December 22, 2010
Bob Metcalfe, Bill Warner, Kiva, CarWoo, TerraPower All at 5x5
XConomy's “5×5” Forum in Boston this month attracted some of the best and the brightest in the technology industry. Below is a summary, largely taken from Greg Huang's excerpts on-site.
1. Bill Warner emphasized his more unconventional approach to startups. “I intend to help people follow their heart,” he said. “I believe people are pushed to follow their head.” A startup’s philosophy boils down to what he calls the “negotiated invention” model—what most entrepreneurs follow by leading with their idea or technology and making compromises based on the market and egos versus from their soul and heart.
2.Client CarWoo provided tips on how to become the next Groupon. Founder and CEO Tommy McClung, from the Bay Area, talked about targeting established business models in big markets, which are “usually ripe for disruption”; riding the emerging trend of “online to offline” and balancing incentives for customers.
Disclosure Note: I am a consultant for CarWoo.
December 15, 2010
The Top "Internet of Things" for 2010
ReadWriteWeb has a great round-up of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is a term for when everyday ordinary objects are connected to the Internet via microchips. Technologies used include sensors, RFID and smartphone standards like NFC.
Companies ranging from HP and IBM to Nike and Pachube are launching products and apps using these technologies.
IBM's Smarter Planet - IBM's Smarter Planet campaign is about connecting objects to the Internet and applying intelligence and services on top of that. Like HP, IBM uses the central nervous system analogy."
Government Internet of Things: China & EU - The Internet of Things was a strategic interest for both the European Parliament and the Chinese government this year. RRW had a Parliament of Things post which covered the EU's resolution to endorse the development of the sector that is worth reading.
In the middle of the year, China announced a plan that will "fix a clear positioning, development goals, timetable and roadmap of the IoT industry." China plans to strengthen policy support of IoT, including financial and taxation measures.
DASH7 (RFID) - The amount of electricity it takes to power a trillion nodes, or things, that communicate with the Web is significant. Yet battery life and battery production costs have not declined at the same pace as processing power. RFID is well positioned to address this. Thing Magic's 100 uses of RFID campaign was an an effective awareness raising tool in the second half of 2010.
Emergence of the Smart Grid - In 2010 the more practical uses of IoT began to take shape, such as ways to conserve energy - a.k.a. the Smart Grid. For more including a full read on the above listings and the rest of the top ten, check out RRW's extensive round-up.
November 08, 2010
Meet the 2010 PopTech Fellows
November 8, 2010 in America The Free, Europe, New England, On Africa, On Being Green, On China, On East Africa, On Education, On Health, On Innovation, On Science, On South Africa, On Technology, On the Future, On Women, Social Media, United Kingdom, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 20, 2010
PopTech Kicks Off in Camden Maine (Listen Via Livestream)
This year's PopTech kicks off in Camden Maine, with more than 80 extraordinary speakers and performers participating this year.
PopTech explores the issues, trends and technologies that will shape the future of our businesses, economy, society and world.
Speakers include the likes of Annmarie Ahearn and Ladleah Dunn, Carol Bothwell, Niguel Waller, Tony Salvador, Oscar Schofield, Habib Dagher, Erika Wagner, Brandon Kessler, Phillipe Newlin, David de Rothschild, Graham Hill, Dan Ariely, Kevin Dunbar, Kim Cobb, Brian Hare, Kevin Starr, Ned Breslin, Ben Lyon, Sinan Aral, Reggie Watts, Ryan Smith, Mike Blum, Marcia McNutt, Brooke Betts Farrell, Carlo Ratti, Casey Dunn, and dozens of others.
October 01, 2010
Acumen Fellows Program Applications OpenThe Acumen Fellows Program is now accepting applications for 2011 and 2012.
The Acumen Fellowship is a one year program that immerses Fellows in world-class leadership training, field work with social enterprises on the front lines, and a community of change makers and thought leaders.
For 2011, they received over 550 applications from over 65 different countries for 10 positions. While each Fellow comes from a diverse background and brings a unique skill set to the Fellowship, below are some key indicators of a successful Fellow:
* Proven track record of leadership and management responsibilities
* Experience working in emerging markets
* Unrelenting perseverance, personal integrity, and critical thinking skills
* Strong passion and commitment
* 3-7 years of work experience
* Graduate degree preferred
Below is a synopsis of some of the fellows and what they have done and where.
