Cleantech by any other name

How relevant is the term cleantech today? Has it had its day in the sun?

It’s a heretical question for someone who’s spent much of the last 10 years of his career furthering the cleantech meme globally. A former Managing Director of an organization that gets much of the credit for coining the phrase to begin with, I’ve been a big proponent of the term, to the intentional subordination of others.

But having just returned from a week of meetings with Silicon Valley investors, lawyers and others, I find myself facing the reality that intelligentsia in the sector are distancing themselves from the phrase.

In five days last week, I met face-to-face with two private equity investors, four venture capitalists, two lawyers, an entrepreneur and one of the heads of innovation for a global multinational—all with name-brand firms, all power players associated with some of the biggest deals cleantech has seen. I asked them each about the topic. And while all were quick to affirm their belief in strong future demand for what we think of as clean or green technologies, the term cleantech has undeniably fallen from favor, they said. Why?

  • Cleantech has become built into every sector, with clean/green propositions in many technology verticals, from industry to IT to water to energy to agriculture; “cleantech no longer means anything new anymore,” one said
  • Cleantech is simultaneously “too broad” (i.e. somatic shorthand for too many vertical industries) and “too narrow” (i.e. become too closely associated with renewable energy to those who don’t recognize the intended breadth as defined by Kachan & Co. and others) to be useful any longer, another said
  • But the biggest reason—that we’ve written about for some time herehere and here—is that venture funds’ Limited Partner investors have been underwhelmed (some used the term “burned”) by cleantech too much for too long, and the term is now poisonous for some venture partners; some are distancing themselves from it. Some have let go of their teams. So while there may still be relatively wide general industry momentum for the term cleantech, because lexicons don’t change overnight, those at the very center of the space that we’ve thought of as cleantech are quietly starting to use other phrases. Deloitte, for instance, rebranded its annual invitation-only Napa Valley cleantech event last week as Energy Tech. Is it just a matter of time until others start picking similar monikers?

Virtually all I met with agreed that what we’ve thought of as cleantech to date is still an investable thesis: There’s still resource scarcity. Governments are still seeking energy independence. Climate change is accelerating, not abating. Large corporations continue to have an appetite for clean technologies for cost savings, differentiation vs. competitors and as high margin product offerings. So the markets for clean and green technologies are expected to be sustaining and long-term. But will there continue to be a unified name for the sector? Will the term cleantech rebound in popularity? Cleantech, at the time of this writing, appears to be in what IT analyst company Gartner calls the “trough of disillusionment” in its widely-referenced “hype cycle” model:

Cleantech & the Gartner hype cycle

Cleantech is arguably suffering a correction from hyperbole that also characterized the early PC, Internet, networking and other technology sectors—all of which recovered in some form as expectations mapped more realistically to execution. Will cleantech as a term do the same? Source: Gartner.

So the question appears to be: Will cleantech as a meme emerge on the other side of this trough, regaining market momentum and credibility much like PCs, the Internet, networking and Internet applications did when they went through the trough themselves? As another datapoint, if cleantech is indeed in a trough, it’s been slipping into it for a while, now. A historical look at Google search data for the term cleantech, current up to the time of this writing:

Cleantech term Google search history

Google search history of term “cleantech” over time. Interest in the term peaked in late 2009 and has been declining since. What does this mean for companies positioning around the term? Will it recover or not? What would YOU bet? Source: Google.

Will cleantech re-emerge, regain in popularity and follow the Gartner curve back up? Or has its usefulness as a distinction ended? If the term is no longer fashionable, what should this space be called? What would you advise entrepreneurs in this sector to position around? We’re very interested in your thoughts here at Kachan & Co., where we work exclusively with cleantech companies… or what we used to call cleantech companies! Leave a comment on the original version of this article on our website.

This article is reprinted by permission and was originally published here.

Cultivating Agricultural Cleantech

An expanding world population, coupled with increasing concerns about resource scarcity, land availability, biodiversity conservation and global warming is fostering interest in sustainable agriculture technologies.

Large companies and clean technology investors are focused on energy, and some are following water. Yet very few are tracking opportunities in breakthrough clean and green agricultural technology. And that suggests opportunity.

Certain innovations from a new crop of companies have the potential to expand yields, increase efficiencies, reduce waste and address concerns about toxicity, safety and the environment. There are innovative companies that are potentially poised for success across all categories of the taxonomy of agricultural cleantech—which Kachan & Co., having just published a major report on the subject, characterizes as follows:

Kachan agricultural cleantech taxonomy

Kachan & Co. agricultural cleantech taxonomy, a section of the larger Kachan cleantech taxonomy, which spans other sectors such as clean energy, transportation, water and others. Source: Kachan & Co. analysis.

