The Oldest Cleantech Technology?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Up on Mount Ararat, Greenpeace is building a replica of Noah’s Ark. Why? They are using the ark to bring more attention to the plight of climate change.

Yahoo! article

For Greenpeace, the ark is a twofold symbol. First, in the Noah story, the Earth was deluged as by 40 days and 40 nights of rain as punishment for mankind’s sins. Greenpeace wants to make the linkage that climate change is a new manifestation of humanity’s sinfulness — our unconstrained use of fossil fuels that are releasing unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Second, the ark is to remind everyone that climate change’s biggest long-term impacts may be felt through rising sea levels, which will inundate coastal regions around the world where hundreds of millions of people live. It is not totally out of the picture that in the future we may need to build something akin to arks to save these people from the rising of the tides.

I don’t know if rebuilding Noah’s Ark is the best use of activist resources, but it is interesting to note that — even back to Biblical times — humans resorted to technology to save the day from climatoligcal disasters.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

A new desalination tech, low energy, low cost

Nick Bruse runs StrikeConsulting, a cleantech venture consultancy; hosts the cleantech show on the podcast network; and advises Clean Technology AustralAsia Pty Ltd and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia.

Water Availability and Desalination is a hot topic at the moment here in Australia, as in many other areas of the world. Developed countries like Australia are gripped in drought and faced with shifting climate conditions that mean that water availability is becoming more and more pressured.

Around the world in developing countries 1.1 billion people lack access to improved water sources, and nearly 40 percent of the global population does not have access to basic sanitation. source: Worldwatch institute

As with most climate change pressures the solutions to these problems are many and varied including behavioural change and efficiency measures, regulation, new technologies, low cost local solutions and large scale infrastructure projects. All a necessity to deal with this issue.

Recently the i have been observing a range of technology developments and large scale infrastructure projects to deal with this issue.

In a recent episode of Australian Story, we heard about Max Whisson’s dreams of bring fresh water to inland Australia using ‘water roads’ and his latest invention the water windmill.

The CSIRO has recently announced its new partnership to improve membrane technology

The Advanced Membrane Technologies Research Cluster is working to develop the next generation of membrane technology to deliver Australia a safe and sustainable water resource.

Perth Australia has now established one of the largest desalination plants outside of the middle east and set up a 185MW wind farm to power it.

However something that recently came across my desk was this great story out of Mexico of a low energy low cost solution to producing clean drinking water.

The technology works by utilising vapour pressures differences between two large columns of fresh and saline water. The smart part of the technology is that it takes advantage of localised vacuums that can be formed at the top the water columns by using gravity. If you remember your high school science classes this is the same effect that a tube mercury creates when up-ended in to a mercury bath to create a Barometer.

The water vapour pressures above each column are normally in equilibrium, but when the saline water column is heated by only a difference of 10-15 degrees you get a preferential movement to the fresh water column.

This low cost desalination system has been developed by New Mexico State University engineers and can use low grade heat from solar to industrial waste heat to drive the process.

The full article can be found here

Blogroll Review: Grid, Bubbles, and Lead

by Frank Ling

Going off the grid
180,000 American household must be onto something if they can live without the grid. Despite the costs of setting up your own distributed generation, Richard Perez, publisher of Home Power magazine, says that this number increases by one-third each year.

On this this week’s Energy Blog, Jim Fraser says:

“180,000 homes is a very small number when compared to the total population of the U.S., but by increasing by a third each year this could turn into a more significant number. Although expensive there are millions of people who could afford it. The significance to me is that we have the technology to do it and prices are going down. The trend should really accelerate after 2010 when solar power prices start to drop significantly.”

With cleantech hot right now, there is bound to be some irrational exuberance. Some analysts now believe that there will be not one, but two clean tech bubbles.

Martin LaMonica at says:

“The surge in clean technology investment has two areas–solar photovoltaics and biofuels–where there is over-investment on the part of venture capitalists, what many people would consider a bubble.”

In addition, Maurice Gunderson, co-founder of energy investment firm Nth Power, suggests that the best bets are on transformational technologies, most of which involve new materials. He is looking at more efficient photovoltaics for solar and technologies that will make ethanol plants obsolete for biofuels.

Green Processing
Not ony is Intel committed to lower the power requirements for their processing, they are now planning to remove all lead from their chips. Nevertheless, some observers believe there is a ways to go in making the PC manufacturing process environmentally friendly.

On this week’s EcoGeek website, Philip Proefrock says:

“Unfortunately, lead is not the most egregious of these chemicals, and the CPU chip is not the greatest source of contamination inside a PC case. Brominated fire retardants among other chemicals inside the case are more worrying to us than lead is.”

Unleaded chips are cool. Now how about high octane?

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

EE & McKinsey

by Heather Rae

E&ETV covered a May 17th presentation by McKinsey Global Institute on their recent report, “Curbing Global Energy Demand Growth: The Energy Productivity Opportunity.” You can view the presentation via E&ETV (subscription required). On the future of global energy demand, Diana Farrell, director of the Institute, said: “Demand side may be the most fruitful area for focus.”

Since my personal and professional life is consumed these days with energy consumption of old homes, I went straight to the residential section of the report which states: “The residential sector is not only the largest single energy end-use sector, accounting for one-quarter of global demand; it is also where the largest energy productivity opportunities are waiting to be seized.”
And…”High energy prices will have very little impact on residential energy consumption – whether the oil price is at $50 or $70 a barrel. This is due to a range of market imperfections, including subsidizing pricing, principal/agent problems between renters and owners, and the difficulties inherent in measuring savings. These mean that residential energy consumers demand a very high rate of return on energy-efficiency investments.”

May 17th, the day of Farrell’s presentation, was my forty-somethingish birthday, and I whisked myself from this old house project to a spa to wash the plaster out my hair and to soothe some sore muscles.