October 1, 2010 in America The Free, Europe, Israel, On Africa, On Australia, On Being Green, On Education, On Health, On Innovation, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Science, Videos, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 30, 2010
Vinod Khosla and Kevin Skillern on Green Energy
Both are known as green visionaries in the venture space, so Erick and the Techcrunch audience were all keen to know where they saw future trends and more importantly, billion dollar industries in the energy space.
As for hot sectors in green technology today, Vinod says, “disruption is just a fun game but it can occur everywhere. Everything can be reinvented in any area.
If people say it can’t, then it’s just a failure of imagination.” While it may be ten years to liquidate a company in this sector, he reminds the crowd that there are many technology start-ups that take that long as well.
Kevin, who runs venture investing for GE Energy, talks about GE’s role in the industry and its importance.
A third of the world’s power is run on GE’s equipment, so clearly they’re essential to the future of the energy industry. He said that when they started looking at what were the billion dollar markets in energy, they came up with 20 or 30 areas. In other words, there is no shortage of opportunities to be capitalized on.
So, what are the top five markets each of them are focused on?
“Clearly there’s something around fuels,” said Kevin. “When you get to a recessionary environment, a lot of things kick in and bio-fuels is a big one. Electrifying vehicles is another and if people start living on a smart grid technology system, they should be able to get a 20% oil reduction,” he adds.
Vinod adds a little perspective about companies looking to innovate in this area and how they should choose an investor. “You need to look at the individual at the firm who will be helping you,” he says.
“Ask yourself, how many billion dollar companies have they created? Can they help you through the hurdles along the way and creating a new market when the chips are down? There are lots of good VCs and good angels and lots of bad ones. Pick one who is passionate.”
Kevin talks about their investment in Consert from North Carolina, who is using 3 and 4G networks, which essentially turns a home into something that resembles a power plant. If you have a distributed network, you can manage the grid efficiently. There are big chunks of the world that don’t have the grid reliability, so apparently this is a no brainer for emerging countries.
Transportation and lighting are also huge. Vinod talks about solutions that can create crude oil. Calera is one company that Vinod brings up, which makes coal and natural gas power plants and cement plants cheaper and cleaner than solar and wind by reducing carbon by more than 100% in a scalable and economic way.
“Isn’t the goal to get off carbon fuels?” asks Erick.
“That’s conventional linear thinking,” says Vinod. He thinks environmentalists are doing more damage because they’re prescribing solutions without having a clue of how expensive they are. Below is an overview of some of the industry sectors and companies that Khosla Ventures is investing in today.
Kevin talks about missing incentives. He says, "if utility incentives were properly set up, and on the team, we could save a lot of energy but it’s currently not set up that way. Our objectives should be clean but also include tax benefits among other things. They need to be incentivized as well.”
Vinod pipes in, “if you stop believing the environmentalists, and start believing the scientists and the innovators, we’ll move forward. Owning a Prius is more expensive than a lot of other things we can do to save energy. You can reduce more carbon by painting your roof white. One costs $100 and one costs an additional $5K over what a regular car costs.”
September 21, 2010
Ecuador Rainforest and Oil Giants: The Battle Continues
Back in 2005, many of Ecuador's indigenous people started fighting to keep the oilmen out of their ancestral homes.
In a recent visit to the Ecuador jungle, I learned that not only is it still a major issue first-hand from people I met from the Shuar tribe among others, but it's becoming harder and harder to keep the giant oil conglomerates at bay.
Over 25,000 square kilometers of the area (referred to as The Oriente) is apparently protected, although increased development and drilling means that you have to move further into the edges of the rainforest to experience untouched prestine forest.
Oil activity has been so prevalent that a town has even been named after Shell, which we drove through on the way to Macas, east of Puyo, a popular kick-off point for Jungle Tours in the south.
On our way into the Jungle to a 'primary rainforest' we were told, we noticed an abundance of telephone lines. I was shocked at how far into the dirt roads and paths they extended. By the time we hit the Shuar village, there were none in sight of course, but you could 'hear' western 'noise' not that far in the distance.