In its new report on agricultural cleantech, Kachan uses the following criteria to differentiate cleantech developments from generic agricultural innovations:

  • improved efficiency of resource use
  • reduced ecological impact
  • smaller carbon footprint
  • sustained or enhanced profitability

Technologies which reduce the demand for water and chemical inputs are included as they reduce strain on the global water supply and reduce the impact on surrounding ecosystems via the introduction of foreign chemicals. Technologies which enhance the health and yield of crops and herds are included as these reduce waste from the industry and alleviate pressure to convert native land into agricultural fields. Innovations which reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture are included as they directly address the climate challenge we face today. Also included are land and resource management practices which decrease or eliminate nutrient drain and erosion of soils such that the land may sustain cultivable yields indefinitely. Focus in this definition is given to technologies which function at a commercial scale (as opposed to subsistence farming and hobby practices).

The following walks through the above taxonomy, offering definitions of each of the five main categories and profiles one leading company within each. The five companies profiled in this blog have either reached an exit (trade sale or IPO) or are simply compelling examples of the category in question. The full Kachan agricultural cleantech report goes through the taxonomy line by line and profiles a total of 57 companies.

Crop farming
Crop farming includes the cultivation of grains, fruits, vegetables, fiber crops, fuel crops and other plant varieties like mushrooms and fungi. This sector is of particular importance as cropland covers 12% of the earth’s ice-free land, and grain cultivation alone accounts for 50% of the world’s food supply (when supplies fed to livestock are considered).

Sustainability in crop farming focuses on increasing yields as well as improving resilience and persistence of crops. Greater yields are, and will continue to be, needed in order to feed the growing population with existing agricultural lands. Crop resilience describes the capacity of the plant to buffer shocks and stresses, which helps ensure food security in the face of climactic stresses. Persistence describes the ability of arable land to sustain a crop rotation indefinitely without diminishing yields.

Innovator Example: Plant Health Care
Plant Health Care (AIM:PHC) is best known for two natural crop amendments; Harpin and Myconate. Harpins are proteins produced by a variety of pathogens which cause plants to release cellular calcium and increase their metabolic rate. Photosynthesis and nutrient uptake rates rise, resulting in greater immunity and growth. Plant Health Care synthesizes Harpin proteins which have been shown to increase yield and shelf-life of certain crops. Harpin, discovered by Plant Health Care’s chief scientist, was a cover feature of Science Magazine. Myconate, a compound naturally secreted by drought resistant crops like red clover, promotes the colonization of plant roots with beneficial networks of fungi which work to increase the effective surface area of roots. Plant Health Care has developed a process to generate synthetic Myconate. Ultimately, the company claims, Myconate allows greater access to water and nutrient resources which has been shown to generate yield increases on the order of 9% for corn crops and 13% for soybeans.

Plant Health Care is headquartered in the USA with offices in the UK, Iberia, the Netherlands and Mexico. The management team has been involved in the agriculture industry for decades and retains the discoverer of Myconate as their chief scientist. The board of directors draws on similar experience in the agricultural and chemical industry with past endeavors at Arista and ICI. Long-term partnerships with Bayer CropScience, German Seed Technology, Syngenta and Monsanto, among others, have and continue to provide a secure revenue source alongside direct product sales. Plant Health Care continues to research new Harpin proteins which may have higher activity levels, applicability to different crops and elicit greater disease resistance.

Controlled environment agriculture
Just over half the world’s population currently resides in urban areas. This fraction is expected to rise over the coming decades, reaching 67% (~6 billion people) by the year 2050. Urbanization presents a myriad of challenges for the agricultural industry and introduces new environmental considerations associated with food production and distribution. One way of addressing these issues is by finding ways to cultivate food within city limits. Urban agriculture practices can take a variety of forms, from greenhouse farming to vertical farming in unused indoor spaces to rooftop gardens and so on. Urban agriculture can reduce risks associated with weather and spoilage. Indoor climates are predictable and controllable, thus droughts and cold snaps pose no threat. Shorter transport distances to markets reduce the fraction of food lost to spoilage and the carbon footprint of products. On top of the practical advantages of urban agriculture, society as a whole has a preference for local food. Research has indicated that citizens of developed countries are willing to pay a 15%-20% premium for local products.

Innovator Example: Urban Barns
Urban Barns (OTCQB: URBF.OB) claims its developments are best described as ‘cubic farming’. The company’s patent pending system is said to surpass the yield of top-of-the-line vertical farming developments several times over by making full use of the entire volume of an available space with no restrictions on floor plan or available height. The company asserts its system provides adequate growing conditions for leafy green vegetables in any building with standard climatic controls.

