cleantech insights

Cleantech Stimulus Still Not Stimulating

Guest Analyst: David Gold

The stimulus bill along with the $31B cleantech element focused on grants and loan guarantees through the U.S. Department of Energy was passed into law over 18 months ago.  About a year ago I wrote about how the cleantech stimulus was not very stimulating to our economy. I suggested at that time that the goals of stimulus and of long-term investment are largely incompatible, and the evidence is bearing that out.  At the time, I felt like a bit of an outcast for having such a critical view and yet being an ardent supporter of clean technologies and the need to wean our nation off fossil fuels. On the anniversary of my first post on this topic it seems appropriate to take a fresh look at where things stand.

While stimulus supporters and the press love to focus on the selection of award winners for grants and loans, funds appropriated but sitting in the U.S. Treasury have zero potential to stimulate the economy irrespective of whether a winner has been selected.  As of September 10, 2010, and about 19 months after the stimulus became law, according to the Obama Administration’s Recovery Act web site,, the Department of Energy …


Blue ocean market opportunities in waste plastic to fuel

Lisa Sibley

Today, more than 90 percent of global waste plastic winds up in landfills, sits on barges in the middle of the ocean, or is incinerated. The remainder is recycled in some form, a substantial portion of which is exported to countries such as China.

But this is expected to change as the waste-to-energy and nascent waste plastics-to-fuel/energy market specifically is poised to take off in the next 12 to 24 months, especially in the U.S. With governments trying to manage land use issues and oil and energy prices predicted to rise, regulation is driving this largely underserved “blue ocean” market. And everyone from large corporations and oil refiners to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs want a piece of the pie.

Other drivers include directives in Europe aimed at shutting down landfills and incentives such as H.R. 3592, the Plastics Recycling Act of 2009 in the U.S. Opportunities lie in converting waste plastics into energy, and specifically into liquids, synthetic crude oil, transportation fuels and industrial petrochemicals. There is a $5 billion to $6 billion lube market opportunity in the U.S., and a $3 billion wax market.

There are a number of technologies to address the market, ranging from liquefaction to …

The Smart Grid: All in the Family (Part I)

David Cheng

Some of you, like me, caught the series premiere of HBO’s new prohibition-era gangster show, “Boardwalk Empire,” a few weeks ago.  As I was watching that show, I was reminded of the last great HBO gangster show, “The Sopranos.”

Coincidently, last week, my Vice President of Advisory, Greg Neichin, was at the Gridwise Global Forum in Washington, DC.  At the conference, Secretary Steven Chu unveiled a report released by the Cleantech Group in cooperation with the Department of Energy on the Smart Grid Vendor Landscape.  In the report, we talked about a neural mapping that is being created within the smart grid amongst the different vendor relationships.  We found that meter and communication module makers were the central hub of these key relationships, which not only made for cool graphics but also validated the DOE’s stimulus funding towards smart meter roll-outs.

Download the report here (and register for a Q&A webinar that I will be co-hosting in a couple of weeks).

Now why the reference to HBO gangster shows?  Well, if we replace the words “neural mapping” with a more innocuous word like “family,” we can ask ourselves the question: What would a Smart

TerraManus – reinventing the agricultural wheel

Stephen Marcus

Over the past 10 years, Indiana-based TerraManus Technologies LLC has developed and patented its TerraStar wheel technology. The wheel forms weirs the soil in such a way as to “consolidate the soil without causing compaction”, according to company CFO Gregg Whittaker PhD. This increases the soil surface area, allowing the soil to hold and control flowing water and enabling the water to penetrate the soil. Additionally, the increased soil surface area leads to significant warming of the soil, allowing for earlier crop planting and potentially double-cropping in certain cooler regions. Moreover, TerraStar usage cuts input costs while significantly increasing yields and enhancing plant health. The wheel can be attached to virtually any existing agri/horticultural machine or can be placed on a specially designed implement.

TerraManus has packaged its technology in two ways:

1.      A transformative technology that can be readily integrated with the existing planting and tillage practices of fully-mechanized, developed-world farmers.

2.      A revolutionary, cost-effective technology for developing-world farmers whose only significant resource is human-labor.

The technology has enormous benefits; independent field tests in both Central Mexico and the U.S. have demonstrated that the TerraStar wheel can significantly increase yields – soybean, corn and tomato yields (to name only …

Secretary Chu Unveils Cleantech Group’s 2010 U.S. Smart Grid Vendor Ecosystem Report

Greg Neichin

Working in energy technology one can’t possibly ignore the transformative role that the current Administration is having on the promotion of clean technology.  We have been lucky to have a window into some of the great work happening at the Department of Energy as the agency commissioned the Cleantech Group to produce a new Smart Grid research study.  The report, announced today at the GridWise Global Forum by Energy Secretary Chu himself, is a comprehensive review of the Smart Grid Vendor Ecosystem. 

