30 May 2007

Why Does California Lead In Cleantech?

The Entrepreneurial Culture Meets Environmental Awareness

A recent article in The Economist noted that North America is the leader in venture investment in clean technology, and Silicon Valley is the leading region within North America. Last year VCs poured $2.9 billion into cleantech investments in North America (the figures came from Cleantech Network), four times more than in Europe. And of that $2.9 billion, about a quarter was connected to Northern California. Massachusetts came second with about 9%, Texas got 7%, and the rest of North America the other 62%.

Why does California lead?

  1. It's a big state, with a lot of energy-hungry people and a lot of natural resources. There are counties in California that are bigger than Massachusetts. On the other hand, Texas is big too, and cleantech investing is just getting started there.
  2. It's where the money is. Billions earned in electronics and dot-coms are being invested in cleantech.
  3. Top-notch university research and government labs, including Stanford, Berkeley, Davis, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and others, generate technologies that entrepreneurs can use. And the region's business schools turn out entrepreneurial-minded graduates.
  4. Lots of experienced venture capitalists are headquartered there.
  5. Wide support for environmental concerns across political parties and social segments enables leadership in stricter environmental regulation. (California's CO2 emissions have been level in recent years, while population has grown.)
  6. It has The California Clean Tech Open -- a world-class business plan competition that gives budding entrepreneurs and clean technology businesses a chance at $600,000 in prizes and priceless recognition and encouragement.
The California Clean Tech Open represents the efforts of hundreds of volunteer organizers, backed by the financial support of private industry, non-profits, and government agencies. It's goal is to keep California in the lead in clean technology, to help small companies with good ideas get to the next level, and to save the world.

As an example of the unique capabilities of such an approach, next Monday the California Clean Tech Open and SRI International will put on a Technology and Entrepreneur Matching Event to bring the cutting-edge science of the regions labs and universities together with the creative energies of its potential entrepreneurs. New commercialization ideas and partnerships will result, if we're lucky.

It's working.

Doc is glad to be a part of the CCTO Corps of Volunteers.

19 May 2007

A"maize"ing Confusion

Gripe of the Week--It's Not That Type of Corn!

Have you ever noticed that articles in the press about ethanol always feature a picture of an ear of sweet corn? Drives me crazy. Just to clear things up, here are notes to journalists.

There are different types of corn (maize). (Check here or here for a sense of the range of types in this long-domesticated crop.) "Sweet corn" (right, above) is genetically different from other corn: less of its sugar is converted to starch. We harvest it immature and eat it as "corn on the cob", or its shelled kernels as a vegetable.

Yellow dent corn (left, below) is a type where the harder endosperm encloses a starchy center, which shrinks as it dries, giving the characteristic dent in each kernel. This is the kind of corn most widely used in North America as feed and for producing ethanol.
dent corn image from www.heartlandscience.org/agrifood/yelcorn.htm
Other types of corn, especially food-grade yellow and white dent and "flint" corns are used to make food products such as Fritos® and tortillas. "Flint" corn has a hard endosperm suitable for milling into grits or flour. Popcorn is another completely distinct type.

All of these types of corn, and many more for many other uses, were developed by indigenous Americans before the arrival of Europeans. Dent corn is a hybrid of two types developed by native Americans.

Insisting on accurate illustration may seem like a quibble. But it's as if you were writing an article about "oil" and the picture was of petroleum while the article was about cooking oil. Or vice versa. It makes the writer of the article (who may have had no role in selecting the accompanying illustrations) look like an idiot. It causes the reader to lose faith in the whole publication.

08 May 2007

Trading Pollution

What are all those carbon credits, offsets, and things?

There has been carbon trading for years: I'll give you a ducat for that coal, a riyal for that oil, a pew for that tree. This is commodity trading.

What is new is trading various derivatives related to the carbon in a fuel, the carbon dioxide emitted by a process, the production of renewable energy, or the sequestration or reduction of CO2 output.

In case you have been as confused as I have by all the permutations, here is a breakdown:

Emissions TradingCarbon CreditRenewable Energy CertificateCarbon OffsetCarbon Tax
"Cap and Trade" -- tradable right to exceed government-set quotaTradable permit to emit CO2 issued by a seller who is reducing CO2 emission."Green Tag" -- tradable evidence that electricity was produced by approved renewable sourcesTradable assurance that someone else has reduced CO2 emissions by a certain amount A tax paid to government based on carbon content of fuel
Transfers wealth from greater polluters to lesser polluters in a regulated system of allowancesTransfers wealth from carbon emitter to carbon emissions reducer or mitigator.Transfers wealth from electricity consumer buying from the grid to generator using renewable technology selling to the grid elsewhere.Transfers wealth from a CO2 emitter to owner of a project that reduces CO2 emissions. Project may sequester carbon, or produce energy by less carbon intensive means, or prevent the emission of carbon as from change in land use.Transfers wealth from users of fuel to the government.
Right to emit a given quantity of pollutant above allowanceRight to emit one tonne of CO2Essentially a premium paid above standard rates for production of electricity by renewable sources. Makes production by renewable means more profitable.Gives you the right to feel OK even though you are emitting CO2. May provide additional revenue to emission-reducing project.Puts a cost on the negative externalities associated with using CO2-emitting fuel. Makes reducing such use more economically attractive.

Any Questions?