Urban Barns has been highlighted by experts on account of its impressive management team. The team has over 225 years of collective experience in the industry. Jack and Leo Benne (CEO and COO, respectively) have considerable experience in the area of controlled environment agriculture, Daniel Meikleham (Chairman and CFO) has had a forty year financial career with high profile multinational corporations, and Robyn Jackson (Vice president) has been a fresh food distribution entrepreneur for forty years. The technology has been implemented in North America and Puerto Rico with recent efforts to extend the business into the Middle-East.

Sustainable forestry
Forests provide a number of invaluable ecosystems services. They are hubs of biodiversity and play an integral role in global carbon and hydrological cycles. Timber is an inherently renewable resource, however proper management practices are paramount to sustaining the regenerative nature of forests. Sustainable forest management seeks to: maintain and enhance forest resources, promote the health and vitality of forest ecosystems, conserve biodiversity and ensure forest land retains its natural relation to soil and water systems. The ultimate goal is to retain the forest’s ability to support ecological, socio-economic and cultural functions beyond timber harvesting. Over the past three centuries, timber extraction has caused a net loss of 7 to 11 million km2¬¬ of forest land. An additional 2 million km2 have been converted to highly managed timber and oil palm plantations. The technologies outlined below represent new opportunities to reduce our impact on native forests and improve the sustainability of silviculture stands.

Innovator Example: Triton Logging
Triton Logging Inc. has developed a pair of devices which enable the collection of submerged forests from dam reservoirs. Harvesting these dead stands displaces live harvesting and impacts a previously disturbed ecosystem, resulting in a very low impact timber product. The SawFishTM is a remote controlled submarine equipped with a grapple and 55 inch chainsaw designed for deep reservoirs (>40m) where divers and surface mounted equipment cannot safely operate. Navigating via video, sonar and GPS, the SawFish can harvest a tree every three to five minutes (in good conditions), sending each one to the surface using reusable airbags. The SharcTM harvester is a barge mounted device with a telescopic boom and cutting head capable of harvesting timber up to 36.5m below the surface. The Sharc locates timber through sonar, remote cameras and GPS.

Triton is the only company to offer a mechanized means of collecting submerged timber at this scale and holds considerable competitive advantage. With 60,000 reservoirs globally, the company addresses a large market. Triton has operations in Canada, the USA, Ghana and a prospective project in Brazil. Triton’s Ghana project harvests odum, mahogany, ebony and a variety of other high demand tropical hardwoods from Volta Lake, the world’s largest man-made reservoir (350,000 hectares). The project is to be in full swing by 2013, harvesting 400,000m3 of wood each year. Licensing negotiations continue for developments in Brazil, where the company would profit from an estimated 300 million submerged trees. Revenue streams include eco-wood sales, inventory assessment, harvest concession development and logging services.

Animal Farming
Livestock operations present an increasingly important segment of the agricultural industry. Nations tend to increase their consumption of animal protein as they become more affluent. China, as an example, more than doubled its consumption of animal products during the 1990s. Over the next ten years, livestock is expected to provide 50% of agricultural output in value terms. Combining the land devoted to animal feed crops and pastureland, animal farming accounts for 75% of agricultural lands (3.73 billion hectares). Thirty-five percent of crop production globally is currently devoted to animal feed. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are becoming increasingly popular in the animal farming sector. CAFOs present unique challenges, most pressingly in the area of waste management.

Innovator Example: Livestock Water Recycling
Livestock Water Recycling (LWR) has developed a patented system that combines chemical and mechanical treatments to process manure and discharged water from CAFOs. The company claims that its technology will save operators 0.5 cents per gallon of manure produced, a substantial savings given that conventional handling costs currently sit at 1-1.5 cents per gallon. The system is also intended to address the pressing issue of manure storage. As illustrated in the following figure, the system converts animal wastes into a set of salable products, including concentrated liquid ammonium fertilizer, solid phosphorous fertilizer and potable water. The company claims that the system will save farmers nearly $10,000 for every million gallons of manure generated before profits from the sale or use of generated fertilizers. LWR estimates the market value of fertilizer product generated by each million gallons of manure at $12,500. The LWR system is said to be robust and fully automated, enabling indefinite operation with little more than routine maintenance. LWR expects a 20% annual return on investment from the system.

