Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

Bob Metcalfe is a friendly, handsome, easy-going sort, and he sported a bit of Saturday stubble when we spoke over a Thai lunch in Boston a few weeks back. Bob, an MIT grad who wears the school ring, is also the founder of 3-Com and the interim CEO of a biofuel startup, GreenFuel. Over lunch I did not learn much more about GreenFuel than is available on the company’s website, nor more than is available on xconomy.com. Xconomy.com has been goading the company, and back in July 2007 published Bob’s five-point plan to rejuvenate it and the technology.

Which is fascinating: high yield algae farms recycle carbon dioxide from flue gases to produce biofuels and feed. Algae’s ’bout as green as it gets, and the GreenFuel process has biomimicry going for it: “Why expensively sequester CO2 when it can be profitably recycled?” However, growing algae, the kind needed for GreenFuel, isn’t as easy as it would seem, thus the five-point fix-it plan.

I wanted to ask Bob, “you’re a wealthy guy; you don’t need the money; so why do you invest in this greentech stuff?” … but instead peeled back a suggestion of an answer from the table banter. He invests in non-cleantech ventures as well as cleantech, would love to get into nuclear…and he is impressed with McCain and Romney, presidential candidates with same-old-oil-and-coal-box energy ideas that nod to cap-and-trade. What I surmised chatting with Bob is that his world view is one of business and technology and finance; solutions to problems aren’t found in government, and GreenFuel is a business venture.

It’s a world view with its own language, and it reminds me of heady days in 1980s-New York, dating investment bankers whose European and Asian compatriots oriented to the oppulence of Hotel Plaza Athenee — an airy space floating out of touch with the masses, delivered by private car with driver. I heard the language and the world view again on E&E TV as Monica Trauzzi interviewed Michael Liebreich, CEO and founder of New Energy Finance, a London-based company that specializes in research of clean energy and carbon markets. He was talking about game theory in negotiations around climate change: nice, retaliating, forgiving, clear. The Liebreich interview is a fun, intellectual ride, but within it, like conversations I have with engineers and financiers, some critical link to success is missing…people and their own motivations to buy what engineers and financiers are selling.

Bob Metcalfe and I first met on the plaza outside of the Christian Science Mother Church, so it was curious when a September 2006 issue of the Church’s publication, Sentinel, Exploring the World of Spirituality and Healing, recently crossed my desk. In an article, “Love Enough to Change the Climate,” the editors wrote:

“[There isn’t] much doubt that the primary cause of climate change is rooted in human behavior, and especially in the world’s accelerating deforestation and the consumption of fossil fuels.” Asking how to respond and adjust, the editors wrote, “We don’t know how to ‘engineer’ attitudinal and social change. But we do know something about change at the level of individual experience–at the mental, moral, and spiritual levels. The one thing we are sure of is that lasting and universally beneficial change comes through spiritual transformation. We know, too, the importance of understanding what it is that actually needs changing, what produces the alterative effect, and how change for the better can come about in a systematic and dependable way. All of these steps are essentials in healing spiritually. And ultimately, the solution to every challenge is spiritual–it lies in the human mentality yielding to divine intelligence and thereby being reborn, or re-formed…Transformation of human character and behavior does not happen solely by national leaders signing treaties, by legislatures passing laws, by government agencies making policy or regulatory enforcement changes. Public attitudes change one heart at a time…Just as our bodily health mirrors the quality and tendencies of our thoughts, our states of collective social well-being and environmental health reflect humanity’s mental state.”

The article delves really deep into CS-speak which I find hard to comprehend, and ends: “Cannot we, as a global family, love enough to change the mental climate for the better? Can’t we love Earth and those living on it it enough to commit to a Year of Thinking Differently. God’s gift is the space to do just that.”

This past week, I heard Elton John on the radio for the hundredth time, but the words of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” meant something for the first time. With the launch of Focus the Nation, a national student teach-in on global warming solutions for America, I reflected on the need to heal the planet, but in the context of markets and the global financiers, the venturers and the angels, the rounds and flights, as money in Silicon Valley and New York rushes to cleantech:

Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light

I can’t help but wonder, can Focus the Nation transform the consciousness of the sons of bankers and the sons of lawyers? Will global financiers respond to a transformed and healing world view or are these world views forever disconnected?

One day, I’ll ask Bob a clearer question: for you, as an individual, what is the connection between markets, your companies and healing the planet?

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, is a consultant in cleantech market management and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

FutureGen Stalled?

FutureGen is the major US Department of Energy backed effort to pilot a technological solution to prove that carbon capture and sequestration from coal fired power plants is possible. At a slated price tag of $1.5 Billion ($1 Bil estimated originally, now estimated at $1.8 Billion), it is one heck of a science project – but one that sorely needs to be done.

Now that project appears to have hit a snag. While the site the consortium picked to build the project was selected in December as Mattoon, Illinois, after a short delay in responding, the DOE is now hesitating to give formal approval – their Record of Decision.

The CEO of the FutureGen Alliance, Michael Mudd, seems confused as to why, though cost overruns, disagreements about the scope and technological objectives, and objections to moving to fast for good practice have been suggested.

After thinking about it this morning, I had a few initial reflections:

  1. We are a nation of massive coal reserves and 50% of our power comes from coal generation. Investing in clean coal technology should definitely be a prime DOE objective. let’s keep our comparative advantage in energy.
  2. While CCS is likely to be an expensive way to abate greenhouse gases, if we are going to solve the global warming problem, we are going to need help from everything and the kitchen sink. Pilots exactly like this need to be tried.
  3. At the kind of price tag and scale up risk we are talking about with CCS, government research support and funding is vital.
  4. On a practical level, the Department of Energy is 74% of this project. I really do not understand why there should be any miscommunication. He who writes the checks makes the call. If they have real concerns over cost overruns, technology, or management, make the changes and get going.

There, I said it. Now let’s just get it done, people.

