope to expand into servicing a wider market share as regulations roll out and become more stringent. We also plan to research and support the development and commercialization of other new low-emissions fuel products to keep pace with a rapidly evolving marketplace. Our goal is to achieve these objectives and maintain a strong Maine presence.
What led to your return to UMaine for a Ph.D.?
I decided to return to UMaine for a Ph.D. in chemical engineering because of the opportunities presented within the department and the great work being done in the labs of professors Clay Wheeler and Adriaan van Heiningen. I always knew I wanted to return to graduate education. Being in Maine and starting a new technology company provided the catalysts I needed to make re-entering the classroom a high-value proposition.
Why UMaine for college?
As a high school student, I didn’t even know what an engineer was or what one was expected to do. I thank my high school teachers and administrators for pointing me in the direction of two summer programs on campus, the Pulp and Paper Foundation summer program (now Consider Engineering) and the Young Scholars Program. I participated in both in the summer of my junior year and I was hooked on UMaine and on engineering in general. Further college searching reinforced that UMaine was a fantastic value in science education.
What, if any, research initiatives were you involved in as an undergraduate?
I was exposed to many research opportunities as an undergraduate. My first research experience was with professor Vince Caccese on an Office of Naval Research-funded project to characterize the mechanical behavior of structure joints. I also had the opportunity to work with professor Mick Peterson to provide proof-of-concept design and prototyping for a marine fuel overflow prevention device for Sebek Technologies Inc. Each of these experiences greatly enhanced my understanding and application of engineering concepts.
Do you have any favorite professors or classes, and what lessons did you take from the professor or class that resonate today?
There are so many people who influenced my life and career at UMaine. I will always recall George Bernhardt’s physics lectures because he always had a way of making them entertaining; professor Peterson for his relaxed-yet-rigorous approach that motivated inventiveness in me; professor Mike Boyle for his always positive demeanor (and, yes, Fridays were always happy); and professor Steven Kimball for his fun and giving nature during mathematics group meeting. Looking back, what I learned from these professors was that attitude is important. The way you present yourself, respond to people and respond to your work dramatically impacts the quality you get out of yourself and others around you.
Were there any classes you took that almost did you in? Is there a lesson to be learned from your experience?
Calculus I, by far. It was my freshman year and it was the first time I was really challenged in the classroom. The class became my mountain while at UMaine. After having to drop out the first semester, failing the second and receiving a D the third, I recall thinking that I would never understand the subject. It was on the fourth attempt that the light bulb finally went off in my head about what it meant to study mathematics and what the concepts were preparing me for. Interestingly, that class also inspired me and I fell in love with mathematics. I’ve received an A in just about every math class since, even earning a minor in mathematics and being inducted into Pi Mu Epsilon (the mathematics honor society) and serving as treasurer for two semesters. This experience reinforces that persistence pays off and college is as much about learning how to learn as it is what you learn.
Most memorable moment at UMaine?
Not sure I can talk about the most memorable here, but I do recall cold nights walking down to the Alfond Arena for hockey games (Go Black Bears), late nights studying in the Oxford Hall study lounges and ordering countless pizzas from Pat’s Pizza, still a favorite of mine.
Favorite places or spots on campus?
The library coffee shop. I must have spent at least half of every day there. The old Bear’s Den in the basement of the Union. I spent many late nights in the S3 lounge in Oxford Hall. Crosby Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
How did your studies at UMaine prepare you for your career?
I am very proud of the undergraduate education I received from UMaine. Having spent time at other institutions, I appreciate the quality of education I received and I relate this directly back to the great faculty. The size of the engineering program was also very important. A good education requires access to both faculty and state-of-the-art research tools. Faculty members were always engaging and encouraged one-on-one time during office hours or after class. The program was large enough, though, to offer students exposure to equipment and resources that made it as competitive as anywhere in the nation. This combination is rather unique and made for a very strong program that prepared me well for both graduate education and a career.
Image Description: Scott Eaton