Livestock Water Recycling has a well-rounded team with experience in chemical engineering, waste water treatment, biological science, business development, industrial design and marketing. The company has had past success remediating contaminated aquifer sites throughout North America, working on projects related to pipeline spills and railway sites. LWR is fully integrated, addressing all matters from initial design to follow up and maintenance. In this way it plans to protect its proprietary process from copy-cat operations. The company is currently backed by AVAC investments and has earned an F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production, a Top-10 New Products award at the World Agricultural Expo and an Emerald Award for Environmental Excellence. The company has completed extensive testing of the system and says it is currently installing systems for customers at both dairy and hog operations in North America. LWR claims to have international inquiries and plans, in future, to extend its focus to areas including China, Korea, Europe, and Russia.

Seafood currently provides 17% of the world’s protein and over 25% of protein in low-income countries. Roughly half the fish entering the market come from aquaculture and half from fisheries. The aquaculture industry is said be growing at 8-10% per year, making it the fastest growing sector of agriculture. Aquaculture is widely recognized as having a pivotal role in fighting world hunger and promoting the sustainable acquisition of dietary protein. The impacts of commercial scale aquaculture are, however, poorly understood. Primary concerns surround the acquisition of fishmeal and the impact on supporting ecosystems. Sustainable growth in the aquaculture industry will require innovations that minimize ecosystem impacts from open ocean aquaculture operations and methods of providing adequate nutrition to growing fish stocks in a manner that enables maintenance of feed fish populations. Recently a number of developments have occurred that support integrated multi-tropic aquaculture (IMTA), which describes nested aquaculture systems that raise fin-fish in conjunction with mollusks and other species, mimicking a natural ecosystem and lessening the load on the supporting environment. While such developments may play an important role in increasing aquaculture sustainability and a number of fish farms, like Cooke Aquaculture, have taken up the practice, the technology itself is not saleable per se and so has not been included herein.

Innovator Example: Marrone Bio Innovations
Marrone Bio Innovations (MBI) produces natural products for pest management. The company’s Zequanox product has demonstrated 90% mortality rates for zebra and quagga mussels, invasive pest species originating in the Caspian and Black seas which wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems in North America. Zequanox consists of dead cells of a particular micro-organism which contain a compound naturally lethal to the target species. The company claims that at proper dosages Zequanox is safe for fish, insects, crustaceans, plants, algae and even native mollusks. In September of 2012, the company was chosen as a 2012 Top 50 Water Company by the Artemis Project on the success of its Zequanox product.

Zequanox finds a large market in North America as zebra and quagga mussels are a burden not only to aquaculture operations but also to industrial operations, power generation facilities, irrigation systems, public infrastructure and recreational facilities. The company has extensive experience in natural pesticides. Pamela Marrone, the company’s CEO, also founded AgraQuest in 1995.

As the world’s population grows and developing nations become more affluent, increased agricultural output and protein production will be necessary to meet demands. Issues of land and water scarcity alongside concerns about climate change and ecosystem degradation require increased emphasis on sustainability in agriculture.

Consensus on the ideal form of sustainable agriculture has not been reached. There are those who support a mix of high yield, heavily managed lands interspersed with sections of land reserved as natural sanctuaries, and there are those who support an agro-ecology approach where lands are farmed in a less productive manner while retaining ecosystem services.

A variety of agricultural cleantech innovations are emerging in the areas of crop farming, urban agriculture, sustainable forestry, animal farming and aquaculture. Venture capitalists have expressed only modest but growing interest in the area of agricultural cleantech, and increased investment is expected as our understanding of what truly constitutes sustainable agriculture evolves.

Latest Agricultural Technology Innovation, published November 2012 by Kachan & Co., details agricultural cleantech trends and drivers and profiles 57 important clean agricultural technology companies worldwide. This article was originally published here. Reposted by permission.


A former managing director of the Cleantech Group, Dallas Kachan is now managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and advisory firm that does business worldwide from San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver. Kachan & Co. staff have been covering, publishing about and helping propel clean technology since 2006. Kachan & Co. offers cleantech research reports, consulting and other services that help accelerate its clients’ success in clean technology. Details at

Chief Blogger’s Favorite Cleantech Blogs

I’ve personally written hundreds of articles over the years.  I selected a few I thought were pretty timeless or prescient, and worth rereading:

What is Cleantech?  Always a good starting point:

or try, The Seminal List of Cleantech Definitions


The “Rules” in Cleantech Investing – Rereading this one after the cleantech exits study we just did, wow, was I on the money!


VeraSun IPO analysis – Read this carefully, I predicted exactly what would happen, and try the later version Beware the Allure of Ethanol Investing


Cleantech Venture Capitalists Beware, What You Don’t Know about Energy CAN Kill you – The title says it all.