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 Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairs Cleantech.org, and a blogger for the CNET Cleantech Blog.

Smart Grids and Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (1/28/08). In the future, utilities will pay you to plug-in your vehicle. Millions will plug-in their electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and fuel cell vehicles (FCV) at night when electricity is cheap, then plug-in during the day when energy is expensive and sell those extra electrons at a profit. Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology is a bi-directional electric grid interface that allows a plug-in to take energy from the grid or put it back on the grid. V2G helps solve the major problem that demand for electricity is high during the day when everything from industrial plants to air conditioning is running full blast and then excess electricity is wasted at night.

Several early models of passenger vehicles have enough energy stored in advanced batteries to power several homes for hours. Hybrid electric buses and heavy trucks could power many homes or a school or a hospital in an emergency. Recent announcements demonstrate that electric utilities and some auto makers want to make V2G a reality.

The Smart Grid Consortium, established in December 2007 by Xcel Energy, will select a community of approximately 100,000 residents to become a Smart Grid City using V2G. Potential benefits include lower utility bills for residents, smarter energy management, better grid reliability, improved energy efficiency, and support for EVs and PHEVs.

Current consortium members include Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx. Smart Grid City will use a realtime high-speed two-way communication throughout the distribution grid. Smart meters and substations will be integral. Installation will be made of thousands of in-home control devices and the necessary systems to fully automate home energy use.

The current electrical grid is poorly designed for distributed generation of power. Individuals and businesses lose months and connect fees when they add solar and other forms of renewable energy to the grid. Smart Grid City will easily support up to 1,000 easily dispatched distributed generation technologies including PHEVs, distributed batteries, solar and wind.

In addition to Smart Grid City, another major EV/V2G initiative is unfolding.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance and Project Better Place have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a mass-market for electric vehicles in Israel which is an excellent target market: it has a sales tax exceeding 60% for gasoline vehicles, gasoline costs over $6 per gallon, most driving fits the range of electric vehicles, and the government strongly supports energy independence.

Project Better Place plans to deploy a massive network of battery charging spots. Driving range will no longer be an obstacle, because customers will be able to plug their cars into charging units in any of the 500,000 charging spots in Israel. An on-board computer system will indicate to the driver the remaining power supply and the nearest charging spot. Nissan, through its joint venture with NEC, has created a battery pack that meets the requirements of the electric vehicle and will produce it in mass volume. The entire framework will go through a series of tests starting this year.

The Israeli model is different than the rapid battery swap model that Better Place has promoted as better than “dangerous” fast charging. For the future, Renault is working on development of exchangeable batteries for continuous mobility.

As part of the solution framework, the Israeli government will provide tax incentives to customers, Renault will supply the electric vehicles, and Project Better Place will construct and operate an Electric Recharge Grid across the entire country. Electric vehicles will be available for customers in 2011.

Just as wireless service providers offer smartphones at discounted prices, Project Better Place will offer discounted electric vehicles with usage pricing plans. Pre-paid 600 kilometer cards are one approach that is suggested. A free car on a four-year plan in France is another idea mentioned by Shai Agassi, CEO of Project Better Place. Annual use of an EV should be less than the average cost of $8,000 per year for using a gasoline in many countries including the USA.

Shai Agassi predicts that Israel will have over 100,000 electric vehicles in use by 2010. This will be five percent of the nation’s vehicle population. The number represents a significant step towards energy independence.

Project Better Place has already received over $200 million of venture capital investment. Shai Agassi presented their new business model at Davos. Mr. Agassi was an executive at SAP that lead the software company to being the enterprise software leader ahead of Oracle, IBM, and all others. Agassi’s Davos Insights

Success with V2G would be a double win for electric utilities. Millions of EVs and PHEVs would expand the sale of electricity as an alternative to oil. Utilities could avoid building more dirty peaking power plants. Instead they could buy back electricity at peak hours from vehicle drivers. Clean Fleet Article It would be a financial win-win for all.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report with archives of over 60 articles and reports about electric vehicles, V2G, biofuels, fleet success and more.

Powering the Planet

by Richard T. Stuebi

“Powering the Planet” is the title of an extraordinary speech that is regularly given by Nate Lewis, Professor of Chemistry at CalTech. It is a bit long and detailed, but very much worth reading, as it elegantly frames the scale of the worldwide energy/environmental challenges to be faced in the coming decades.

The gist of the presentation is that aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency is critical — but we still need to supply the remaining human energy requirement in some carbon-free fashion, which leaves us relatively few viable options:

  • Nuclear power, which concerns Lewis not for safety/security reasons but because of inability to expand nuclear utilization quickly/sufficiently to meet the world’s needs
  • Carbon sequestration of fossil fuel burning, which Lewis says may not be available in time or at the volumes necessary to have significant beneficial impact on climate change
  • Hydro, geothermal, wind and ocean energy, which are all fine in Lewis’ view, but inadequate in scope to supply global energy demands
  • Bio-based energy, which Lewis finds to be highly inefficient and therefore unlikely to be able to provide more than a small fraction of worldwide energy requirements

This leaves solar energy, which Lewis concludes is the best hope for the planet — technologically known to work, scalable with no binding supply limitations, at potentially reasonable economics with continued advancement. Then Lewis closes with the clincher: if we’re going to succeed with solar energy, our priorities need to change:

“In the United States, we spend $28 billion on health, but only about $28 million on basic solar research. Currently, we spend more money buying gas at the pump in one hour than we spend funding basic solar research in our country over an entire year. Yet, in that same hour, more energy from the sun is hitting the Earth than all of the energy consumed on our planet in that year. The same cannot be said of any other energy source.”

‘Nuf sed.

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: Cleantech Bubble, Patents, & Jobs

by Frank Ling

Almost As Hot As Healthcare

Nothing is more important than our health. Even the environment, you ask (which arguably affects our health directly and indirectly)? At least that’s what the markets are telling us…for now.

Clean technologies are now becoming mainstream, yet investors are cautious for many reasons.