From the introduction to the report:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Smart Grid investments, and broader package of $11B for grid-related projects,  did not, and will not alone, solve the hurdles that stand in the way of smart grid deployments.  However, this significant infusion of capital and – perhaps equally as important – sense of urgency and attention has proven to be an important catalyst in the development of the smart grid ecosystem.  There are a myriad of industry associations, standards development organizations, government agencies, and policy think tanks actively providing critical input into the future of the grid, shaping standards via the NIST Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, convening conferences and working groups, and influencing

Innovation Offers Alternative to the Unsexy Biz of Pouring Concrete

Mia Javier

Inefficient distribution systems continue to plague water markets across the globe yet the value proposition to innovative technology solutions like that of Israel-based Curapipe is little understood. The World Bank estimates that 32 billion cubic meters of treated water is lost in systems globally, equating to upwards of $8 billion in lost revenue.

According the company’s Vice President of Business Development, Ofer Vicus, the UK alone loses approximately 3 million cubic meters per day in its water systems with approximately 20% of those loses in the region of London. By the sounds of the company’s technology, the unsexy business of pouring concrete is not the only solution to our dilapidated water infrastructure.

Founded in 2006, the aim of Curapipe’s technology, Vicus explains, is to fill cracks and holes in the pipelines. It does so with a method known as pigging of a pipeline by using launchers similar to the pigging technology applied in the oil and gas industry – indeed, the founders are oil & gas industry veterans and have applied oil & gas know-how to the water sector. The CurApipe solution accesses the pipeline remotely via standard or gel pigging methodology and can cure multiple background leaks.

Vicus …

Smart Grid Privacy: Much Ado About Nothing

Greg Neichin

When you arrive at a conference straight off a redeye, the best you can hope for is hot coffee and someone on stage making intriguing and provocative statements.  With that in mind, I would like to say a public thank you to Jules Polonetsky, of the Future of Privacy Forum, for keeping me wide awake during this afternoon’s session at the Gridwise Global Forum in Washington, DC.

The most intriguing thing to me about Jules’ commentary was that it was likely interpreted as provocative to many in the audience when in fact, his very articulate defense of why energy data should be viewed as an open platform for application development , would strike most from a software or web services background as fairly mundane.  Most all of the web development world has learned by now that “information wants to be free” and most any respectable software product manager puts the development of APIs (application programming interfaces) and data feeds as a high priority in a world that rewards the ability to port data, support single sign-on, and post content to multiple places.

The basic gist of Jules’ argument boiled down the simple notion as he put it

The B.S. Barometer

Josh Gould

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about the boundaries of clean technology.  He was quick to point a fundamental responsibility we have to provide “B-Squared alerts.” B-Squared he explained is the B.S. Barometer. We had a good chuckle about his terminology.  But now I realize that a good “B-Squared” is useful not just for us, but for the industry as a whole.  How does the cleantech industry violate the B-Squared rule?  That’s a topic worthy of a book – not a blog entry – so I’ll limit my discussion to three common instances:

1.       Unclear or nonexistent value proposition

Can a company point to a quantifiable value proposition where it makes economic sense to buy their product or service instead of the others on the market?  Sounds very basic, but many commentators have (rightly) pointed out that some cleantech companies are either obfuscating their value proposition, or are missing one entirely.

Take biofuels, for example.  Biofuels were all the rage in the 2006 – early 2008 boom days of high gas prices and a strong economy.  But many of these companies went bust in the subsequent credit crunch.

However, that doesn’t mean biofuels necessarily lack a value …

Big promises, but can lighting control systems deliver?

Emma Ritch

Lighting control systems are a hot sector within cleantech. The technology holds the promise of up to 75% reduction in energy use with little, if any, change in occupant behavior. Lighting accounts for about 20% of electricity use in the U.S., for example, so adoption of LCS can have a significant impact on worldwide energy consumption and emissions.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy Buildings Energy Data Book, Sept. 2008

There is significant buzz around the four startups that have come out of stealth in the past year—Adura Technologies, Redwood Systems, Daintree Networks and Cavet Technologies—as well as startups with slightly longer track records, Encelium Technologies and Starfield Controls. There are numerous other startups we’re tracking with complementary and tangential technology solutions, including Lumenergi, Digital Lumens, Juice Technology, Octus Energy and Echoflex.

ESCOs and major lighting corporations are amongst those in trials with LCS startups, and many LCS solutions are near commercial deployment thanks to the overlap in expertise with the IT sector.

Yet for all this attention, the LCS sector is still very early. Estimates are that fewer than 1% of buildings have advanced LCS installed. And there has been little …

China and Cleantech: The Art of War

David Cheng

On September 28-29, the Cleantech Group will co-host a conference in Tianjin, China to talk about the development of Tianjin as an eco-city on par with Masdar City.

As a Chinese-American, I’m conflicted.  On one hand, I’m encouraged that China has taken a leadership position on clean energy, with their impressive stimulus and market share in solar and wind manufacturing.  On the other hand, as a proud American, I’m extremely concerned that we may be ceding the clean technology race to China.

Perhaps the blueprint for China’s rise in clean technology can be best summarized by the works of famous Chinese general Sun Tzu, known for his military treatise “The Art of War.”

“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.”

The US is a leader in innovation because of its great universities and research laboratories, free market principles, and a healthy stock of entrepreneurs.  But as our research analyst Stephen Marcus notes, China is emerging as a source of cleantech innovation and valuable IP.  There are currently over 1,600 government supported incubators and science park In China and China is now fourth in the world in patent origination for six key clean technologies.

“Pretend inferiority and