Two Years Later: Revisiting the Taxonomy of Cleantech

It’s been two years since Kachan & Co. first published its definition of what industries and categories constitute cleantech.

A lot happens in two years, so it’s time to refresh our taxonomy.

A clean technology taxonomy, a list of nested categories, is important. It shows where a clean technology “fits.” It helps vendors understand their competitive sets. It defines and helps investors understand the breadth of the sector and its sub-categories, and helps research and data organizations report consistently.

Ones available two years ago were lacking, out of date or not comprehensive enough. So we took the time to develop our own, influenced by others as we described here two years ago, when we first crowdsourced and validated our work with the cleantech community.

Our investment paid off. The Kachan cleantech taxonomy has emerged as one of the leading definitions of cleantech (cited in places like hereherehereherehere and here.)

But progress marches on. Industries don’t stay still very long. Two years later, it’s now time to revisit and improve our work. So the following is our firm’s latest take on the cleantech taxonomy, i.e. what industries constitute cleantech and how they’re organized, for your feedback and input.

Kachan 2012 cleantech taxonomy overview

A reminder of some of the factors affecting work like this:

  • It required discipline to remember the exercise was a classification for technologies, i.e. when hardware/software or other systems are involved. It was not a categorization of larger climate change initiatives, for instance… just where tech that’s supposed to get commercialized is involved, and where entrepreneurs and investors hope to make a return.
  • It forced the internal discussion of whether nuclear is a clean technology. While some argue nuclear has no place in cleantech, we feel otherwise. As we learned researching a Kachan report on the subject, there are important nuclear-related innovations being pursued to derive power from non-weaponizable fuels, new reactor designs that can’t melt down or be turned into terrorist weapons and new R&D aimed at cracking that other historical nut of nuclear power: waste.
  • It forced a focus on cleantech-related innovation. For instance, just because recycling is a category doesn’t mean that everything in the recycling industry is cleantech. Likewise semiconductors. Or hydro. But these areas are ripe for clean technology innovation, and there are new cleantech breakthroughs happening in each there today. Hence their inclusion.

The most important changes in this new version are:

  • Renaming of energy efficiency to just efficiency – Efficiencies are now being sought in as many areas of cleantech as possible, not just in the obvious places like energy, water and food. For instance, in an attempt to reduce the creation of new “stuff“, a category of “collaborative consumption systems” are emerging that deserve recognition. So we’ve broadened the category to include these and other new technologies being developed to foster efficiencies across the board. Vehicle sharing, incl. peer-to-peer carsharing, bike sharing and other vehicle systems, has been relocated here from transportation.
  • ICT stays a “layer” within all eight categories of cleantech – Information and communication technologies (ICT) today play an even greater role in cleantech than they did two years ago. Yet, even after much internal debate, we decided not to call ICT out here as a separate high-level category. It was recognized that ICT’s primary value is in making most other aspects of cleantech better, e.g. smarter buildings, more efficient energy management, more effective distribution and better remote sensing. Because it touches everything, it shouldn’t be consigned to its own silo, went the rationale. Even though some investors, say, specifically seek out only ICT-related investments in cleantech.
  • Energy storage embellished – There have been new developments in energy storage in the last two years, particularly in mechanical storage. Our storage section has been augmented and expanded and reorganized to reflect this.
  • Fuel cells moved to energy generation – Yes, fuel cells can be considered a way to store energy. But most commercial applications today involve power and heat generation. So they’ve been relocated from storage to energy generation.
  • More detail in nuclear technologies – Informed by our recent in-depth report on Emerging Nuclear Innovations, we learned a lot about types of new upcoming nuclear tech that stands to make nuclear vastly safer to run, less expensive, less risky as a terrorist target and waste-free, and updated our nuclear taxonomy accordingly.
  • Reorganization of data center technologies – Data center efficiency improvement has been low-hanging fruit for many companies since our last taxonomy. The efficiency category previously called “electronics & appliances” has been renamed “data centers & devices” and now contains more technologies like component efficiency improvement and intelligent power management in addition to virtualization.
  • Agricultural technology significantly embellished – We’ve been conducting analysis for a forthcoming Kachan report on breakthrough new agricultural cleantech companies, and have created a dramatically expanded taxonomy of agricultural technology as a result. It’s reflected in this new version. Look for even more detail, including leading vendors in each category, in our report.

A big thank you to Jeff Wen, Shannon Payne, Megan Amaral and Lucia Siplakovic of Kachan & Co., who each played valuable roles in helping shape this latest analysis.