I also needed to reevaluate my plan to replace the 78% AFUE oil-fired forced-air furnace (that’s in the unvented crawlspace) and a 50-gallon electric water heater (that’s in the make-shift kitchen) with a 96% AFUE condensing propane-fired on-demand boiler. The new boiler, being direct vent, would mean I would not need to spend $1700 to line the deteriorating chimney through which the furnace now vents. The chimney could even go away along with the water tank and the leaky ductwork. The basement would be cleared of obstructions and easier to remediate and insulate.

The plan was not looking good. I had a ballpark estimate for the job – including installation of the boiler and a new distribution system with sleek wall-hung radiators. I entered data about this old house in software called Targeted Residential Energy Analysis Tool (TREAT). (Its algorithms associate building volume with heat and cooling loads with vented and unvented spaces with stack effects and occupancy levels and fuel prices and so on.) I entered data about the HVAC improvement, and clicked, ‘Calculate Model.’

The numbers do not look good for the super-energy-efficient boiler. Yes, it’s fuel switching (from an oil furnace and an electric water heater to propane). Yes, the price of propane per BTU is much more than oil these days. Yes, the model accounts for the changes in water heating baseload consumption. Yes, yes, yes, but the results were unexpectedly awful: I need to show the bank a positive savings to investment ratio in order to get a loan (MaineHousing has 1% and 3% secured loans for energy efficiency improvements.) No loan, no new system.

It’s commonly said in the home performance/green building sector that energy efficiency competes with granite countertops and mud rooms and cherry wainscoting. In my case, the money for what I had hoped would be an energy-efficient and pocketbook-pleasing boiler is competing with framing out and insulating walls and moisture remediation in the basement, all of which have energy consumption implications. I could have a cleaner burning, more energy-efficient system, but one that will cost more in the long haul. These are my trade-offs.

McKinsey’s report finds: “Key areas for policy makers to examine include building shells, more efficient appliances and water heating, compact fluorescent lighting (CFL), and small appliance standby-power requirements. The removal of price subsidies would, we estimate, capture 10 to 20 percent of the available energy productivity opportunity.”

Home performance gets to all of McKinsey’s recommendations, except for removal of price subsidies, and there’s not much I, individually, can do about those. So instead of relishing the idea of a new boiler and hydronic heat on my birthday, I took the cash my dad sent and bought an electric lawn mower and a massage. (Thanks, Dad!)

Other Goings On This Week
Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Consulting lived up to his reputation as an arrogant SOB last Wednesday, and I enjoyed every minute of it, except, perhaps, when he took aim at ‘that lady from the testing company.’ He was referring to me…it through me off…he mocked me before a roomful of architects, taking aim at home performance and building diagnostics. An intuitive genius, Lstiburek can scoff at diagnostics; the rest of us plodders will peer into manometers and take stock of our building experience and books. Among the many Lstiburek-isms of last Wednesday was this gem: ‘fight AlQuaeda, tighten up a home.’ He’s got the cajones to say it. Thanks goodness somebody does.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Honda’s FCX: Out-Priusing the Prius

by Richard T. Stuebi

While the Toyota Prius is the current “must-have” of the “green” community, Honda (NYSE: HMC) is aiming to trump Toyota (NYSE: TM) in the eco-friendly car derby.

Recently, Honda announced that it will commercially-unveil a fuel cell vehicle aimed for U.S. drivers, the FCX — not 10 years from now, not 5 years from now, not in 2010, but in 2008. Yes, that’s right: next year, a fuel cell car will be offered by a major auto manufacturer in the U.S.

Last Friday, the USA Today wrote an enthusiastic review after test-driving a prototype FCX. They raved about pretty much everything — from acceleration, to quietness, to interior size, to its styling, to carbon-neutral seat fabrics. It did seem like a pretty nifty car — even more Prius-like than the Prius itself.

Only in passing did the story mention the big bugaboo: where will drivers get the hydrogen to operate the car? Clearly, the main initial market for the FCX will be in California, where a significant effort called the Hydrogen Highway Network is underway to build hydrogen fueling stations across the state.

I’m encouraged by Honda’s decision to introduce a fuel cell car in the U.S. market. I have to admit that I’ve been somewhat pessimistic about fuel cell vehicles for a variety of reasons — not only hydrogen availability on the road, but also hydrogen production economics and environmental issues, fuel cell economics and reliability, and customer acceptance of a new fuel and prime mover for their cars.

Honda acknowledges that the FCX is not going to be accepted or acceptable to the mass-market upon release: production will not be in the millions, and no doubt the self-selecting trial customers will experience some hassles and nuisances that most customers wouldn’t be willing to endure. However, the commitment of Honda to such a public test fleet indicates that they are true believers in the long-term potential for fuel cell vehicles.

If Honda leads the way in tackling the vehicular challenges for fuel cells, and California sets the example on how to roll out hydrogen infrastructure, then it remains for some major player to solve the remaining obstacle to the hydrogen economy: production of hydrogen from renewable energy sources (i.e., carbon-free and limitless fuel) at economically reasonable terms. Who’s it gonna be?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Freedom Wind Flap

by Heather Rae,

What of personal responsibility? It’s the crux of an article on vehicle idling last week in The Coastal Journal: take personal responsibility and turn off that engine, it says. My neighbor — who thinks Al Gore is the only one to benefit from ‘that movie’ as well as the hullabaloo over global warming — talks about living simply, bicycling to work, and taking personal responsibility for one’s health. (His comments have a Rush Limbaugh echo — ‘America can’t be blamed for global warming’ — so I find our conversations around personal responsibility interesting.)

