Cleantech Spending


Amidst a flurry of chatter about cleantech and investment from VCs, there is some interesting results coming from a recent report from Lux Research. As the graph at right shows, there is about a 50/50 split between government and corporate funding of cleantech investment, with only a minor contribution from venture capitalists. At least we are seeing an increasing trend …

Below we see the cleantech investment by segment in total, and from VC funding. In the past three years we can see quite clearly that VCs have been investing in energy and sustainability which matches overall spending patterns.

What will 2007 bring? Leave your opinion …

Turning Carbon Dioxide into Fuel


It’s been said that we have been polluting the air with billions of tons of carbon dioxide and that its a bad thing. Well … not if you’re Frederic Goettmann, a chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany. He is designing a catalyst that could help turn CO2 into fuel!

Goettman stated “We have taken the first step towards using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a source for chemical synthesis. Future refinements could allow chemists to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels as sources for making chemicals. Liquid fuel could also be made from carbon monoxide split from CO2.”

Here are some highlights from the Goettmann article:

In an attempt to emulate this natural process, Goettmann and colleagues Arne Thomas and Markus Antonietti developed their own nitrogen-based catalyst that can produce carbamates. The graphite-like compound is made from flat layers of carbon and nitrogen atoms arranged in hexagons.

The catalyst’s next useful step was to enable the benzene molecules to grab the oxygen atom from the CO2 in the carbamate, producing phenol and a reactive carbon monoxide (CO) species.

The researchers are now trying to bring their method even closer to photosynthesis. “The benzene reaction currently supplies the energy that splits the CO2,” Goettmann says, “but in plants it is light.” The new catalyst absorbs ultraviolet radiation, so the team is experimenting to see if light can provide the energy instead.

The Max Planck technique has only been demonstrated on a small scale and it has a low yield of 20%, he points out. “But it looks quite promising,” he adds. “The catalyst can be made cheaply and it works at a relatively low temperature.”

Investors, investors? Where are you? This is a disruptive technology in the making. If these guys are really able to turn carbon dioxide into fuel in a way that yields a net energy gain, it is a monumental step for energy sustainability. If they can adapt the technology to breakdown carbon dioxide and convert it to other non-polluting sources such as graphite, it could even be used to fight global warming — albeit, it would have to be used quite broadly!

Banking on Global Warming


Many variables are contributing to the warmth of the world, at at the same time a whole of set of opportunities are arising as a result of the global warming bug.

Opportunities lay in:

  • Biotechnology applications for coal plants to “scrub” emissions before they are released
  • Cleaner oil refinery processing, to emit less carbon dioxide from oil sands particularly in Alberta, Canada
  • Carbon sequestration technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide deep within the Earth (still to be determined if this is a good idea)
  • Real estate and community planning of areas that are either going to become habitable and a lucrative shipping/trading centers (such as Nunavut, Canada described in this article)
  • Places will become flooded as ocean levels rise and entire cities are going to find themselves under 20 feet of water – technologies may be needed in advanced insulation from water, dam building, or something I can’t even imagine right now.
  • Cleantech: as an increasing number of emission laws come into place, there will be an escalating need for cleaner technologies to develop energy efficiently. This is not a new concept, merely a reinforcement of the need. I recently found out that Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) now has a $550 million not-for-profit foundation that bridges the gap in the innovation chain by fast-tracking groundbreaking clean technologies through development and demonstration in preparation for commercialization. There is certainly incentive for some businesses to consider developing their technologies in Canada, or perhaps, in partnership with Canadian businesses and educational institutions. Interested? Leave me your email in a comment and I’ll put you in touch with some people here in Canada!

The retreat of glaciers and arctic ice sheets are going to open up new shipping routes, key ports and new economic centers. One such gateway community is discussed an interview with a writer from The Atlantic, Gregg Easterbrook. I have to credit Paul Kedrosky for introducing me to this piece from his blog “Paul Kedrosky’s Infectious Greed“. The interview is as follows:

Early in this article you ask, “If the world warms, who will win? Who will lose?” But even the winners in this equation would seem to face grave risks. The Inuit of Canada may come to own valuable ports, for instance, but their traditional ways of feeding themselves and making a living will be decimated as the animals they hunt disappear. I suspect many people will consider the question and answer, “We will all lose.”

No, I don’t think so. In economics we don’t find many zero sum games and I don’t think this is a zero sum game. I think a lot of people and nations will come out ahead. The Inuit–the little semi-nation of Nunavut–is going to become significantly more valuable in a warming world. Right now Nunavut’s a frozen wasteland. I would love to be the guy with the Nunavut promotion account twenty years from now because I’m going to rechristen the place “the gateway to the hemispheres” and invite celebrities, and cruise ships will be stopping by, and the sign on the dock will say, “Welcome to Nunavut, Gateway to the Hemispheres!” We’ll see all kinds of wild economic activity up there. There will be change, yes. The traditional way of life will fade and be replaced with something else, maybe something zany, but change seems an inevitability of human experience. Really no society on earth, maybe the ones in the Amazon basin are the only exception, has been able to insulate itself from change. We can’t insulate ourselves from it and I doubt the Inuit will ever be able to do that, either.

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