Clean Tech

Dinner at "21" with Cleantech"s Creative CEOs

By Shannon Huecker

I was lucky enough to be invited to Melody Haller"s Antenna Group Salon at New York City"s famed "21" Club on September 20. The dinner was held in conjunction with the Cleantech Venture Forum, a networking opportunity for small technology companies seeking investors that started the next day. The forums are attended by technology CEOs, venture capitalists and journalists.

HelioVolt"s thin film photovoltaics are embedded in the black covering being rolled onto the building"s exterior, turning its walls into power generators.

What"s Cleantech exactly? The best way to describe it is as a product, service or process that reduces or eliminates ecological impacts and, as a result, improves the quality of life. At the forum there are displays and presentations by a variety of CEOs, who place their emerging technologies (and their prospects in the market) in perspective as solutions to current problems facing society and the environment.

When I walked in to the dinner, I received some skeptical looks from the doormen and hosts. I don"t blame them: When I saw what I was walking into, I gave myself a skeptical look, too. I"m 22, with past-shoulder-length hair (pony-tailed it for the dinner), a short beard, and two hemp necklaces (one has a kyanite stone). They probably hadn"t seen my likes in the "21" Club in a long time (though the place is a former speakeasy, after all). If it weren"t for my white-collared shirt, slacks and dress shoes, they"d have given me their pocket change and shooed me off. "Antenna Group," I stammered, in response to their incredulous inquiries.

I was led into an amazing private room with beautiful pastel murals on the walls. I was the first to arrive, so I got to speak with the sommelier, a very nice guy named Chris. It turned out he had degrees from University of Pennsylvania (engineering), the University of Edinburgh (vocalization), and a university in Italy (opera)! I was already nervous about dealing with CEOs, experienced journalists and Melody, the high-powered organizer. It"s extra intimidating when the restaurant staff is more educated than you are. Luckily, his expertise was not the environment or clean technology, so I had the upper hand.

Chris and I were still talking when my first dinner companions arrived. Haller and John Davenport, CEO of Fiberstars, walked in together. Haller took one look at me and said, "You MUST be one of the reporters." While she arranged preparations for the dinner, Davenport told me about his new company, and about his former job as head of Product Innovation for General Electric (which is a decent resume builder if you"re into that name-dropping hoopla).

This fire station in Anaheim, California has been equipped with the "Ice Bear," which the manufacturer says reduces its on peak energy usage 95 percent.

Davenport was a great guy. He had the enthusiasm of someone who really has discovered what they enjoy, and this man loves lighting. I was nervous because he was the first CEO of the evening, but his enthusiasm was contagious, and soon we were chatting about energy efficiency, government policy and what got us into the environment.

The other CEOs and journalists arrived shortly and we were seated, alternating reporters and CEOs. We went around the table, introduced ourselves and the company or magazine we were representing, and shared something personal. Haller started off. San Francisco Business Times called her a "Hot Player," and that about sums it up. (Once again, if you enjoy name-dropping, she led the introduction of a small company called Yahoo!) Haller is the president of her multi-million dollar PR firm (her third) and was a Zen Buddhist monk for several years. She asked me to go next. I graduated from the University of Florida, I"m an intern, and I love going to concerts and jam festivals? My favorite shirt says Hairy Hippie on it? Why do I have to be second? (These are my thoughts, not what I said out loud; I managed something just slightly more coherent.)

A view inside a commercial Ice Bear unit producing ice with off-peak electricity.

Also at the dinner were Dr. B.J. Stanbery (CEO of HelioVolt), Telis Demos of Fortune, Timothy Gardner of Reuters, Keith Blakely (CEO of NanoDynamics), Dick Flanagan of World Gen, Bernays Barclay, director of Ice Energy, and Mark Spellun of Plenty magazine.

The dinner was beautifully presented, and the conversation was not what I had expected. Instead of asking about the technologies of the represented companies, the other reporters had a lot of questions about the futures of oil and coal. Flanagan of World Gen was strongly promoting coal as the clean, cheap fuel of the future. He claimed that with Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technologies and carbon sequestration, coal is cheap and environmentally friendly. He disagreed with my suggestion that coal is artificially cheap due to direct and indirect subsidies in the form of tax breaks, coal research and development subsidies, and costs that are borne by citizens in the form of environmental cleanup (both from mining and plant pollution) and health care costs.

Reuters" Gardner asked questions about the slowly descending price of oil (still over $60 a barrel). Demos of Fortune expressed skepticism about whether being environmental can really be cost effective or even profitable. He insisted that businesses are not stupid, and if being green-friendly really could save money, corporations would happily lead the way.

It seemed I was the only reporter there actually focused on, and stoked about, the companies" latest technologies.