Fifty miles down Route 295, Steve Bothel, a mechanic in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, built himself a super-insulated home in 1981 that uses passive solar and a waste oil furnace that feeds his domestic hot water, his mechanic’s shop, hot tub and greenhouse. His hobby, he says, is energy independence. It’s the Bergey BWC Excel 10kw wind turbine spinning behind his shop that made me stop to say hello. We conversed beside the open hood of a Ford Jeep. Steve says his next project is an evacuated tube solar collector. He mentions that he has visited the Mars Hill Wind Project in Maine and the Fenner Wind Project in New York and says they are like tourist attractions. He put money into those communities staying at local hotels, buying meals and even, as at Fenner, buying T-shirts.

Another expression of personal responsibility demands a constitution that I, sadly, lack, but forge into loaded with naivite and passion and emerge with grey hairs and a prescription for propranolol. It’s a form of personal responsibility that looks like this:

Beaver Ridge in Freedom, Maine is a 3-turbine project. My colleague, Tom, lives nearby the site. (Click here to see a simulation of the site.) Last Friday, Tom and I drove dirt roads to a house where we were to do a home performance assessment. Tom built the house. It’s down a long, wooded drive, within sight of a tranquil pond, modest and lovely. The owners, former dairy farmers, are intensely involved in the Beaver Ridge Wind Project. They want it: for the farmers’ retirement, for the jobs, for the green credits that will be sold through Maine Interfaith Power & Light, for the housing development that it may keep at bay. While Tom set up the blower door, I heard the lowdown on the sordid local politics that may kill Competitive Energy Services’ 3-turbine project.

The smoke blown by the opposition is noise from the turbines. The fire is who will profit, small community jealousies, questionable use of power by elected officials, and lack of clear land use guidelines. Incredible personal energy goes into putting wind on the ground by people who have little to no financial interest: the petition drives, the election campaigns, the writing and rewriting of land use rules, the long, drawn out phone calls and meetings. Frustrations mount and exhaust patience and will.

Tom and I find that the house is sealed to a perfect tightness, maybe a little more than desired, even. Solar could be the next step, like Steve a hundred miles away, but there’s little sunshine at this wooded site. Advocating for local wind projects is a fine expression of personal responsibility, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Gas Misers or Corn Guzzlers

By John Addison (5/15/07)

People buying new cars are asking if they should get a high mileage hybrid that runs on gasoline, or a flex-fuel vehicle that could run on E85 ethanol. The United States DOE’s and EPA’s, made it easy for car buyers to compare choices.

When you drive, there is most likely ethanol in your fuel tank. Ethanol is a fuel from a plant source that is normally mixed with gasoline. The percentage varies widely. All current U.S. vehicles can run on a blend of up to 10% ethanol (E10).

GM launched a national campaign, “Live Green Go Yellow.” GM and Ford (F) have sold millions of flex fuel vehicles (FFV) on the road. GM is prepared to make up to half its vehicles ethanol capable by 2012.

Although FFVs are hot sellers in the USA, most have never had a drop of E85 in their tank. They are only fueled with standard gasoline blends. There are over 6 million vehicles on the U.S. streets that could run E85. Most never have.

Most FFVs are fuel guzzlers; fueled with E85, they are corn guzzlers. In 2007 the best rated car running on E85 was the Chevrolet Impala, with a United States EPA mileage rating of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway when fueled with E85. For a typical U.S. year of driving, the annual fuel cost would be at $1,657 and 6 tons of CO2 would be emitted by this FFV when running on E85.

By contrast, the EPA rating for a Toyota (TM) Prius running on gasoline was 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 on the highway. The Prius would have an annual fuel cost of $833 and only emit 3.4 tons of CO2, compared to 6 tons from the most fuel efficient E85 offering.

A big problem is that ethanol cuts miles per gallon by about 27%. The energy content of E85 is 83,000 BTU/gallon, instead of 114,000 BTU/gallon for gasoline. Even by 2030, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that only 1.4% of ethanol use will be E85. The vast majority will be for small percentage blending with gasoline.

The EIA forecasts that ethanol use will grow from 4 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2030 (about 8 percent of total gasoline consumption vs. today’s 2%). Ethanol use for gasoline blending grows to 14.4 billion gallons and E85 consumption to only 0.2 billion gallons in 2030. In other words, agriculture will be a big winner without any need to spend millions of tax dollars funding E85 stations.

There is a heated debate about whether ethanol helps the environment. In the U.S., the vast majority of ethanol is processed from corn. There is no current environmental benefit if the source-to-wheels use of ethanol includes diesel farm equipment, fertilizer from fossil fuel, coal produced electricity, diesel delivery trucks hauling ethanol over 1,000 miles to refineries, and then fueling a vehicle with poor mileage.

The amount of U.S. corn that became ethanol exceeds 20 percent. The Corn Growers Association says that by 2015 a third of all the corn grown – or 5.5 billion bushels – likely will be for ethanol. Food prices have increased.

World Watch Institute warns “Conventional biofuels will be limited by their land requirements: producing half of U.S. automotive fuel from corn-based ethanol, for example, would require 80 percent of the country’s cropland.” Thus, large-scale reliance on ethanol fuel will require new conversion technologies and feedstock.

A broad coalition is more enthusiastic about cellulosic rather than corn ethanol. Ethanol and other biofuels can be made from a wide range of plant fiber and waste. Currently corn kernels are more easily processed into fuel than cellulosic corn stover, but new enzyme technology can change that. Future stalk for ethanol may include prairie grasses, Miscanthus, Poplar, Willow and algae. Cellulosic sources could produce ten times the yield per acre of corn.

Cellulosic ethanol could account for all 14.6 billion of forecasted consumption, and even more, without needing special E85 pumps. It could all be blended with existing gasoline and fueled into current and future gasoline vehicles. Such blended cellulosic ethanol creates major opportunities for farmers in the United States and the world. It is incremental business, rather than business that competes with existing food business.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has concluded that with “an aggressive plan to develop cellulosic biofuels between now and 2015, America could produce the equivalent of nearly 7.9 billion barrels of oil per day by 2050. That is equal to more than 50 percent of our current total oil use in the transportation sector and more than three times as much as we import from the Persian Gulf alone.”