Sadly the noise was of electric saws chopping trees down; we were told it was to build lodges and homes for the indigenous people, not to sell to the outside world. Below is the head of the family in the village where we stayed who returned in the late afternoon with a large cut tree, in this case, it was to be used as firewood for cooking.
Ecuador's income from exports is dominated by oil, sadly, at over 40%. It contributes to the economy so much that the government is giving up parts of the Amazon jungle for oil extraction. Virtually all of the Oriente is apparently now available for oil drilling, including indigenous and protected areas.
As far back as 1999, the government sold exploration rights in two areas, known as Blocks 23 and 24, which are at the heart of Indian reserves - without consulting the tribes involved.
"Oil Remains a Huge
Battle in Ecuador"
This is precisely the area we went to this past August; an area that is dominated by three indigenous peoples: the Achuar, Shuar (we stayed in a village with the Shuars) and the Kichwa. Each has set up political organizations to fight the corporate battle.
The Achuar have legal title to the land but under Ecuador's constitution the state has sole right to anything beneath the soil - in other words all mineral rights.
That said, the threat remains and is only getting worse since the main external pressure comes from Ecuador's foreign debt.
Five years ago, ChevronTexaco was facing a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit there, apparently because of use of outdated technology which contaminated the soil and water systems, causing widespread health problems.
This past week, the plaintiffs suing Chevron Corp. over oil contamination have raised their estimate of damages to a range of $40 billion to $90 billion. According to FoxNews.com, a Chevron spokesman rejected the new estimate Friday as a wildly distorted attempt to discredit the oil company.
The law suit covers operations in Ecuador by Texaco from 1972-1990, when it managed a drilling consortium. They calculated liability for "excess cancer deaths" caused chiefly by groundwater contamination at up to $69.7 billion, while estimating actual soil and groundwater cleanup at between $883 million and $1.9 billion.
Whether it is unnecessary death or unnecessary loss of prestine primary rainforest in the Amazon Jungle, it was very sad but very real to witness ongoing destruction of a unique jungle that can't be replaced.
August 14, 2010
GoingGreen Silicon Valley
The fourth annual GoingGreen Silicon Valley, is being held on September 13-15, 2010 in San Francisco. The two-and-a-half-day executive event features CEO presentations and high-level debates on the most promising emerging green technologies and new entrepreneurial opportunities.
Green technology innovators are transforming trillion dollar industries-and the solutions they are delivering not only promise to clean up pollution and restore ecosystems, but also to bring abundance and prosperity to everyone on earth.
In fundamental areas-water, energy, and land-resource abundance is just around the corner through the power of technology and free markets. Readers of Down the Avenue and Blog The World are invited to attend for a third of the original cost.
Jeff Byron, Commissioner, California Energy Commission
Ray Rothrock, Partner, Venrock
Brian Steel, Senior Director, Corporate Development & Strategy, PG&E
Kevin Surace, CEO, Serious Materials
Anup Jacob, Partner, Virgin Green Fund
Kevin Genieser, Head of Clean Energy Investment Banking, Morgan Stanley
Marc van den Berg, Managing Director, Vantage Point Venture Partners
Raj Atluru, Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Ira Ehrenpreis, General Partner, Technology Partners
Jane Wu, President, Global Operations, Comtec Solar
Reyad Fezzani, CEO, BP Solar
Tom Tiller, CEO, Abound Solar
Laura Shenkar, Director, The Artemis Project
Andy Seidel, CEO, Presidio Underground Systems
William Westcott, VP Innovation, Americas, Veolia Environment
Fatemeh Shirazi, Microvi Biotech Inc., Founder & President
Nadav Efraty, CEO, Desalitech
Kevin Skillern, Managing Director, Venture Capital, GE Energy Financial Services
Joe Laia, CEO, Miasole
Marc Porat, Chairman, Serious Materials, ZETA Communities and CalStar Products
Atul Thakrar, President & CEO, Segetis, Inc.
Brent Constantz, CEO & Founder, Calera Corporation
Rao Mulpuri, CEO, Soladigm, Inc.
Elise Zoli, Partner, Goodwin Procter
Matthew Trevithick, Partner, Venrock
John Grizz Deal, CEO, Hyperion Power Generation Inc.
Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Craig Lobdell, Partner, KPMG
Ravi Viswanathan, General Partner, New Enterprise Associates
Marianne Wu, Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures
Joe Dews, Managing Director, Think Equity, LLC
Ashmeet Sidana, General Partner, Foundation Capital
Mark Fischetti, Board of Editors, Scientific American Magazine
Vinod Khosla, Managing General Partner, Khosla Ventures
David Demers, CEO, Founder, Westport Power, Inc.
John Melo, CEO, Amyris Biotechnologies
John Gimigliano, Partner, Energy & Sustainability, KPMG
Colin Stewart, Vice Chairman, Morgan Stanley
Trae Vassallo, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Jennifer Fonstaad, Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Michael Goguen, Partner, Sequoia Capital
Rich Lechner, VP, Energy & Environment, IBM
.....and countless others..........
August 12, 2010
A Biofuels Primer
Over the last several years increasing attention as well as increasing controversy has focused on the topic of biofuels. Most specifically the issues surrounding biofuel relate to how much their use reduces CO2 and other greenhouse gasses as well as how the use of certain basic materials to produce these biofuels (particularly corn) impacts the availability - and thus the cost - of these commodities for other uses, namely for human consumption.
Let's take a look at the most popular biofuel feedstocks, how they stack up against one another from an environmental impact perspective as well as how they compare with one another with respect to the other principal uses each feedstock has and how this might impact human and/or animal populations.
Biofuels – In the broadest sense biofuel is defined as any fuel derived from biomass or living/recently living plant material. They may offer some of the most promising alternatives in our efforts to decrease dependence on traditional fossil fuel sources (oil, gas, petrol, coal, etc).
Biofuels offer the only immediate alternative to fossil fuels and they also have the potential to help limit the environmental impact from fuel emissions. In addition, they are the only direct substitute for oil in transport that is available on a significant scale in most countries.
The concept of using biofuels is not new, the inventor of the combustion engine, Nicholas Otto, conceived his invention to run on ethanol. Rudolf Diesel’s first engine was designed to run on peanut oil while early versions of the Ford Model T ran on ethanol.
Plant biofuel, has become one of the most promising forms of renewable energy available today. This is particularly important when comparing biofuel to other technologies, such as hydrogen, which also have potential, because these other potential fuels are still quite far from large-scale viability –particularly because they will require major changes to vehicle fleets and the fuel distribution infrastructure.
Additionally, the abundance of raw materials and ease of use with existing equipment and infrastructure means that biofuels are one of our most promising petro-fuel alternatives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as for diversification of the energy supply in the immediate future.
The key reasons why biofuels are appealing on a global scale include:
• They are immediately available
• Their use can help provide energy security and diversity
• Biofuel production will give new opportunities for farmers and developing countries
• They have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Principal Forms of Biofuel:
Ethanol is a liquid alcohol made of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon and is obtained from the fermentation of sugar or converted starch contained in grains and other agricultural or agri-forest feedstocks.
Starches (corn, grains, potatoes), sugars (sugar cane, sugar beet), biomass
The USA is the world’s largest producer, having produced 34.2 billion liters in 2008. Brazil is the number 2 global producer of ethanol, producing 24.7 billion liters in the same year. The EU produced approximately 2.7 billion liters in 2008, followed by China which produced 1.9 billion liters.
Ethanol is primarily blended with petrol (gasoline) to use as transport fuel.
Biodiesel is a non-toxic, biodegradable fuel. The majority of biodiesel is from oily feedstocks in a process called transesterification, where the oil is reacted with an alcohol (usually methanol) and a catalyst (such as sodium hydroxide).
Vegetable oils (canola, corn, cottonseed, palm, soy, sunflower) animal tallow, recycled greases
Annual production worldwide:
3.8 billion liters in 2005
In 2006, Germany produced approximately 2 billion liters, followed by France at 557 million liters and the United States at 284 million liters.
Biodiesel is mainly used as a replacement for diesel or in a blend with traditional diesel fuel. It is used primarily as a transport fuel, but can replace diesel in any engine.