" Fiberstars manufactures fiber-optic lighting systems that use 80 percent less energy than traditional bulbs. The lighting system is even 99.5% reusable or recyclable and avoids landfills.
" NanoDynamics has nano-enhanced ceramics that can filter water super-efficiently, require no pumping (because there is no resistance), and with the help of magnetic nano-particles can remove heavy metals. They are non-clogging and could be used for filtration on fish farms, agricultural runoff and in municipal water remediation.
" HelioVolt makes thin film photovoltaics that can be embedded into construction materials, effectively turning a roof or siding of a building into giant solar panels. The key here is that it"s unobtrusive (no giant panel arrays), has a long lifespan, and uses indium instead of silicon (challenged by high demand and dwindling supplies).
" Ice Energy"s "Ice Bear" is an add-on to standard air conditioners. It uses off-peak electricity to produce ice during the night, and then uses the ice for cooling during the highest-priced peak electricity hours. I was the least enthused about this because it seems to only shift when you use electricity, not how much, which is a matter of economics, not environmentalism.

I would have liked to spend more time talking with the CEOs, but time for the evening was limited by the early start of the Cleantech Forum the next day (7 a.m.!). As we walked out, I told Haller I wished I"d had more time to speak with Blakely about nanotechnology. Haller explained to me that she never promotes nanotech itself, because nanotech is a method of production, not a product. It is the amazing product features nanotech makes possible that should be focused on. Nanotech, she said, will slip into the backdrop of our everyday lives, always there in the products we use, but rarely recognized as such. With that, she said goodbye, jumped in a cab and sped off. Maybe it just seemed like she sped off. Haller is a composed whirlwind, which can be disorienting. However, she is also v

ery friendly and enthusiastic about the environment, which can be relaxing and engaging. This wonderful dinner left me excited, very tired and eagerly anticipating the next day"s Cleantech Forum.


Cool Cleantech: Companies Eye Sustainable Profits

By Curtiss P. Martin

These carbon nanotubes are about 50,000 times thinner than the width of a human hair, and have more than 50 times the tensile strength of high-carbon steel.

With a record $843 million invested in clean technology in the second quarter of 2006, the green movement has established itself as a significant sector of mainstream business. That investment represents a 59 percent increase over the $514 million in the first quarter of 2006, and a 129 percent increase over the second quarter of 2005. In the first quarter of 2006, the sector surged ahead of previously dominant medical technology and telecommunications sectors. It now ranks third behind only biotech and software for venture capital investment.

The sixth Cleantech Venture Forum, held on the seventh floor of the Marriott Marquis in New York City this past September, represented a curious confluence of sorts. Wal-Mart, which has been trying to repair its decidedly tarnished environmental image, dispatched Andy Rubin, vice president of corporate strategy and sustainability, to the conference. Another company trying to get on a greener track is General Electric, and it was represented by Kevin Walsh, managing director of renewable energy. |

Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems and current head executer of Khosla Ventures, claimed that he could sell an unlimited supply of bioethanol fuel at $1.99 a gallon. Vinod shared a stage with the Department of Energy"s Alexander Karsen, who remarked offstage afterwards that he was relieved that Khosla had been so easy on him.

Representatives of Google (no stranger to competitive investing) and Microsoft revealed that they were actually working together on an emerging service known as the "Next GPS" or the "Human Genome Project for Planet Earth." The awkwardly titled Global Earth Observation Systems of Systems (GEOSS) promises to integrate vast swaths of real-time data into robust mapping and imaging services, such a Google Earth or Microsoft"s Virtual Earth applications. The implications of this emerging tool quickly became apparent when David Skole, chief technology officer of the Climate Investment Network for Carbon Sequestration (CINCS), stepped to the stage.

Skole"s emphasis was on creating an accountable system for marketing global carbon credit trading. Europeans and progressive Americans are no doubt already aware of carbon trading schemes and their effectiveness, but what Skole demonstrated was that a tool such as GEOSS could bring a whole new source of revenue to developing countries through established carbon markets.

The displays in the William J. Clinton library in Little Rock, Arkansas are lit by Efficient Fiber Optics from Fiberstars, which emit no damaging infrared or ultraviolet rays.

Skole noted that the technology for measuring real-time carbon dioxide (CO2) abatement was already old news, and that planting trees on a large scale has a quantifiable positive effect on the Earth"s atmosphere. Skole is envisioning a future where there is a measurable and easily implemented monetary incentive for people in third world countries to plant trees and plants that "fix" greenhouse gases, effectively removing them from the Earth"s environment. By tying global warming to third world empowerment—the chance to make $2 a day carbon trading instead of $1 in subsistence agriculture—the plan could significantly increase quality of life for millions (assuming that this form of carbon sequestration could work on such a massive scale).

Thanks to the diverse network of satellites and earth observation facilities used by GEOSS, most of the complicated measurements required to create this system could be done remotely, if not automatically. By eliminating the need for observation personnel in the field and on the ground, these systems would lessen both the overhead cost and instances of error in generating data. And, of course, it looks really cool seeing all of this happen in three scaleable dimensions from the comfort of your laptop or—soon to come—your cellphone.