Increasingly biofuel will not be made from food; rather it will be made from sources such as waste, grasses, fast growth trees, algae, and biotechnology.

Fueling all current high-mileage cars with E10 helps reduce global warming when the ethanol is from cellulosic sources. Putting E85 ethanol in a vehicle with poor mileage does not help. It does not even help the nation with energy independence.

Until flex-fuel vehicles offer the same high mileage as many current cars, do not buy a FFV. The FFV will not help your pocketbook, the nation’s energy security, nor will it help the environment. When you buy your next vehicle, get high miles per gallon.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution.

Biopower Systems Interview

Nick Bruse runs StrikeConsulting, a cleantech venture consultancy; hosts the cleantech show on the podcast network; and advises Clean Technology AustralAsia Pty Ltd, the organiser of the AustralAsian Cleantech Forums, and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia.

Around 5 months ago I blogged on Biopower Systems an Australian company developing innovative ocean power technologies designed using the principle of bio-mimicry.

In a recent podcast interview with the CEO Tim Finnigan on The Cleantech Show we discussed the technology in more detail as the company continues with its laboratory tests. Scaled up Ocean based prototypes are planned to be tested in 2008.

Tim talks about one of the key aspects of the technology being compliance. That is these devices are designed to be compliant in the ocean, extracting energy at normal wave and current conditions, but yielding compliantly when conditions become excessive. Such as in storm or freak wave conditions.

The result of this that in these designing systems they don’t require the cost, time and testing requried cope with these scenarios. Thus the installed unit cost is lower than more traditional ocean structures, and I suspect testing times for unit resilience in the ocean to be lower also.

Corrosion and maintenance of dynamic components are obvious sensitivities, but for the most part the devices will be made from composite materials with anti-fouling surfaces.

The company has a while to go yet before the scaled ocean prototypes can demonstrate the real potential of the technology, but the company is proceeding according to its milestone projections so far. You can listen to the interview here.

Peak Coal?

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the more passionate debates in the energy community these days centers on the concept of “peak oil”. Peak oil does not mean oil supplies running out; rather, the term “peak oil” refers to the moment in time when oil extraction levels reach their maximum, followed by a long decline — no matter how much oil prices rise and no matter how much new technology is applied in an attempt to lift more oil from underground.

For those who know a fair amount about petroleum geology, supplies and economics, there is a general recognition that peak oil will occur at some point in the future: the debate is when — a few months from now, a few years from now, or a few decades from now. Peak oil is impossible to predict with high confidence because there’s no “dipstick” in the ground to tell observers how much oil is really left in each of the fields — and even if there were, there’s no absolute way of knowing how much of the remaining oil can be yielded due to geologic issues.

Most agree that, once the peak oil moment occurs, the world will begin its transition away from oil for transportation fuels — whether it has prepared for that moment or not. In other words, if we haven’t meaningfully eased our dependence on oil, the decades after peak oil will truly be tumultuous for the modern mobility-reliant culture upon which the human species currently is based.

These types of concerns have never been raised about the supplies of coal. It has been widely assumed that there is an abundant supply of coal (especially in the U.S.), enough to last for centuries. Coal has been increasingly viewed as the “backstop” fossil fuel: plentiful, cheap, known. As long as we can deal with coal’s environmental issues, particularly CO2 emissions, we can always fall back to coal — not only for power generation, but for producing transportation fuels as well.

A recent essay by Richard Heinberg brings these important preconceptions into question. In his essay, “Burning the Furniture”, Heinberg reviews a recently released study by a German organization named Energy Watch Group, in which it is asserted that worldwide coal production will peak in the next 10-15 years.

Without having access to the report, it’s hard for me to opine on the quality of the analysis behind this conclusion. However, if the analysis is basically sound, and the conclusion is directionally valid, this insight is a very, very big deal.

If true, the world energy markets will not be able to rely upon coal as a safety net. The coal plants being built every week in China will face depleting supplies and increasing prices. Price volatility in coal markets will increase dramatically. CO2 emissions will not increase exponentially — the fuel to produce those emissions will be shrinking. Hydrogen and renewables will have to come to the fore, faster and in greater scale — and if these technologies are not economically viable, then there will be forced reductions (e.g., curtailments) in energy use. The U.S. (not the Middle East) will become the geographic region with extreme geopolitical leverage in energy.

If oil and coal both are near the end of their eras, then the world as we know it will change so profoundly, it is hard to imagine. One thing would be for certain: good opportunities for cleantech.

Essay: “Burning the Furniture”

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Blogroll Review: Grease, Weddings, & Ethanol

Grease Power
Looks like folks collecting used vegetable oil for their biodiesel vehicles will be getting competition from….big oil! On the Energy Blog, oil wastes and sludge can be recycled into electricity:

“Chevron Energy Solutions, a Chevron (NYSE: CVX) subsidiary, today announced that it has begun engineering and construction of a system at the City of Rialto’s (California) wastewater treatment facility that will transform wastewater sludge and kitchen grease from local restaurants into clean, renewable power.”

Do you want fries with that? 🙂

Green Wedding
Are you worried your wedding is bad for the planet? Fear not, Wedding TerraPass is now here (at least the beta version). Adam at Terrablog says:

“With your Wedding TerraPass comes a fancy certificate of offset for display at the reception (if so desired), including a nice frame to display it in. The frame is handmade from salvaged Douglas fir, and will continue to serve your framing needs long after the blessed event.”

Did you hear about the wedding rings made of recycled gold?