Have thoughts of your own? Want to help influence this new taxonomy? Consider this another ‘crowdsourcing’ cycle—you can weigh in before we call this final. Please leave a comment with your feedback on the original version of this article on our website (so we don’t have to chase down comments from all over the web.) We’ll review and possibly fold in your thinking before we update our master definition page and chart deck that lives here.

In outline form, Kachan & Co’s latest taxonomy of what fits where in cleantech:

  • Renewable energy generation
    • Wind
      • Turbines
      • Components, incl. gearboxes, blades, towers
    • Solar
      • Crystalline silicon
      • Thin film
      • Other emerging photovoltaic
      • PV module technologies
      • Inverters
      • Thermal
      • Concentrated solar power
        • Thermal
        • Photovoltaic
      • Financing providers
      • Systems
    • Renewable fuels
      • Ethanol
      • Cellulosic ethanol
      • Biobutanol
      • Biodiesel
      • Methanol
      • Drop-in synthetic fuels
      • Biogas
      • Hydrogen [when produced from non-fossil sources]
    • Marine
      • Tidal
      • Wave
      • Run-of-river and other small scale hydro
      • Ocean thermal
    • Biomass
      • Wood combusion
    • Geothermal
      • Natural aquifer
      • Hot dry rock enhanced
    • Fuel cells
      • PEM
      • DMFC
      • SOFC
      • MCFC
      • Zinc air
    • Waste-to-energy
      • Waste heat recovery
      • Anaerobic digestion
      • Landfill gas
      • Gasification
      • Plasma torching
    • Nuclear
      • New fission designs
      • Fusion
      • Non-uranium fuels
      • Waste disposal
    • Emerging
      • Osmotic power
      • Kinetic power
      • Others
    • Measurement & analytics
      • Software systems
      • Sensor and other hardware
  • Energy storage
    • Batteries
      • Wet cells (e.g. flow, lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, sodium -sulfur)
      • Dry cells (e.g. zinc-carbon, lithium iron phosphate)
      • Reserve batteries
      • Charging & management
    • Thermal storage
      • Molten salt
      • Ice
      • Chilled water
      • Eutectic
    • Mechanical storage
      • Pumped water
      • Compressed air
      • Flywheels
      • Other moving mass
    • Super/ultra capacitors
    • Hydrogen storage
  • Efficiency
    • Smart grid
      • Transmission
        • Sensors & quality measurement
        • Distribution automation
        • High voltage DC
        • Superconductors
        • High voltage control devices
      • Demand management/response
      • Management
        • Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) & smart meters
        • Monitoring & metering
        • Networking equipment
        • Quality & testing
        • Self repairing technologies
        • Power conservation
        • Power protection
        • Data analysis systems
    • Green building
      • Design
        • Green roofs
      • Building automation
        • Software & data analytics
        • Monitoring, sensors and controllers
        • Metering
        • Networking & communication
      • Lighting
        • Ballasts & controllers
        • Solid state lighting
        • CFLs
        • Daylight harvesting
      • Systems
        • HVAC
        • Refrigeration
        • Water heating
      • Consulting/facilities management
        • ESCOs
    • Cogeneration
      • Combined heat and power (CHPDH)
    • Data centers & devices
      • Component efficiency improvement
      • Virtualization
      • Intelligent power management
      • Smart appliances
    • Semiconductors
    • Collaborative consumption systems
      • Bartering
      • Bike sharing
      • Carpool/Ride sharing
      • Car sharing
      • Collaborative workspace
      • Co-housing
      • Coworking
      • Garden sharing
      • Fractional ownership
      • Peer-to-peer lending
      • Seed swap
      • Shared taxi
      • Time banks
      • Virtual currencies
  • Transportation
    • Vehicles
      • Improved internal combustion
      • Hybrid electric
      • Plug in hybrids
      • All electric
      • eBikes
      • New vehicle types
      • Rail transport innovation
      • Water transport innovation
      • Components
      • System integration
    • Traffic management
      • Fleet management
      • Traffic & route management
      • Lighting & signals
      • Parking management systems
      • Behavior management
    • Fueling/charging infrastructure
      • Vehicle-to-grid (V2G)
      • Fast charging
      • Battery swapping
      • Induction
      • Alternative fuel conversion
  • Air & environment
    • Carbon sequestration
      • Carbon capture & storage
        • Geological
        • Ocean
        • Mineral
        • Bio capture, incl. algae
        • Co2 re-use
      • Geoengineering
      • Biochar
      • Forestry/agriculture
    • Carbon trading/offsets
      • Software systems
    • Emissions control
      • Sorbents & scrubbers
      • Biofiltration
      • Cartridge/electronic
      • Catalytic converters
    • Bioremediation
    • Recycling & waste
      • Materials reclamation
      • New sorting technologies
      • Waste treatment
      • Waste management & other services
    • Monitoring & compliance
      • Toxin detection
      • Software systems
      • Sensors & other measurement/testing hardware
  • Clean industry
    • Materials innovation
      • Nano
        • Gels
        • Powders
        • Coatings
        • Membranes
      • Bio
        • Biopolymers
        • Biodegradables
        • Catalysts
        • Timber reclamation
      • Glass
        • Chemical
        • Electronic
        • PV
      • Chemical
        • Composites
        • Foils
        • Coatings
      • Structural building material
        • Cement
        • Drywall
        • Windows
      • Ceramics
      • Adhesives
    • Design innovation
      • Biomimicry
      • Software
    • Equipment efficiency
      • Efficient motors
      • Heat pumps & exchangers
      • Controls
    • Production
      • Construction/fabrication
      • Resource utilization
      • Process efficiency
      • Toxin/waste minimization
    • Monitoring & compliance
      • Software systems
      • Automation
      • Sensors & other measurement/testing hardware
    • Advanced packaging
      • Packing
      • Containers
  • Water
    • Production
      • Desalination
      • Air-to-water
    • Treatment
      • Filtration
      • Purification
      • Contaminate detection
      • Waste treatment
    • Transmission
      • Mains repair/improvement
    • Efficiency
      • Recycling
      • Smart irrigation
      • Aeroponics/hydroponics
      • Water saving appliances
    • Monitoring & compliance
      • Software systems
      • Sensors & other measurement/testing hardware
  • Agriculture
    • Crop farming
      • Land management
      • Bioengineering
      • Natural fertilizers and amendments
      • Precision fertilization
      • Biological weed, pest and disease control
      • Precision irrigation
      • Tools and equipment
      • Waste innovations
      • Transport decay prevention
    • Controlled environment agriculture
      • Hydroponics & aeroponics
      • Vertical farming
      • Improved greenhouses
    • Sustainable forestry
      • Lake and waterway management
      • Precision forestry
    • Animal farming, CAFOs
      • Closed loop
      • Waste innovations
    • Aquaculture
      • Health & yield
      • Containment
      • Waste innovations
      • Water quality