Chikai Ohazama, senior project manager at Google, showed the audience a detailed 3D map of his favorite hiking trail around Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Clicking a button, Ohazama brought the trail into view as a translucent purple path curving around the area"s topography, rising to meet the track"s iconic summit.

That was cool, and there"s no doubt that it appealed to the hikers in the crowd. But as Ohazama went on to demonstrate even more features, the audience got a taste of why GEOSS is kind of a big deal. Clicking a couple of different buttons and entering in a few search terms like a seasoned sire of Silicon Valley, Ohazama was able to locate power plants and areas of industry near Half Dome and graphically demonstrated historical and current data on air and water pollution in the vicinity of his beloved peak.

"We love it when people tell us that their six-year old showed them something on Google Earth," Ohazama said, emphasizing the application"s ease of use by showing what a one-degree rise in global temperature would do to the east and west coasts of the U.S. As large portions of New York and California were submerged underwater (as seen in An Inconvenient Truth), the crowd"s silence soon gave way to a cascade of murmurs.

It was interesting to watch the conference attendees—including multi-millionaire entrepreneurs, billion-dollar asset managers and high-riding, jet-setting captains of industry—pause to consider their stakes in one of the most promising, fastest-growing venture sectors on the market: saving the Earth. Al Gore"s name was batted around the room, and previously antithetical words like "sustainable" and "profits" became acquainted with one another. As Ohazama closed his dazzling three-ring performance, Skole echoed the thoughts of many when he remarked, "Ladies and gentleman, the color of money is getting greener all the time."


Portraits in Innovation

One of the benefits of attending the Cleantech Venture Forum was getting a close-up view of young start ups searching for capital. Many of these businesses are made up of research scientists and former policy figures who see a potential market for their ideas in the clean technology sector.

These capsule summaries are taken from among the crowd of exhibitors at the Cleantech Venture Forum.

" Bio-Organic Catalyst. Bio-Organic Catalyst (BOCs) are establishing a new category of biochemistry. BOCs are biological breakdown agents that can be used in water and wastewater treatment, petroleum hydrocarbon cleaning/remediation and environmental cleaning applications. Chemical oxidation agents work, but they"re detrimental to biological processes in environmental waste water management. BOCs work with advanced water and wastewater treatment systems, as well as simple and low-tech installations. Not only are BOCs non-toxic, they are biologically-enhancing. BOCs have the ability to increased dissolved oxygen and gas transfer rates at the same or lower energy levels. By creating a nearly instantaneous catalytic breakdown of organic molecules, BOCs make them more readily digestible by indigenous bio-organisms, as well as more rapidly oxidized by chemical agents. Rather than attempting to break down specific elements, as an enzyme would,

a broad cascading action is created, accelerating biological degradation throughout the entire spectrum of organic contaminants. CONTACT: www.bio-organic.com.

" Energy Unlimited. In the wind power industry, innovation happens at 200 feet above the ground. Just as the wind power industry is achieving rapid growth (a 40.5 percent expansion to $14 billion in revenues in 2005), the cost of deploying wind turbines has actually risen by over 20 percent in the last 24 months, as rising raw materials costs out pace technological progress. EUI’s flagship technology is a variable-length wind turbine blade that automatically extends the tip of the blade in response to light winds, while retracting the tip in higher speed winds. The primary advantage is a 25 percent power production increase with only a five percent projected increase in wind turbine unit cost. With an existing population of 82,400 operating wind turbines in 2005, EUI will likely become a major player in the retrofit market by effectively increasing the overall performance of a turbine without carrying the necessity of its removal. CONTACT: www.eui-tech.com.

" Infinia. The world’s leading developer of free-piston Sterling engine generators is currently developing its three-kilowatt multi-market Stirling engine and a Solar Sterling product to serve the global solar energy market. Multiple Infinia Sterling engines have logged more than 20,000 continuous hours of operation and remain in service. Infinia’s longest-running machine logged over 100,000 hours (11 years) of continuous, maintenance-free operation. These Stirling engines are externally-heated machines that generate electricity from any renewable energy heat source, including solar energy, hydrogen, ethanol, biodiesel, biogas and biomass. Infinia says its Solar Stirling product will generate up to twice the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity than similarly sized photo voltaic systems. CONTACT: www.infiniacorp.com.

" SkyBuilt Power. SkyBuilt bills its product as being the world’s first self-contained, plug and play, renewable energy power station that is expandable, sets up in hours and runs for years with little maintenance. The product purports to cut fuel costs for the U.S. military by over 90 percent, and has both Homeland Security and third world applications. CONTACT: www.skybuilt.com.

" Sunarc of Canada. Automated greenhouse insulation/shading system using on-demand liquid foam (non-toxic) system to increase energy savings for growers. CONTACT: www.sunarc.ca.

" Washington Biodiesel. Northwestern biodiesel company uses canola seed to produce high-quality biodiesel at a low cost ($.02 per kWh). CONTACT: www.wabiodiesel.com

—Curtiss P. Martin

Contact: Cleantech

SHANNON HUECKER and CURTISS P. MARTIN are staff writers at E.

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