Ethanol Hyped?
Could these warnings be true? Are we getting too excited about bio-ethanol for fuels? While the debate goes on over the energy and environmental impacts of an ethanol economy, oil execs do not believe ethanol is viable for the near term. Dana Childs at Inside Greentech

While the petroleum company leaders said they’re keen to see renewable energy sources becoming a mass produced reality, 60 percent said it will not be possible by 2010. Of those that believe it will, 18 percent identified ethanol is the most viable for mass production by then, 13 percent said biodiesel and only 3 percent said cellulosic ethanol.”

Dana adds that in an interview with KPMG “forty-four percent [of the executives] identified their biggest risks as financial.”

Any risks to the beer industry? 🙂

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Energy Sources – What the Australian public thinks

Nick Bruse runs StrikeConsulting, a cleantech venture consultancy; hosts the cleantech show on the podcast network; and advises Clean Technology AustralAsia Pty Ltd; the organiser of the AustralAsian Cleantech Forums, and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia.

I’m currently reading Clive Hamilton’s new book “Scorcher – the dirty politics of climate change”. And its a real eye opener on what’s happening in Australian Politics particularly over the last 10 years of the Howard government. We all know how the Australian Government has really dragged its heals regarding action on climate change and the rhetoric about our economy suffering etc. If you want some real facts and figures to back up that stifled frustration and clear up those ‘muddied waters’ its a recommended read.

So how do we all feel when it comes to what energy sources we should turn to in the coming years. CSIRO commissioned a study to look at public opinion in detail. The report found that “there is high public demand for information about new energy technologies and declining tolerance for advocacy of a single solution.” Expand the link below for the rest of the article.

The following is reproduced from the CSIRO website:

The results of one of the most detailed research projects undertaken into public perceptions of new power generation technologies and how they contribute to global warming, were released at the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies in Brisbane today by the Minister for State Development, the Hon John Mickel MP.

26 April 2007

The project found there is high public demand for information about new energy technologies and declining tolerance for advocacy of a single solution.

Conducted by CSIRO for the Centre for Low Emission Technology (cLET), the research also indicated that while 88 – 89 per cent of respondents preferred solar power, after being apprised of some of the problems associated with generating and storing solar, they were willing to consider a range of alternatives.

Public opinion about nuclear power was polarised, with the degree of uncertainty about the technology varying between different regions.

“The results provide significant information for policy makers and energy technologists working on climate change responses.”

There was also a general lack of awareness about what is actually being done to address climate change – including development of low-emission and gas technologies. However, once respondents were included in discussions about subjects such as carbon capture and storage, they were likely to be more positive towards the technology.

cLET Chief Executive, Dr Kelly Thambimuthu (also Chair of the International Energy Agency Greenhouse Gas R&D program), said the project’s aim was to better understand public perceptions of low-emission technologies and to explore any regional differences.

“The research and information provided to focus groups was guided by an advisory panel that included representatives from cLET, CSIRO, government researchers, industry and the environment movement,” Dr Thambimuthu said.

“The results provide significant information for policy makers and energy technologists working on climate change responses.”

The project was conducted in Queensland and New South Wales over the past two years.

Avoiding Rush Hour

By John Addison (5/9/07)

Now you can save $1,000 per year, reduce stress and improve your health. How? Never face rush hour alone. Increasingly people are using one or more approaches to avoiding lost hours in gridlock: participating in flexible work, using the HOV lane, riding public transit, and walking. AAA determined that many drivers spend about $8,000 driving their vehicle. Save a $1,000 of that by using one of these strategies.

In the Oil and Coal Age, everyone drove solo during gridlock hours to their one work location to toil over their designated machine. Now people are most effective working some days at one location, other times at home, others at a customer or supplier locations. We can take advantage of the new flexible workplace solutions to annually save hundreds of wasted hours, thousands of gallons of wasted gas, and pocket thousands of dollars. Hewlett Packard saves over 2 million round-trip commutes for its North American employees with an effective Telework program. Info tech meets cleantech.

The semiconductor chips in your computers, electronic games and mobile devices are likely to be made with equipment from Applied Materials. Their program, “Applied Anywhere,” addresses their global business environment and provides agility to be closer to the customer as well as supporting the needs of many employees who perform some or their entire job outside the traditional office place. The program “Applied Anywhere” supports eligible employees that at different times may need to work from one of several corporate offices, at home, at an airport, or at a customer site.

Investigate your employer’s flexible work program or simply spend the next rush hour working at home

It is a joy to sail past gridlock traffic in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. HOV lanes have been a major success in encouraging people to save gas and ride together. A common requirement is that the lane only be used by vehicles with two or more passengers during designated rush hours. It is easy to join a carpool. See if there is one organized at work, or go to your favorite Internet site and type “carpool” and your zip code.

Public transit saved 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline in the USA in 2006. Public transit ridership increased 25% in ten years. 56% of transit trips are work related. Public transit is widely used in cities where light rail and buses are convenient and arrive frequently. 73% of all U.S. public transit rides occur in areas with over 5 million people. Most people in New York and many in Chicago commute to work with public transit.

Lauren Hurley loves living in Chicago. She finds the city alive with people, career opportunities, and places to be. Unlike her bedroom community friends, Lauren does not own a car. She can walk to the grocery store, to friends, and to neighborhood cafe.

Chicago’s bus service takes her to a stop that is a two minute walk to work. Being environmentally concerned, Lauren likes the fact that per person, riding a bus results in only 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions of driving solo. Lauren would not want a car in Chicago, “Parking is a major hassle. Parking lots and parking tickets are quite expensive. Public transit and taxis are more convenient.”

Enjoy a long life. Walk an extra mile each day to improve your health and burn extra calories. You will also help the environment. Next time you are stuck waiting for a parking place, considering parking the car, turning off that engine spewing emissions and walking.