Rob Day, in a recent article at GreenTech Media, says that business news tends to be suggests a greater possibility of a bubble in cleantech than in healthcare. Here are some reasons:

1. Health care is a huge market, but so are global markets for energy, water and materials, so sometimes it might be useful to take a step back and recognize just how early we are in the process of creative destruction of these huge industries.

2. Another reason is that a few cleantech entrepreneurs and investors persist in making bold statements about how their ideas/ investments are going to re-make the world in the blink of an eye.

3. Finally, there’s always confusion about publicly-traded stocks versus venture investments, in terms of thinking about valuations, etc.

Reason two suggests that journalists are wary of hype and while companies need to impress investors, there is going to be a lot of skepticism. From a media point of view, this makes sense. Journalists should be objective and cover all relevant points of view on any story.

Here are some numbers. The US spent $2.5 billion on cleantech in 2007, which was in increase of 67% from 2006. In contrast, healthcare got $10 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion or 17% from the previous year.

And so cleantech is definitely on the radar and there is going to be growth. But for now, healthcare is a hotter sector.

Open Source Green

Popcorn styrofoams in packaging are the stuff of childhood memories, but no more. Due to their volume and their persistence in the environment, companies are phasing them out.

It turns out not only are companies adopting environmentally friendly practices, they are sharing their techniques openly.

Heather McKee writes in EcoGeek:

Inspired by open source movement behind Creative Commons and the Linux OS, the WBCSD and these companies believe that by sharing patents that reduce pollution and waste, they will provide a spawning ground for new collaborations in efficiency and sustainability.

The WBCDSD or World Business Council for Sustainable Development includes big players like IBM, Sony, Nokia, and Pitney Bowes.

I’m sure the penguin would be proud! 🙂

Job Safety

So are we in a recession or are we just hitting a little rough spot? There is still debate but with uncertainty in the minds of many, it may be a good idea where to look for jobs.

Well, the oil and petroleum industries are actively recruiting. While some may not find that to their taste, the entire energy sector is in fact growing and this includes alternative energy.

Robert Rapier, in his R-squared Energy Blog, writes:

I always recommend that people look for something that interests them in either the energy or health care field. I am not as familiar with the manpower issues in the health care field, but we have serious shortages in the energy sector.

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.

Big Technology: Geo-Engineering

by Richard T. Stuebi

For a while now, I’d been reading bits and pieces about the concept of geo-engineering: undertaking macro-scale actions in the atmosphere to counteract the impact of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. From what little I’d read, it seemed like the ideas of crackpots.

That was until my Cleveland Foundation colleague Kathleen Cerveny sent me a most intriguing link to a videoed lecture by David Keith from the University of Calgary on the website TED.

No kook, Prof. Keith argues that it’s very possible to inject large quantities of sulfates high above the stratosphere, and in so doing put a brake on climate change far more rapid than can be accomplished by shifting our energy system to reduce emissions.

In this talk, he leaves unstated the technological approach for accomplishing this task, though he claims interestingly that it could be done at relatively moderate costs of a couple percent of world GDP.

He also points out how dangerous this pandora’s box of geo-engineering would be to open. It seems akin to the dilemmas associated with the discovery of how to harness atomic energy: once you know about it, it so profoundly affects the future fate of the human species that it becomes imperative to institute a global approach to controlling this knowledge for the forces of good rather than evil.

Interesting watching — have a look.

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.

Bringing Seapower to the Fight Against Global Warming

The cleantech sector has developed as a major player in the fight against climate change. One of my friends, Dan Whaley, has founded a company called Climos to attack global warming in a new way, sinking massive amounts of carbon into the ocean depths using ocean iron fertilization. The approach has seen significant scientific study, but as he acknowledges, still has a ways to go to prove its effectiveness. That is where Climos comes in. The exciting part is the sheer scale of the potential carbon sequestration (on the order of a billion tons) and the low cost (possibly on the order of $5 to 7 per ton, according to Dan). Dan and Climos believe that they can use iron fertilization to sequester tremendous amounts of carbon, play a big part in reducing global warming, and use the carbon trading markets to finance the projects. I was also intrigued to learn more from Dan given the quality of the companies, like DNV and Ecosecurities (LSE:ECO.L), that Climos is working with to help design the carbon abatement methodology, and the care that Climos is taking to understand the environmental science. Like our own efforts in carbon, Dan believes in science and standards first. (On a personal note, I do not have a lot of choice in that matter, as my wife is an environmental scientist and statistician.) As a result, we asked Dan to do an interview with Cleantech Blog and tell us how they believe harnessing the power of the sea can play a big role in the fight against climate change.

Dan, you are one of the new class of technology entrepreneurs who is moving into cleantech. Can you share some of your background, and why you chose carbon?

In 1995 I founded the first company to commercialize travel reservations over the net, GetThere.com. We went public in 1999 and sold to Sabre in 2000. If you’ve booked a ticket on United Airlines’ website, you’ve used an example of the infrastructure we built.

I think that entrepreneurs by nature love big challenges. We like to find opportunities where key technologies, services or business transformations can make a profound difference to the world. We understand that the missing ingredient we provide is the vision and the sheer will to make those transformations happen. We are perhaps at our best when the odds are against us, and when most people say we’re crazy.

A few years ago, I drove from here down to Buenos Aires. Somewhere along the way, I think I woke up and really fully realized that there were some extraordinary challenges out there facing us that were much more pressing than most people had been giving them credit for. Challenges that were much more important than whether people could book their travel online, for instance. GetThere was a powerful lesson to me that I could set my mind to something and achieve it, but it was also a little numbing at times too—sometimes I wondered just exactly what I was really contributing to the world.

By contrast, the energy and environmental challenges we face as a species are exactly the kind of thing an entrepreneur likes to tackle head on. Plus it actually makes a difference whether we succeed or not.

Tell me a bit more about the concept of ocean fertilization and how it could abate C02? Why iron?

