Cleantech Venture Fertility

I try hard to stay on top of a wide range of developments in the cleantech world.  Maybe I spread myself too thin, sacrificing depth for breadth, as I scan through a lot of journals and attend a lot of events to see what’s new and interesting.

Even so, I’m continually surprised by the number of emerging cleantech companies that I’d never encountered before.

It’s pretty uncommon when they come in bunches when reading print media, but leafing quickly through just one recent magazine, the January/February 2013 issue of EnergyBiz, I came across not one but two articles from CEOs of cleantech ventures that were completely new names to me.

The first was “A Revolutionary Approach to Clean Coal” by Bill Brown, who is CEO of a venture called NET Power that is commercializing a new power generation technology on an innovative concept called the Allam cycle.  NET claims that they offer “a new oxyfuel power cycle that combusts coal, natural gas, and biomass [to generate] electricity that is cost-competitive with the best fossil fuels plants while producing zero air emissions.”  The key innovation:  using supercritical carbon dioxide (rather than steam) as the transfer fluid from heat to power, thus avoiding the energy losses associated with liquid-to-gas phase change intrinsic to steam cycles.  Emissions are minimized by using pure oxygen (rather than air) for the combustion environment, and where there are nearby oil/gas wells, by injecting the resulting carbon dioxide produced from combustion underground to enhance recovery.

The second was “Growing the Microgrid Market” by Terry Mohn, who is CEO of General MicroGrids.   They offer a suite of services to better enable the integration of small-scale distributed generation resources (including intermittent solar energy), energy storage devices, and power quality enhancement equipment with the needs of the electricity-using customers on locally-confined power grids with minimal size and limited diversity.  Historically, microgrids have largely been relegated to tiny island economies or other remote communities or industrial sites.  However, microgrids have increasing applicability to military bases, hospitals, government centers and institutional campuses in a future world where improved grid security (i.e., the need to sever from the wider power grid in an emergency) becomes a greater concern to maintain operability of sophisticated digital intelligence and communications functions.

NET Power and General MicroGrids are just the tip of the iceberg.  Surfing the Internet, formerly undiscovered cleantech ventures are all over the place.

I especially appreciate the work of bloggers like Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOM, who recently posted a series of “13 to Watch in 2013” lists for different segments of the cleantech sector.  To illustrate, here’s her take on “13 Energy Data Startups to Watch in 2013”.  With one fell-swoop, Ms. Fehrenbacher put a number of new companies on my radar screen.

My continuing discovery of new cleantech ventures is a refreshing change from not-that-many-years-ago, when it seemed like I mainly kept seeing the same deals over and over and over again.  I can only conclude that this apparent fertility is a very healthy sign for the cleantech sector.

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