In Washington D.C., eleven percent of the residents walk to work. An added 34% of commuters use public transit combined with some walking.

Ellen De Generes quipped, “My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution. A related article about Flexible Work and Cool Commutes is at the Clean Fleet Report.

Ups & Downs

by Heather Rae,

On about the eighth hour of scraping the lead paint off of the exterior of the old summer kitchen this weekend, the word, ‘torch’ comes to my mind. My mind wanders in the tedium; my moods mercurial. Take a torch to it, I think. The thought wings away; I envision a wall of smooth, ivory-painted cedar clapboard and keep scraping.
I’m vulnerable to passing comments these days. At the ‘transfer station’ (aka, the dump), I collar a stranger in an antique Ford pickup. He agrees to haul a vintage electric stove and hunk of cabinetry from my house to the dump. He claims a discarded oak chair from the wood pile. I later learn from his neighbors that he is a former commissioner of a large government agency in Maine. He says, ‘I did what you’re trying to do, and I’ll never do it again.’ I fight feeling disheartened and foolish. On Sunday night, a former publisher of newspapers whom I had met at a sustainable energy expo drops by the house, leaving his convertible red Mercedes sportcar running. I am in my PJs at 7:30pm, sick with a cold and happy for the company. He’s come to this town to take pictures of the straw bale house that is going up a block away. (I can see the vehicles of the construction crews from my kitchen window. We will have two straw bale houses in this town upon its completion; the first is four houses down my street and is finished in stucco.) The publisher walks through this old house and exclaims, ‘oh, this is great. What a great house!’ My mood lifts. Later in the week, an antiques dealer stops by to inquire about a Russian pot that he had seen in the dirt-floor basement of this house (‘It’s worth $750’.) He is upset that I have removed the original, lead-laden cabinet in the old summer kitchen. I feel guilty. I give him an art deco lighting fixture. All the other fixtures have gone to a ‘stuff’ dealer on Route 1. On Monday, the mailman hops out of his buzzy little white truck, hands me the mail and says, ‘the house is looking better every day.’ I need to hear these encouraging words.
There’s a hole in the wall in the upstairs bedroom where the Jotul stove vent has been removed. I’ve torn down a plaster and lathe wall between a bedroom and an abutting space to create a master bedroom. Now there’s a seam exposed to the balloon framing and cellulose insulation. I’ve torn out the code-violating kitchenette in the closet off of this bedroom. It needs sheetrock…or something. I’ve gone through two young men who excessively assure me that they can sheetrock and do good work. Neither do. I talk with them about insulation and the embedded energy of sheetrock and consideration of alternatives. The words have no meaning. In scraping the old summer kitchen, I confirm that the sill is rotting. I remove the clapboard and board around the sill. I tear out the old windows on the north side — with views of the neighbor’s garage and clothes line. The northern exposure will be double-walled and double-insulated with one small window.
Moving forward, after lots of deliberation and conversations with my home performance contractor, I have decided on a Baxi on-demand boiler for heat and hot water. With the Baxi, the old oil-fired (79% AFUE) forced air furnace and ductwork in the basement will go away. I can then remediate the moisture in the basement, air seal it and apply a vapor barrier without the obstruction of the furnace. With the Baxi, the electric water heater tank that takes up a corner of the make-shift kitchen will also go away. And, the Baxi will obviate the need to line the chimney to the tune of $1800: the Baxi vents through the wall. It can be solar thermal-ready, for future installation of a solar thermal panel on the roof of the summer kitchen. At 94%-96% AFUE, the Baxi qualifies for a Federal tax credit. It’s a plan that sounds like progress.

Other Goings On This Week
I hear from exhibitors at LightFair 2007 this week in New York City that the CFL controversy is heating up. The article in the Portland Press Herald about the woman who broke a CFL in her home and was instructed to cordon off the room has been making the rounds. Two people sent it to me over the last few weeks asking what’s going on up here in Maine. The response, I think, is to look what’s going on at LightFair, and to ask why other energy-efficient lighting technologies don’t have the consumer facetime of CFLs. More on that later.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Blogroll Review: Beers, Cars, & Responsibility

Less Filling?
Back in the 80’s, there was a great movie called “Back to the Future.” It was about a car that could time travel. There was also something about a boy and scientist trying to change the past …but they not succeed in preventing the Kennedy Assassination! At the end of the film, we realize the car is really from the future. It runs on beer and the future has just arrived.

On this week’s Energy Blog: “Australian beer maker Foster’s is going to generate clean energy and clean water from brewery waste water by using a fuel cell in which bacteria consume the sugar, starch and alcohol in the waste. The fuel cell is expected to produce 2 kilowatts of power — enough to power a household — and the technology would eventually be applied in other breweries and wineries owned by Foster’s. The cell should be operating at the brewery by September.”

All I ever wanted was a car that could talk. 🙂

Go Go Google
Speaking of cars, would anyone drive a car built by Microsoft? Perhaps the software giant has a secret Xbox racer somewhere but it looks like Google is betting on the plug-in.

On this week’s Venture Beat, Matt Marshall writes about Google’s grant to Calcars:

“Google’s for-profit foundation has given a $200,000 grant to, a group that advocates the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric cars.”

There’s always Ctrl-Alt-Del before you cra…..

This next story has nothing to do with cars or beer or cars that drink beer but about responsibility. Some environmental groups have pointed out that Apple is not socially responsible when it comes to the environment. Apple responded.

So does the company get a pass? Greenpeace says sort of:

“It’s not everything we asked for. Apple has declared a phase out of the worst chemicals in its product range, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) by 2008. That beats Dell and other computer manufactures’ pledge to phase them out by 2009. Way to go Steve!