Ocean Iron Fertilization (OIF) was first proposed nearly 20 years ago by an oceanographer here in California named John Martin, at the time he was the Director of Moss Landing Marine Labs. He was the first to discover that iron was the trace nutrient limiting photosynthesis, and hence primary production, in most of the world’s oceans.

Photosynthesis uses freely available sunlight to convert CO2 to organic material, which higher level organisms consume directly or which sinks into deep waters of the ocean to be sequestered for up to 1000 years. Clearly we need to lower our emissions dramatically, and immediately, but if atmospheric CO2 that we have already put into the atmosphere is ever to decline, it will be photosynthesis that eventually does the work.

Over the last billion years, phytoplankton (the micro algae that grows ubiquitously in the ocean) have helped to concentrate over 80% of all mobile carbon on the planet into the deep ocean. This process is referred to as the Biological Pump, where after plankton bloom, mature and die, they sink to the deep ocean, carrying carbon along with them. The deep ocean recirculates over very long time periods. The lag between downward flux and eventual recirculation creates an extremely effective trap. This process is probably easily 20-30x more effective at storing carbon than plant growth on land, which returns most carbon back to the atmosphere on short time scales (10-100 years).

A tiny amount of iron can stimulate a lot of phytoplankton growth. 12 publicly-funded, open ocean experiments over 15 years have shown this. The science community is now proposing the next generation of experiments, at moderate as opposed to small scale and potentially funded by private sources. We hope to answer the question just how much carbon is sequestered (not just grown), at what scale can this be done safely, and whether this can fit in to the market mechanisms that have evolved worldwide to fund the mitigation of carbon dioxide.

Who else is doing this and what exactly do you do differently as far as ocean fertilization goes?

Up until now, it has been purely been a research effort, with cruises funded by public agencies such as the National Science Foundation. There are now a few companies proposing to do this, though the primary competitor, Planktos, appears to be winding down operations due to problems fundraising. We decided to pursue this because we feel like this is one of the largest potential tools mankind might have to address global warming. Perhaps our primary differentiator is that we want to make sure that if this is done, it is done credibly and scientifically.

Our Chief Science Officer, Dr. Margaret Leinen left NSF in January. She was the head of Geosciences there and managed a $700M research budget. Her research career was in paleoceanography and biogeochemistry. Our Science Advisory Panel includes people such as Dr. Rita Colwell, the former Director of NSF, Dr. Tim Killeen, the Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the recent President of the American Geophysical Union, Dr. Bob Gagosian, the former President of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Dr. Tom Lovejoy, the President of the Heinz Center, and so forth.

What is different about what is happening now is that the demonstrations of OIF will be larger, focused on different questions and also funded in part by the private sector. The carbon market is the mechanism that the world has chosen to fund emissions reductions and carbon mitigation, and so if OIF can be an effective way to safely remove CO2 from the atmosphere, that will probably be financed via the carbon market.

How will you verify that the abatement is happening?

To quantify the carbon removed, we deploy a range of sensors, the most important of which are called “Neutrally Bouyant Sediment Traps” to measure the amount of carbon falling past a certain depth in the ocean. Identical measurements are taken both inside the project area as well as outside the project area—this gives us an idea of what would have happened if we hadn’t been there.

There are further nuances which are important to account for, such as how much carbon really ends up coming out of the atmosphere to replace that which is being used at the ocean’s surface. Also, we will need to model the impact on nutrient stocks before they are replenished via deep winter mixing, etc. There many important other details, but this probably illustrates the basic concept.

Can you go into some more detail on the questions of permanence, always a major concern in new carbon reduction methodologies.

The permanence of storage is measured in choosing the depth we place the sensors at. This depth is determined by looking at what is called the ventilation or residence time of water at difference depths in the project area. Because the oceans circulate so slowly, most of the world’s water mass, in fact the majority, has not seen the surface since before fossil fuels began being combusted in the late 1800s. I think that is a fairly surprising fact to most people. By sampling water at depth for signs of human activity which also have a known history, such as tritium from bomb testing in the 1950s or from CFCs that began being released in the 1920s, oceanographers can tell how long any cubic meter of water has been away from the surface.

Putting this to practice, if you sink carbon past water that hasn’t seen the surface for 300 years, and if you know the directionality of circulation in that place in the ocean, you can be fairly sure that this carbon won’t see the surface for at least 300 years moving forwards. This is how we understand permanence in addition to quantity.

The IPCC defines permanence as at least 100 years, so we will likely use this definition—but ultimately the carbon market will decide what that number is, not us. Keep in mind that significant amounts of carbon are stored for timeframes which are shorter as well, i.e. 75 years, 50 years, etc. This timeshifting of carbon is meaningful and helpful as well, but we won’t claim credit for this. Also, the minimum (i.e. 100 years) is just that, the minimum. Much of the carbon will be stored for much longer—hundreds to even thousands of years.

Many people question the value of ‘timeshifting’ carbon. They wonder if we’re creating a problem for ourselves later when this carbon comes back. There are several important things to consider here. First, we really have no other options—other than emissions reductions, which are important—but really separate. There is no other way to ‘dispose’ of the carbon that we’ve put up in the atmosphere already. Nature timeshifts carbon—at some point, nearly all carbon will see the atmosphere again, the question is on what timeframe. The effectiveness of sequestration in the ocean is the reason that the majority of ‘mobile’ carbon has ended up there over time. Second, this approach gives us time to address our emissions problem. People have likened this to a concept called ‘oscillation damping’, where if you have a pulse that takes time X (as in the number of years we have been adding too much CO2 to the atmosphere) then it may take you 2X or 3X or 4X to ‘dampen’ that pulse, depending on its amplitude. So if we’ve been creating this problem for 100 years, and it takes us another 25 years to solve, then we may have to mitigate for several multiples of that. This is an unscientific quantification, but perhaps a useful illustration—and I think it also serves to highlight what a huge challenge we have ahead of us.