The Seminal List of Authoritative Cleantech Definitions

It dawned on me after I MC’ed the Cleantech Open Gala Awards Ceremony two weeks ago (congrats again the to winners!), that there were now some 5.6 mm listings on google for the term cleantech, and while virtually every data provider or leading market analysis firm in the sector had tried to define cleantech, no one had ever tried to reconcile the different definitions.  And since after and Wikipedia, the next two websites are mine, I ought to be the one to kick it off.  Especially since I wrote the first mini-history essay on cleantech in 2007.

So in conjunction with our new facebook fan page, here is the first seminal list of definitions of cleantech.  Send us new ones in the comments.

Here’s our official definition of cleantech, slightly revised from 2007:  Cleantech (noun) KLEEN TEK  is the generally accepted umbrella term referring to a variety of products and services, investment asset classes, technologies, government policies, and business sectors which encompass some combination of clean energy, environmentally friendly, and sustainable or green attributes; Synonyms/AKAs: clean tech, clean technology, greentech, green tech, energy & environmental technology

“What is Cleantech?” the first mini history of cleantech I wrote in 2007, published on Google’s Knol and Cleantech Blog and CNET, at the time tried to lay out in brief of how the term cleantech or clean tech came to be defined, and why some firms still used greentech to refer to their investing strategy.

“Cleantech, also referred to as clean technology, and often used interchangeably with the term greentech, has emerged as an umbrella term encompassing the investment asset class, technology, and business sectors which include clean energy, environmental, and sustainable or green, products and services. . . .

The term has historically been differentiated from various definitions of green business, sustainability, or triple bottom line industries by its origins in the venture capital investment community, and has grown to define a business sector that includes significant and high growth industries such as solar, wind, water purification, and biofuels.”

No definition of cleantech should start without first reading the current definition, as they really get credit for popularizing the term, or more accurately, the Cleantech Group cofounders, Keith Raab and Nick Parker do.

“Clean technology, or “cleantech,” should not be confused with the terms environmental technology or “green tech” popularized in the 1970s and 80s. Cleantech is new technology and related business models that offer competitive returns for investors and customers while providing solutions to global challenges.

While greentech, or envirotech, has represented “end-of-pipe” technology of the past (for instance, smokestack scrubbers) with limited opportunity for attractive returns, cleantech addresses the roots of ecological problems with new science, emphasizing natural approaches such as biomimicry and biology. Greentech has traditionally only represented small, regulatory-driven markets. Cleantech is driven by productivity-based purchasing, and therefore enjoys broader market economics, with greater financial upside and sustainability.