But while customers in the US will be able to return their Apple products for recycling knowing that their gear won’t end up in the e-waste mountains of Asia and India, Apple isn’t making that promise to anyone but customers in the USA.”

What about a computer that drinks beer?

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Cleantech Venture Capital – Still Rising

As part of our ongoing series on stories on investment in the cleantech sector, we had a chance to discuss the sector with one of the venture capitalists at Emerald Technology Ventures.

Scott MacDonald is an Investment Director with Emerald Technology Ventures, a global leader in cleantech venture capital. Founded in 2000 under the name SAM Private Equity, Emerald is a pioneer in this rapidly emerging sector and is focused on innovative technologies in energy, materials and water. With offices in Zurich, Switzerland and Montreal, Canada, Emerald manages three venture capital funds and two venture capital portfolio mandates totaling over US$380 million. Scott currently serves as Chairman of RuggedCom and as a Director of Solicore and SoftSwitching Technologies. Prior to joining SAM, Scott held the position of Managing Director at OPG Ventures Inc., the venture capital subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation. Previous to OPG Ventures, Scott worked for ACF Equity, an early-stage venture capital company focused on investing in information technology companies. Scott graduated with a Bachelors degree from McMaster University and an MBA from Dalhousie University. He is a member of the North American Advisory Committee of the CleanTech Venture Network.

I know a bit about the history of SAM and Emerald Technology Ventures, and as one of the oldest cross-border investment groups in the cleantech area, I am very curious to get the Emerald Technology take on a number of issues. So we put to Scott a few thoughts and questions to get their take:

Emerald sponsored the San Francisco GreenVest 2007 conference I am chairing in June, and you are speaking there – can you share a few of your insights on the future of the cleantech area as an investment asset class?

I think we are in the early days but there is certainly an element of notoriety that the sector has attracted over the past 12 months with scientists, politicians and venerable VCs claiming action is required now to save the planet from global warming. A reputable and experienced LP in the venture asset class told me just last week that every generalist fund they speak with mentions an initative in cleantech. I think the great generalist funds will invest in the sector (as you know a few already are) and they will likely be successful. The specialist funds like Emerald will continue to map out and invest in innovating technologies because of our technical expertise and experience. Based on a number of successes exits to date in our first funds (Evergreen, Schmack Biogas, Pemeas), the specialization strategy seems to be working well. A really exciting development is that we are starting to see repeat entrepreneurs. Cleantech entrepreneurs that have successfully exited and are looking to try it again – and we couldn’t be happier. This was a key factor in the growth of the IT sector in the late 80s and 90s.

And can you fill me in a bit on the ins and outs of the recent fund history – the mandates with CDP and Ontario Power, your fund raise last year, and the subsequent MBO to form Emerald?

In 2000, SAM Group (Sustainable Asset Management), a leading asset management company specializing in sustainability investments and headquartered in Zurich, launched SAM Private Equity as its venture capital arm. That same year SAM Private Equity closed the SAM Sustainability Private Equity Fund and the SAM Private Equity Energy Fund with a combined EUR 90 million in commitments from leading institutions and strategic corporations. Both of these first funds are fully invested. In 2004, SAM Private Equity was awarded the portfolio management mandate from la Caisse de Dépot et Placement du Québec (CDP), a large Canadian-based pension fund, to manage its direct energy technology venture capital portfolio. Following the awarding of this mandate, SAM Private Equity increased its North American presence with two former members of the CDP team and established a North American office in Montreal, Quebec. In 2005, SAM Private Equity was awarded its second portfolio management mandate from Ontario Power Generation, a large Canadian electric utility, to manage its direct energy technology venture capital portfolio. To further strengthen its North American investment focus, two members of the former venture capital arm of Ontario Power also joined the team.

In March we announced the final close of our latest cleantech focused venture fund with commitments of EUR 135 million (US$180 million). We are going through a name change but the fund will be renamed Emerald Technology Ventures Fund II. Strong investor demand helped us exceed our original target for the new fund of EUR 100 million. Investors in the new fund are leading investment companies, financial institutions and multinational corporations from around the globe including: GIMV – Belgium, Rabobank – Netherlands, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec – Canada, Axpo Holding – Switzerland, Springbridge Limited (Advised by Consensus Business Group – UK), Credit Suisse – Switzerland, Deere & Company – USA, DSM Venturing – Netherlands, The Dow Chemical Company – USA, KPC Energy Ventures, Inc. – Kuwait, Piper Jaffray Private Capital – USA, Suncor Energy Inc. – Canada, Unilever Corporate Ventures and Volvo Technology Transfer AB – Sweden.

I have to ask, the name change – Sustainable Asset Management was an old brand in the cleantech investment sector, why the name change to Emerald?

Following the buy-out we are a private independent VC manager now and as such can no longer use the SAM brand. The SAM brand is powerful but it also was the source of some market confusion for our venture capital division. It’s clear now that Emerald is an agile and independent global VC manger with in-house expertise in the cleantech sector focused on investing exclusively in the cleantech sector and we have a new fund to do deals.

How many deals have you done from the new fund, how much capital have you employed, and what are you expecting to do over the next 12- 24 months?

We have made three investments out of the new fund and are closing on two more which should be announced within the month. We have only announced two of the investments to date – Vaperma and Identec (details of each is on our web site)
I would expect we will invest in about 6 portfolio companies in total this year. We like to invest between US$2 -5 million in the first round depending on the opportunity and the stage. Technology, market and management are what’s important to us – we will consider all stages. Well…if it’s just a conceptual idea on a bar napkin we need to know the entrepreneur has made himself and others very wealthy in the past (preferably us – back to the serial entrepreneur comment).

What’s your passion these days? What technologies are you focused on?