Aren’t you worried about the impact on the environment on “adjusting” ocean nutrients? I know that has been a concern of some environmental groups.

I think there are a number of distinct concerns rolled up in your statement. One is the fear that OIF is ‘messing with mother nature.’ Many people feel that humans simply can’t get anything right, and that we if we try to fix what we’ve already broken, we’re likely to make it worse. This is an unscientific attitude, and one that I think also fails to appreciate some of the unique aspects of this concept.

Other concerns are whether a change in the level of iron is potentially harmful, or whether the drawdown of existing macronutrients such as nitrates, phosphates and silicates (which is what the addition of iron triggers) could result in permanent shifts, or deplete productivity elsewhere—i.e. no net benefit. There are a number of answers for this.

First, this is already happening. Iron naturally fertilizes phytoplankton blooms—and these are the largest source of carbon sequestration happening as we speak. About three billion tons of CO2 is stored safely at depth in the ocean every year, and has been for a long time. Iron is a benign mineral. It in and of itself is simply not harmful.

Second, nature has already done more aggressive iron fertilization at scales much larger and for periods much longer than we are contemplating. During the last million years on at least five or six separate occasions between the major ice ages, natural iron inputs to the ocean increased by many times what they are now for thousands of years at a time. Productivity (i.e. plankton) increases appear strongly correlated with these times of increased iron. A recent paper by Cassar, et al this year has linked nearly 40ppm of the 80-100ppm swing of carbon in the last interglacial to increased iron enrichment of ocean waters by aerosol and other transport mechanisms. If iron fertilization simply removes nutrients that would have eventually been used elsewhere, then you would not have seen sustained productivity increases in the paleo record. Where we are now is a result of all of these previous episodes—and more than likely this will happen naturally again in the future, whether humans do it on purpose or not.

Lastly, OIF will be done gradually, over decades. It can be stopped at any time.

The key is to continue to explore this as a potential mitigation mechanism and to see whether it can be both effective and safe. Demonstrations run by scientists, and funded by the private sector which can deploy the capital required for the larger projects, are probably our best chance of this.

You intend to sell carbon credits based on this process. What standard will you use, and who do you expect will be the likely buyers?

Long term if this is to be meaningful it will need to be accepted in regulated markets, in the short term the voluntary market can help provide the bridge financing to get us there. We think the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) is probably the best current standard, but there are others as well. We’ll target as many standards as appropriate. The methodology we are currently developing is designed around the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) specification—though since it takes place in the middle of the ocean it will never qualify for those credits without changes to the regulatory framework.

You mentioned you approached the problem from the science, standards and measurement & verification end first. That’s an approach I definitely agree with. Can you go into some more detail? I know you had mentioned working with DNV, among others.

A number of things need to be done before larger demonstrations like the one we propose.

First, the key science questions that will to be asked of this next generation of experiments need to be asked. We will be proposing a series of science workshops with the community this year to help facilitate that. One of the conferences will be on long term modeling. Another will be on measurement and verification techniques. We will be announcing these over the next several months.

Second, a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment needs to be performed by an outside party that reviews concerns in detail and against the peer-reviewed literature, identifying which are likely not an issue, which are questions of appropriate project design, and which need more study. We will be initiating this process over the next several months.

After these processes are complete we will begin to structure our proposed cruise, and publish this ahead of time. This also involves applying for appropriate international permits, etc.

DNV, or a company like that, will be involved in validating the Project Design Document (PDD) after we select a specific operating site, and before we actually go to sea. They will also come on the cruise to provide direct verification of the results.

Many of these general activities are called for by a document we produced last year which we call a Code of Conduct. We think that it is vital that companies like ours operate in a scientific, responsible and transparent manner.

So this process is kind of like planting trees, except in the ocean?

Yes, except it happens faster and the storage is more permanent. Forests store carbon in the form of standing biomass—in other words, you get storage for as long as the forest is managed and preserved. If it burns down, or gets harvested, a large part of that carbon is returned to the atmosphere. Also, if the tree dies and is not replaced, nearly all of that carbon is returned on short time scales (< 100 years). This is not to say that we shouldn’t be planting trees. We should, and we are—the UN just finished planting a billion trees the week before the recent Bali conference. We need to be doing a lot more of that.

Two of the most attractive aspects of ocean fertilization are low cost and large scale. Can you give us some insight into where ocean fertilization fits on the spectrum of cost and potential abatement levels?

We think credits from OIF can be delivered for about $5-7 a ton long term. No one knows what the annual global capacity might be. Certainly three billion tons a year (CO2) are already being done naturally. It is possible that another billion tons annually might be able to be added to this number, but that is pure speculation. Some people have quoted numbers that are much higher than this, but I think that’s probably not a constructive exercise right now.

And of course, when do you expect to be able to offer credits off of this platform, now that the VCS has been released?

We have just received the first draft of the methodology back from Ecosecurities and DNV (Det Norske Veritas) is in the process of a formal assessment. After their comments, and possible revisions, we will submit the methodology to the VCS steering committee. They have told us they will require a 2nd formal review by a qualified verifier, after which it would qualify to be accepted as a VCS methodology.

We will also be asking other peers in the science community to help us evaluate and refine the methodology. They will certainly be the most important check. We expect it will be refined many times as measurement and modeling approaches improve.

The credits of course will be dependent on the successful completion of our first cruise. We expect this in 2009.

Dan, your OIF approach is certainly exciting given the scale and low cost of the potential CO2 abatement, and I wish you the best. It is certainly not a easy task.

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 Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairs Cleantech.org, and a blogger for the CNET Cleantech Blog.

Super Mileage with New Four-Door Sedans

By John Addison (1/17/08). Fuel economy was on display at the Detroit Auto Show. Starting Saturday, even more exciting vehicles will be unveiled at the North American International Auto Show, also in Detroit. $100 per barrel oil and new CAFÉ standards have made improved fuel economy mandatory for auto makers.