Biogas consists mostly of a gas called methane which is the principal chemical present in “natural gas”. Bacteria produce methane as they break down cellulosic (plant based) material, whether in a swamp or bog, or in an industrial biogas generator - a reactor that allows the collection of biogas for power generation. Another type of biogas is carbon monoxide rich gas made via thermal gasification.
Landfill gas, sewage sludge gas, corn silage, liquid manure, cereals
Annual production worldwide:
402,602 TJ (terajoule)
The United States produces approximately 160,000 TJ; the UK and China each produce approximately 58,000 TJ, and produces Germany approximately 42,000 TJ annually.
Biogas can be used in the same motors that use natural gas. Currently only a very small proportion of biogas production is used in transport. Currently, the majority of biogas is used in the production of electricity and heating.
The global food crisis saw maize and wheat prices double during the period 2003-2008. Due to the rising use of biofuels during this period, particularly ethanol derived from corn, many people identified the use of biofuel as the principal reason for this increase, however research has shown that while biofuel production has - and likely will continue to have an impact on the cost of food for human consumption, the actual cost increases that can be directly attributed to the use of biofuel remains difficult to accurately identify.
Furthermore, as biofuel production technology improves and especially as we move towards using second generation biofuels that do not require food otherwise earmarked for the human food chain, this issue though important is not as significant as some parties would have you believe.
In the above mentioned price increases, for example, biofuel production was simply one component contributing to food price inflation. The recent drought in Australia, floods elsewhere in the world and other adverse weather conditions have had a negative effect on harvests leading to food shortages and consequently price increases.
Further as we experience an evermore rapidly changing global climate weather is becoming even more unpredictable and severe resulting in a continuing rise in food prices as crop yields - particularly in developing nations are reduced and in some cases where entire crops may fail due to changing environmental conditions.
In addition, rapid population growth has placed a higher demand on food and this factor alone has played a significant role in food price increases.
In fact, far from being the bane of global food production, biotechnology can cost-effectively optimize the yields of both crops for food and fuel. Ultimately, biotechnological innovations related to agriculture will provide more affordable food and fuel.
nd this, second generation biofuels are made from non-food feedstocks. By focusing on second generation crops, feedstock options are widened and a greater amount of fuel is available for the market, with the added benefit of potential for green house emission savings.
Sources: Joachim Von Braun and R.K. Pachauri, “The Promises and Challenges of Biofuels for the Poor in Developing Countries”, IFPRI 2005-2006 Annual Report Essay (Washington, D.C.: International Food and Policy Research Institute), November 2006.
Other than plant biotechnology, a number of other factors will prevent fuel from being produced at the expense of food. In many cases, a plant can produce both commodities – first the food can be processed, and the remaining plant material is used to produce fuel.
For example, bagasse is the biomass remaining after sugarcanes are crushed to extract the sugar. Bagasse is a feedstock for sugarcane-based ethanol.
Furthermore, many of the most suitable biofuel crops are not usually used as food. Sweet sorghum, jatropha, switch grass, types of wood and other non-edible plants are all ideally suited for the production of fuel.
Finally, it is likely that second-generation biofuels feedstocks will be available within 5 to 10 years. These second-generation feedstocks are typically non-food plants, such as switchgrass, and will not affect the food supply.
Second Generation Biofuels
As you have likely gleaned from the information presented above, first generation biofuels have some significant limitations that severely impact their overall prospects as truly viable sources to replace petro-fuels.
Among these the two principal issues are the fact that these Gen-1 biofuels rely on feedstock that is otherwise used for human and animal food consumption.
This fact alone places very real limits on just how much material is available for biofuel production. Put simply, past a certain point the cost to create these fuels has a direct impact on the cost of food.
Secondly the energy required to produce these fuels as well as their limited ability to actually reduce the production of greenhouse gasses calls into question their long term viability.
Beyond this, scientists familiar with this field have raised concerns about clearing land upon which existing but non-useful material (such as old growth forests) lie.
The concern is that by clearing land to plant more generation one biofuel crops we are actually removing one of the most important and effective means of capturing CO2 and replacing it with material that ultimately will contribute to creating more of these same gasses that are the source of a significant percentage of the global warming problem we are trying to resolve.
Second generation biofuels have been designed with these problems in mind. The goal is to extend the amount of biofuel that can be produced sustainably by using biomass consisting of the residual non-food parts of current crops, including material left behind once the food crop itself has been extracted.