I think there is an incredible opportunity for new technologies to help upgrade the antiquated electricity grids in Europe and North America and to leap frog into the incredible build-out that is going on in countries like India and China. China last year built an average of five 300 megawatt electricity plants a week and energy consumption is expected to continue rising fast as China aims to quadruple the size of its economy by 2020. This means a lot of new grid infrastructure technology will be deployed. We have a number of portfolio companies in the “smart Grid” space and will continue to seek out investments in this space.

You’ve had a couple of recent exits in fuel cells – what fund were they from, and has that changed your appetite for similar technology areas in the future?

We have had recent exits in this area: Pemeas which we sold to BASF and Cellex which we sold to Plug. We still have an number of other FC investments in our portfolio that we are bullish on – Angstrom Power and PolyFuel. I would say we have learned a lot about the general FC market and understand many of the technology challenges and market adoption risks much better. We are still interested in the FC space – I would just say we are a more sophisticated FC investor now.

What does Emerald see as the main differences between investing in cleantech in Europe versus the US?

The topic of an article in itself but quickly: Deal structure, Corporate governance model, Company history (many family business in Europe), labour laws, language, proximity and access to stock exchanges which are more accommodating to VC backed companies (Frankfurt Prime Standard, AIM), valuations (typically more favourable than the US – comparable to Canada where we are also very active). The short answer is lots but both regions provide great opportunity to generate investor returns. Again or investment thesis is based on the fact that unlike IT, cleantech is a global business and as such, investment opportunities are not limited to Silicon Valley or any other specific geography. At Emerald Technology Ventures we have taken a distinctive approach to addressing the challenges associated with technology specialization and geographic diversity. Our approach includes having technically competent people in-house and locating our Partners and Technology Specialists in two of the most important Cleantech markets in the world: North America and Europe.

We have done a lot of writing at Cleantech Blog on topics including ethanol, solar – so I’d like to get your 1 sentence rapid fire take on a couple of always topical cleantech investment debates:
– Thin film vs. Conventional PV – Thin film if you have deep pockets and patience
– Solar concentrators vs. Flat Panel – No comment, yet.
– Cellulosic vs. Corn Ethanol – Science project vs. commodity. I’m a VC…science project always wins.
– Cleantech vs. Greentech – Make great products, build great businesses and provide great returns to investors (and hopefully help out our world along the way) and no one will care what you call it.

Thanks Scott. Especially with those last comments, you’ve provided some good food for thought. The venture capital sector is built around high risk, high reward, and you guys are certainly in the mix. We continue to keep our fingers crossed that cleantech sector can deliver on the rewards side. You can find more on Emerald at And don’t forget to visit GreenVest on June 25 in San Francisco.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Dear Sam

Dear Sam,

We met at the narrow, cavernous bar in the Philadelphia Airport. You were heading home to Ohio from Maine, a business trip. I was heading home to Maine from Ohio, a business trip.

You were in Maine to refurbish a commercial building in a long-time-ailing, once-industrial town. I was in Ohio to learn about building green.

I called you an idiot for being a climate change sceptic. You might remember me.

My flight delayed in Philadelphia, I lay on the floor at Gate 14 waiting (and waiting) with a copy of Vanity Fair, the Green Issue, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio photo-montaged beside an adorable polar bear pup. This magazine is not my usual read…so Hollywood, so New York gossip, so superficial. I suspect it may not be yours either.

Feet aloft, here’s a taste of what I saw in this heavy, glossy magazine stuffed with ads for cars, fashion, gadgets and alcohol:

  • an ad in black and white of sexy and sweaty young models obliviously getting it on in Diesel clothing while Manhattan, London and South Dakota flood. In one of the ads, a model dreamingly straddles a palm tree. The Diesel pitch: “Global Warming Ready.”
  • ad ad for Levi’s “eco jeans. 100% organic cotton” with a full-page image of another half-naked couple geting it on.

But for an ad from Abundant Forests, the line-up is the usual overdose of consumerism. I read that Lancome is “embracing a range of eco-chic initiatives” and “will plant one tree for each of the first 10,000 bottles of Cell Defense that are sold.” (That’s a lot of landfill for one tree, right?) I read that a beauty entrepreneur “has launched support of the endangered sea life [coral] with a luminescent two-toned powder compact encased in nickel and embossed with a coral branch” A portion of the proceeds from the compact will benefit research on the effects of global warming on coral reefs.

I understand your sceptism about climate change…your aversion to ditching the Expedition you worked hard to afford. I have my loves as well (imported perfume, imported wine, soft toilet paper.) I understand that the messenger (“Algore”) isn’t a trusting source for you. I get it. It can be hard to get past the messenger, but you said you would try.

I hope your project in Maine moves forward. As I heard in Ohio, the greenest building is the one not built. If we should meet again, we can talk about greenwashing, starting with the ads in Vanity Fair. If you do pick up Vanity Fair, read the article about Myron Ebell at Competitive Enterprise Institute. I mentioned it and him at the bar. It’s a very good article. We can talk about astroturfing. And, next time, I buy the drinks.

PS I’m sorry I called you an idiot.

Other Goings On This Week
My brother and his wife are gutting their house in the Hudson Valley. They just bought it; it needs a gutting. I stuck around last Saturday for an interview with Radiant Construction, contractors who bring Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) credentials to the project. I liked them, partly because Joe Levy and I scuffled over green building concepts. Joe uses Icynene(R) Spray Foam. The program with which I work, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR(R), advocates dense-pack cellulose. Personally, I’d use both depending on the application. Joe said the whole-house ceiling fan was a great way to remove warm air from the house. I was taught whole-house fans are bad. The fan is going away when the ceiling is opened up to the rafters, so that argument ended abruptly. Ken Tohinaka of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation said during the ACI Conference in Ohio, “it’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.” The saying could easily apply to green home construction. I look forward to seeing how my siblings and I attempt to get things approximately right.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.