Most popular with individuals and fleets is the four-door sedan. Over the next three years, there will be a number of affordable offerings with fuel economy from 40 miles per gallon, to infinite miles per gallon.

General Motors continues to draw considerable attention with its Chevy Volt, which will offer 40 mile range in electric mode before its small 1L engine is engaged. 40 miles accommodates the daily range requirements of 78% of all U.S. drivers. The Volt uses an electric drive system with a small ICE in series that is only used to generate added electricity, not give power to the wheels. GM hopes to take orders for the Volt at the end of 2010.

World hybrid leader, Toyota, is likely to beat GM to market with a new plug-in hybrid also using lithium batteries. Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe discussed Toyota’s vision, “Sustainable Mobility addresses four key priorities. First, we must address the vehicles themselves and the advanced technologies. Highly advanced conventional engines, plug-in hybrids, fuel cells and clean diesels, as well as many other innovative new technologies, will all play a part. Second, we must address the urban environment, where these new technologies will live. In the future, we foresee ‘mixed mobility,’ combining intelligent highways and mass-transit, bike paths and short-cut walking routes, recharging kiosks and hydrogen fuel stations…. By 2010, we will accelerate our global plug-in hybrid R&D program. As part of this plan, we will deliver a significant fleet of PHEVs powered by lithium-ion batteries to a wide variety of global commercial customers, with many coming to the U.S.” President Watanabe’s Remarks

A new offering from China’s leading battery manufacturer, BYD, will bring a plug-in hybrid to market sooner than Toyota and GM and at a lower price. BYD executive Mr. Lin said BYD Auto plans to launch the plug-in hybrid during the Beijing Olympics at a price of less than $30,000 (200,000 Yuan). The company sold about 100,000 cars in China in 2007, he said. The F6DM (Dual Mode, for EV and HEV), is a variant of the front-wheel drive F6 sedan that BYD introduced into the China market earlier this year, actually offers three modes of operation: full battery-powered EV mode driving its 75 kW, 400 Nm motor; series-hybrid mode, in which a 50 kW, 1.0-liter engine drives a generator as a range-extender; and parallel hybrid mode, in which the engine and motor both provide propulsive power. Expect the BYD F6DM to be selling in the U.S. by early 2010. Green Car Congress

Ford announced EcoBoost – this new 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engine family features turbocharging and gasoline direct injection technology. The EcoBoost technology will deliver approximately 20% better fuel economy and 15% fewer CO2 emissions. The company will introduce EcoBoost on the new Lincoln MKS in 2009. Eventually the technology will be integrated into a range of flex fuel vehicles, which currently suffer from poor gasoline mileage, and 27% worse mileage with E85 ethanol.

Europeans are already enjoying 25% mileage improvements with new turbo diesels with direct injection. Exciting models will be available in the U.S. this year. Daimler, Audi and Volkswagen, all partners in the BLUETEC clean diesel marketing initiative showed a new Tier 2 Bin 5 compliant (i.e., able to be sold in all 50 states) BLUETEC model at the North American International Autoshow in Detroit

VW is the diesel passenger car sales leader. The Tier 2 Bin 5-compliant 2009 model year Jetta TDI, equipped with the clean diesel engine option, will be on sale later this year. Some drivers may experience over 40 miles per gallon with the Jetta’s efficient 2L four-cylinder engine.

Will we see the combined efficiency of diesel and hybrids? Yes. The Mercedes S 300 BLUETEC HYBRID is a 4-cylinder diesel a with hybrid module that gives it the performance of a V-8. The luxury saloon delivers 44 miles per gallon (5.4L/100km).

The Detroit shows unveiled a dazzling array of muscle trucks, loaded SUVs, hot sport cars, concept electric vehicles, and many model improvements.

Over the next three years, the biggest impact on reduced fuel use and lowered emissions will be in the every popular four-door sedan. Toyota has a commanding lead with over one million four-door Priuses on the road. Soon, Toyota will be selling one million hybrids per year.

Fuel economy improvements in the new vehicles are the result of using lighter materials, better aerodynamic design, lighter and more efficient engines, replacement of more mechanical components with electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid designs.

While some auto executives still think that the key to financial success is yesterday’s big heavy and low-mileage cash cow, others recognize the path to sustained profitability is to deliver great fuel economy in popular full-featured cars. The global race is on. The sure winner is the customer.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Is Environmentalism Compatible with Capitalism?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Perhaps the pivotal challenge facing the environmental community is resolving the apparent conflict between the need to reduce emissions and the widely-held desire for continuing economic growth.

This issue came directly to the fore in reading a recent Business Week article entitled “Little Green Lies”, profiling how the green initiatives of Aspen Skiing Company were often bumping into, and in fact prevented by, commercial realities of the business.

I was particularly provoked by the reader comments to the article. One respondent said that the contents of the article did not surprise him because (in his view) reduced consumption is ultimately the only environmental solution, which means reduced travel and reduced skiing, which runs against the profit motive of Aspen Skiing Company. This posting confirmed for another reader that (in his view) environmentalists are inherently anti-capitalism, viewing capitalism as the evil force that has led to climate change and other environmental ills.

To quote Rodney King, “can’t we all get along?” The answer, I think, is yes — and the path for squaring the circle is to note that capitalism is not to be confused with materialism or consumerism.

Capitalism is a social system that provides clear price signals and unfettered ability to undertake transactions, thereby enabling economic actors to make individual profit/utility-maximizing decisions, which in turn promotes efficient allocation of capital, maximizes liberty of citizens and businesses, and facilitates private wealth-creation.

We aspire to free-market capitalism in the United States, and we come pretty close to achieving it, closer than most countries in the world. And, because we are very capitalistic, it is easy to make the leap that American consumerism is inextricably a co-product of capitalism. It is not.