This includes stems, leaves and husks as well as fruit skins, pulp, etc. Other candidates for second generation biofuel feedstocks include crops that are not used for food purposes including switch grass, and jatropha as well as industrial waste like wood chips.
Here are the critical chemical details that differentiate second generation biofuels from those tested for the first generation of these new energy sources:
All plants contain cellulose and lignin. These are complex carbohydrates (molecules based on sugar). Lignocellulosic ethanol is made by freeing the sugar molecules from cellulose using enzymes, steam heating, or other pre-treatments.
By fermenting these sugars, ethanol can be produced in the same way as first generation bioethanol production. The by-product of this process is lignin. Lignin can be burned as a carbon neutral fuel to produce heat and power for the processing plant and possibly for surrounding homes and businesses.
Lignocellulosic ethanol has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 90% when compared with fossil petroleum.
At present, IOGEN Corporation has developed a demonstration scale lignocellulosic ethanol production plant in Canada. Currently this facility produces around 700,000 liters of bioethanol each year. They are currently working to build a full scale version of this operation.
A large number of other lignocellulosic ethanol plants have been proposed in North America and around the world.
Another method to create fuel from biomass is the Fischer-Tropsch process. This process uses biomass to create a gas which is subsequently converted to a liquid fuel. When biomass is the source of the gas production the process is also referred to as Biomass-To-Liquids (BTL).
Third Generation Biofuels
Although still in development, (and with no current commercial scale production available) third generation biofuels appear to be very promising. Typically, third generation biofuels are derived from various species of algae.
Algae offers three crucial benefits over traditional terrestrial feedstocks such as corn, soybean, palm oil and others. First and foremost is the advantage in land-use. The energy density of algae is vastly superior to other crops; even at the low end of the potential oil-by-volume estimates.
While the advantage conferred by using algae as a feedstock varies depending on the strain of algae, what is confirmed is that certain kinds of algae have been observed to achieve photosynthetic efficiencies of up to three times that of corn and almost four times that of switchgrass.
Currently a couple dozen firms are active in this space, however - as stated above, none of them has started production at commercial scale. Nevertheless, it looks as though it is finally gaining some momentum and entering a high growth phase.
In fact, despite the economic downturn, venture capital firms poured $176 million into algae startups in 2008, including a record $84 million of it in Q4. Several firms have also taken the route of entering into joint-venture agreements with larger oil and gas companies or utilities.
While this particular petro-fuel replacement is still in its infancy, it bears watching as the benefits - much greater energy density, byproducts that themselves are highly useful (such as nutrients and substrate for pharmaceutical manufacture), the potential to scrub CO2 while the feedstocks themselves are cultivated, the ability to grow these feedstocks much more rapidly than conventional sources and finally the fact that their production does not require additional deforestation makes this sector one of the hottest in the sustainability race.
Fourth Generation Biofuels
When considering fourth generation biofuels the key word to remember is “bioengineered”. This is because the advances that will make fourth generation biofuels superior to previous generations are being done at the genetic level in the feedstock sources being used.
Basically, scientists are developing genetically engineered plants that have the ability to sequester far more CO2 than non-GMO feedstocks. So far eucalyptus and dahurian larch have been genetically modified for this purpose.
In fourth generation production systems, biomass crops are seen as efficient 'carbon capturing' machines that take CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it up in their branches, trunks and leaves. The carbon-rich biomass is then converted into fuel and gases by means of second generation techniques.
Then, before, during or after the bioconversion process, the carbon dioxide is captured by utilizing so-called pre-combustion, oxyfuel or post-combustion processes. The greenhouse gas is then geosequestered - stored in depleted oil and gas fields, in unmineable coal seams or in saline aquifers, where it stays locked up for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. (what we’ll do with this sequestered CO2 down the road is a question I’ve yet to see convincingly answered).
The resulting fuels and gases are not only renewable, they are also effectively carbon-negative. Only the utilization of biomass allows for the conception of carbon-negative energy; all other renewables (wind, solar, etc) are all carbon-neutral at best, carbon-positive in practice. Fourth generation biofuels instead take historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Gen-4 biofuels are still some way off. Furthermore, like any other solution that relies upon genetic engineering, this technology has its detractors. There are a large number of people concerned about the impact that genetically modified plants - and particularly those that might be distributed on a large scale can have.
As any molecular geneticist is quick to point out, we are only just beginning to unlock the secrets of true bioengineering and as with any nascent scientific area there are likely to be unforeseen consequences (both good and bad) as we progress with this line of research.
at does seem clear about fourth generation biofuels is that once we truly get the science fully developed, these fuels with their double-duty feedstocks would appear to pave the way to not only truly sustainable production of post-petroleum fuels but also a means to scrub some of the excess CO2 out of our environment in a truly cost efficient and sustainable way.
Wrapping it Up
Although this is an unusually long post, we have actually barely scratched the surface of this highly complex and rapidly developing sector.
As you can clearly see a lot of money and a large number of very bright people are working hard to make sustainable liquid fuel sources a reality in the near future.
It is also plain to see that the solutions developed so far each present their own set of challenges with no one solution coming out on top as the clear winner in the race for a sustainably produced petro-fuel alternative.
That said there is a vast amount of money on the line for companies that do manage to successfully address these issues and create an environmentally beneficial product that doesn’t require deforestation, does not cause a reduction in available human foodstuffs and which can compete and win economically when compared to conventional fuels.
While necessity may be the mother of invention, it is the opportunity for enormous financial windfalls that drives the entrepreneurial process.
Very few areas possess the potential for a windfall anywhere near that of the energy sector. In the final analysis, it is this fact that gives me the greatest optimism for these technologies.
While we may actually be depending upon these solutions to continue life as we know it, I still find it comforting to know that the same motivations that have lead to breakthroughs in so many areas are driving research in this critically important area full speed ahead.
July 28, 2010
Metrics and Peer Pressure: The Road to Real Efficiency“Save Energy!” You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times before; but what does it mean, and how do we do it? “By 2020 we will have 50% of the nation run by alternative energies”; “By such-and-such a date we will have done this great thing…” Nothing is tangible or personal, and if we want to garner, witness and achieve progress in the energy world, that has to change.
Numbers give a lot of folks headaches—and without the proper context, it’s no surprise they are dizzying. The world shouldn’t be surprised that we are running around in counter-productive circles instead of achieving forward motion in energy efficiency.
Progress fuels invested action. People won’t pour effort into a fruitless venture, but they are willing to work harder for something when they can see direct results budding. When it’s not easy to interpret your real-world impact, it’s even harder to measure your progress. For these reasons, a well-defined, comprehensible and accurate metric system should be the backbone of any energy-saving crusade.
People need to have real data presented to them in an easy-to-understand format that lets them know exactly what their personal role in the effort is. More importantly, this information needs to tell them hard and fast or not whether they’ve gained that gold star of efficiency, or if they’re going to have to work a little harder the next go around. Tangible metrics are the key to progress.
If metrics are your motivational tool, peer pressure should be your propulsion system. Harvesting all of these blooms as a result of working hard to save energy is satisfying for a while, but a bouquet is much nicer when you can show it off to someone else who appreciates beautiful blossoms.
The people that believe in and work for energy conservation need a community in which to share their successes, failures, tips and passions. This will keep the flames of those who have already caught the fire burning bright.
As for gaining new recruits to the environmental army, these facts and figures need to have a place to sit on display for outsiders to see; and get them interested in planting a few seeds of their own. If people can see the successes of others, they are more willing to follow suit.
There is a higher perceived chance that they will be successful than if they were to strike out on their own. Mostly, people want to fit in. They don’t want to be left behind. People want to be at least keeping up with the Joneses, if not joining the family themselves. Several companies are doing a great job leveraging the power of social context with the several utilities they currently serve. OPOWER is a perfect example.
Analytics will define the future of energy efficiency by providing both blunt measureable results and a community of encouragement and competition.
The above post is from guest author: Rahul Prakash, COO, EarthAid.net
EarthAid.net is a free online platform that allows people to link their utility accounts and watch their house-wide consumption as it shifts from meter reading to meter reading, and gives people a window through which to see their progress or regression. The platform awards points for reducing your usage, which can be redeemed as coupons for local businesses.