For instance, look at the leaders on the list of The Economist‘s rankings of national economic competitiveness. Sure, the U.S. is well above average. But the top two countries on the list are Denmark and Finland — countries that, unlike the U.S., are not known for their excessive materialism. It is also noteworthy that Denmark is arguably the world leader in actually tackling climate change head-on by minimizing emissions through the mass-adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Capitalism and environmentalism can be reconciled — theoretically, at least — once energy price signals more accurately reflect their environmental costs. Right now, each unit of fossil fuel burned generates greenhouse gas emissions, which have a societal cost, but the consumer faces no burden in their wallet associated with this societal cost.

It is because energy prices do not currently include their full environmental costs that Aspen Skiing (and other companies) can’t increase their profitability by pursuing as many green initiatives as they would philosophically like to do. If energy prices were to fully reflect all environmental costs, then the capitalist system would be freed to work its magic in motivating capital and behavioral shifts in the economy to significantly reduce emissions.

Alas, here’s the dilemma: many environmentalists have qualms about letting markets work to reduce emissions, and most free-marketer capitalists are leery of policymakers adding environmental externality factors (a euphemism for “taxes”) to energy prices. Unless this bridge can be gapped, we’ve got trouble.

Oh, yes, customers in Denmark and Finland face much higher energy prices (especially for transportation fuels), including much higher energy taxes, than we do here in the U.S. While Danes and Finns don’t perhaps live la vida loca like Americans do, neither do they seem to be collapsing in existential angst or economic depression. The question for us Americans is: do we have the courage to elect leaders that would put us on a deliberate/planned march towards higher energy prices?

A first step for we Americans to make that shift is to better appreciate that reduction of consumption to preserve our planet is not necessarily anti-capitalist, but rather anti-materialism. Because, as the renowned Jared Diamond recently argued in a compelling New York Times oped, it is excessive human consumption of resources that is at the root of continued viability for life on Earth.

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: V-Farm, 2008 Conventions, Mighty Battery

by Frank Ling

Vertical Farms in Vegas

Every time I go to Vegas, I see new buildings popping up. I guess the world needs more hotel rooms. But we also need more food to feed all those hungry entertainers and entertainees.

So the big news coming out of Sin City last week is Vertical Farms. That’s right, plans are now underway to build a 30-story farm able to produce a hundred different crops including bananas and strawberry.

Heather McKee writes in EcoGeek:

Nevada officials believe the vertical farm could produce enough food for 72,000 people a year – and $25 million in agricultural products, most going to local casinos. They also expect it to be a popular tourist attraction, and believe it may help change the image of Las Vegas as a place of excess and waste.

Incidentally there was some big convention going on last week. Does anyone know anything about it? Is it really green? 🙂

Hot Conventions this Year

How many conventions to you know where you bring together the likes of Union of Concerned Scientists, NRDC, Dell computer, and of course Fortune Magazine? One that I could think of and it is being hosted by Fortune.

Called Brainstorm:GREEN , this even will host a diverse group of speakers from CEOs to NGOs. Corporate America has already moved beyond the realization that need to be green and will be discussing what they are doing about it.

In his blog, Joel Makower quotes senior Fortune writer Marc Gunther as saying that the participants will be discussing:

what impact they are having, and whether they are changing fast enough, given the scale of the problems.

The price of admission: $2000. Does that include a carbon offset? 🙂

Some other events that Joel mentions are WSJ’s ECO:nomics, Aspen Environmental Forum, and the GLOBE Conference.

For a more extensive list of events happening this year, check out our very own listing.

EEStor

EEStor is back in the news after falling behind one year from its original production plans. This time, they are working with Lockheed Martin on Military and Homeland Security applications. But that’s not the interesting part.

Jim Fraser writes about the potential performance of EEStor’s new batteries in the Energy Blog:

EEStor, based in Cedar Park, TX, is developing a ceramic battery chemistry that could provide 10 times the energy density of lead acid batteries at 1/10th the weight and volume. As envisioned, EESUs will be a fully “green” technology that will be half the price per stored watt-hour than traditional battery technologies.

Make mine unleaded! 🙂

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.

Oil Prices: How High is Up?

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the last week of 2007, I predicted that oil prices would finally top $100/barrel. Well, it didn’t take long, two days in fact. Ironically, it appears that the first time a barrel of oil changed hands for more than $100 was solely because a trader wanted to own that distinction forever.

Nevertheless, those who espouse the so-called “peak-oil” theory will no doubt use the recent climb through $100 as additional evidence that oil production is nearing a crest and will soon move into irreversible decline. Indeed, recent analyses by Energy Watch Group and Earth Policy Institute claim that the peak is imminent or perhaps already past us.

Now that the psychological threshold of $100 has been broached, and with peak oil production a possibility worth serious consideration, the question is: how high will oil prices go?

One provocative view is presented by Jim Kingsdale in the blog Seeking Alpha. His is the first work I’ve seen that projects oil prices over $200/barrel, with the staggering forecast of $275-500 by 2012.

My back-of-the-envelope work suggests that each $10 in oil price increase translates to about $0.40 per gallon more at the pump. If that’s about right, then $500 oil means gasoline at about $16/gallon more expensive than today, or close to $20/gallon.

When asked what will happen to stock prices, J.P. Morgan was once quoted as replying, “They will fluctuate.” That is my sentiment about oil prices; they will go up and they will go down.

I suspect that the long-term trend for oil prices is upward, even beyond today’s $100, but it’s hard for me to subscribe to anything approaching $500. Before prices reach that high, there will be so much demand-curtailment, and so many economic alternatives emerging from the woodwork, that the price-setters in the oil markets — yes, OPEC — will adjust production to maintain equilibrium.

Unfortunately, oil is not a market that lends itself well to rational economic analysis: either fundamental analysis of supply/demand basics, or technical analysis of price movements. The optimization calculus of the oligopolists, who control most of the remaining reserves (and the lowest-cost reserves to boot), is not always to maximize profits but to maximize geopolitical power.

Even worse, if radical forces gain control of the key supplies (e.g., a coup in Saudi Arabia), they won’t be afraid to turn off the spigots, because they’re perfectly happy living in the 12th Century and they want to see the developed Western powers fall back into the Dark Ages.

If the Middle East shuts off the oil tap, the sky’s the limit for oil prices, and maybe Mr. Kingsdale’s forecast will turn out to be too low.

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.

Carbon Roundup: Farm Bill & California vs. EPA

by Frank Ling

Farm Bill

2008 has indeed begun, but work from last year remains to be finished on the current Farm Bill. Most likely this month, the Senate and House Committees will hammer out their differences and come up with a compromise bill that will be sent to the president.

In the Senate version, there are provisions that have broad implications for energy and biofuels. In a recent update from the Action Network, the authors note that the bill:

* To help farmers and rural businesses save money and supply power to America, a better Section 9006 program (now renamed the Rural Energy for America Program – REAP) includes new energy technical assistance, larger loan guarantees, community wind incentives, and carveouts for small, replicable projects and digesters. ($230 million total versus $500 million in House Farm Bill.)

* An overhauled biorefinery program to help defray the cost of first-generation cellulosic ethanol plants; also encourages existing biorefineries and industrial facilities to convert to biomass-based heat and power (“Rural Repowering”).

* To help build feedstock supply for cellulosic biorefineries, an energy crop transition program that includes improved sustainability standards.

* To help defray production costs, production incentives for advanced biofuels.

* To develop a stronger knowledge base and help move energy crops from the laboratory to the fuel pump, funding and new priorities for the Biomass Research and Development program.

California Strikes Back

California has gone ahead with plans to sue the US EPA for its decision to block the State’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Until now, California was able to get a waiver from the EPA and set its own standards for managing air pollutants.

But the current administration believes that a new federal mandate would be more efficient in curbing emissions and has denied states to further waivers. In addition to California, 15 other states are now suing the EPA to get their rights back setting their own standards.

The battle is on. Felicity Barringer writes in the New York Times:

California officials argue that the agency had no legal or technical justification for blocking the new standards. The E.P.A. administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said when announcing the decision that a new federal fuel-economy mandate would be more efficient in curbing pollution than the state standards.

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.

Blue Iris, Better than Green

by Heather Rae
for cleantechblog.com

Fashion faddies may take note of Pantone’s color of the year, Blue Iris (No. 18-3943). I’ll be using it in my new logo not because it’s hip, but because I admire its qualities. Pantone’s Leatrice Eiseman stated, “Blue Iris brings together the dependable aspects of blue, underscored by a strong, soul-searching purple cast. Emotionally, it is anchoring and meditative with a touch of magic.” Blue Iris is “supposed to answer several needs, hopes, desires, that kind of thing.”

Tongue out of cheek, I had a hope and desire that “green” would meet the needs of American consumerism during this holiday season. Sadly, green suffers from a lack of the strong, meditative, soul-searching qualities of Blue Iris. Emotionally, green might as well be red, flagging at my Taurian nature. I see green marketing and snort like a bull. It’s just not as dependable and true as blue.

Plunked on a couch in a spacious, well-appointed guest room at the Lenox Hotel in Back Bay Boston, I’m meditating on the meaning of green. (A night at this beautiful, accommodating hotel is a Christmas gift from Dave, my husband of three weeks.) The room commands a roof-line view of the urban malls of Copley Plaza and a peek on to Newbury Street. The Gideon bible rests in a drawer by the luxurious bed but two other books, laminated with a note (“Please do not remove this book from your room so that future guests may also enjoy it. If you are interested in purchasing a signed copy, please contact the Front Desk. Thank you.”) hold court on the writing desk. They are “The Bottom Line of Green is Black, Strategies for Creating Profitable and Environmentally Sound Businesses” (copyright 1993) by Tedd Saunders and “The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists” (copyright 1999) by Brower and Leon.

The ubiquitous, and somewhat outdated (copyright 1996), Project Planet signage about reusing towels and saving dolphins — if the graphics of smiling dolphins mean anything — decorates the doorknobs.

The Preface to Brower’s book begins, “Twenty years ago one of us couldn’t find a way to recycle a car full of newspapers–and this was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, supposedly a hotbed of environmental activism….Recycling has certainly come a long way since then.” I flip to page 31 of “The Bottom Line of Green is Black” where Saunders extols the recyclable virtues of the ENVIROPET ™ plastic ketchup bottle.

Which is why the plastic bottles of water on the side table (“Please enjoy this water with our compliments”) intrigue me, it being 2007, about a decade after these books and signs were published. We all — should — know by now that the boom of bottled water sales has incurred a boom in landfills of plastic waste. The label on the plastic bottles in the room says the source of the water is Iceland which “largely uninhabited and pollution free, has one of the cleanest environments on the planet.” There’s no recycling label on the bottle; instead there’s cash redemption if you live in CA, HI, CT, NV or NY…but not Massachusetts, nor Iceland.

Over at Barney’s, a giant retail display comprising aluminum cans and bottle caps in the shape of a giant head (I think) greets customers. I can’t discern it’s meaning or its connection to Barney’s green Christmas marketing campaign but someone in their marketing department must have the skinny on its DHM. Barney’s shopping bags, made of recycled paper urge us to “Have a Green Holiday.” With some label snooping in handbags, designer clothing and shoes, the goods at Barney’s are manufactured in Europe. Atmospherically out of my price range, at least these goods are not directly contributing to our looming Chinese debt crisis and likely help out Italy’s sagging economy. Still, what anything in the store has to do with being green is beyond me. I admit to a weakness for imported perfume (Goutal, Eau de Hadrien), and at that point of purchase, I learn from the clerk that Barney’s is a top recycler. Oh.

I’ll still use a touch of green (CMYK 66, 100, 20, 4) in the new logo, but it will take a backseat to anchoring, real and meaningful Blue Iris. And I’ll keep hoping for the magic as well as the meaning in green marketing.

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, is a consultant in cleantech market management and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.