Cleantech represents a diverse range of products, services, and processes, all intended to:

  • Provide superior performance at lower costs, while
  • Greatly reducing or eliminating negative ecological impact, at the same time as
  • Improving the productive and responsible use of natural resources”

They’ve also long maintained a taxonomy of cleantech, currently with 11 categories:

“Energy Generation
* Wind
* Solar
* Hydro/Marine
* Biofuels
* Geothermal
* Other

Energy Storage
* Fuel Cells
* Advanced Batteries
* Hybrid Systems

Energy Infrastructure
* Management
* Transmission

Energy Efficiency
* Lighting
* Buildings
* Glass
* Other

* Vehicles
* Logistics
* Structures
* Fuels

Water & Wastewater
* Water Treatment
* Water Conservation
* Wastewater Treatment

Air & Environment
* Cleanup/Safety
* Emissions Control
* Monitoring/Compliance
* Trading & Offsets

* Nano
* Bio
* Chemical
* Other

* Advanced Packaging
* Monitoring & Control
* Smart Production

* Natural Pesticides
* Land Management
* Aquaculture

Recycling & Waste
* Recycling
* Waste Treatment”

CleanEdge Original 2001 Definition of Clean Tech

However, while the Cleantech Group does not lay credit to coining the term (nobody really does), the first original report on Clean Tech was by CleanEdge in 2001.

With Ron Pernick, Clint Wilder, and Joel Makower behind it, Clean Tech: Profits and Potential laid out a four leaf clover of clean technology was around Clean Transportation, Clean Energy, Clean Materials, and Clean Water.  And the reports original forecasts, while a bit understated looking back, were quite prescient.  Except perhaps for the bits about fuel cells and microturbines, but we won’t hold that against them!

But then no definition list would be complete without Wikipedia’s cleantech article (not the we trust it!)

Cleantech is a term used to describe products or services that improve operational performance, productivity, or efficiency while reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste, or pollution. Its origin is the increased consumer, regulatory and industry interest in clean forms of energy generation—specifically, perhaps, the rise in awareness of global warming, climate change and the impact on the natural environment from the burning of fossil fuels. The term cleantech is often associated with venture capital funds.”

And more recently, Dallas Kachan, cleantech analyst and former editor of, and before that Inside Greentech, published a new cleantech taxonomy on our Cleantech Blog. Arguing that the old taxonomy’s had gotten long in the tooth, Kachan & Co highlight a 3 level taxonomy with 8 top level categories:

  • Renewable Energy Generation
  • Energy Storage
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Green Building
  • Transportation
  • Air & Environment
  • Clean Industry
  • Water
  • Agriculture

A few other definitions are worth noting:

Matt Marshall in Venture Beat commented a couple of years back on Dow Jones Venture One’s definition of cleantech, which defined as:

“Because of the significant level of attention being focused on cleantech, VentureOne’s research department adopted a strict methodology for categorizing potential companies in this new industry. They were defined as companies that directly enable the efficient use of natural resources and reduce the ecological impact of production. Areas of focus include energy, water, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing where the technology creates less waste or toxicity. The impact of cleantech can be either to provide superior performance at lower costs or to limit the amount of resources needed while maintaining comparable productivity levels.”

And of course that means that Thompson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association jumped into the game in 2008:

“To enable more precise reporting on clean technology companies, Thomson Reuters has newly implemented a specific “clean technology” flag for the portfolio company database. Using the definition that clean technology investment focuses on innovations which conserve energy and resources, protect the environment, or eliminate harmful waste, transactions are coded by the data team and reviewed by the QA team for whether they meet the clean tech criteria. VentureXpert is the official database of the NVCA.”

And NRDC with E2 published their version in 2004 when arguing for a California Cleantech Cluster

“Cleantech as a distinct industry is still in its formative years. The industry encompasses a broad range of products and services, from alternative energy generation to wastewater treatment to environmentally friendly consumer products. Although some of these industries are very different, all share a common thread: They use new, innovative technology to create products and services that compete favorably on price and performance, while reducing mankind’s impact on the environment.”

In conclusion, aka, Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up

  • Damn, there are a lot of lists.  Why doesn’t someone do an analysis on them?
  • We are still waiting for Greentech Media and Michael Kanellos, and the Gartner Group to weigh in, not to mention Rob Day, the original Cleantech Investing blogger.
  • We have green washing in the green sector, but cleantech is a very inclusive sector, which means so far there’s still no sign of cleantech washing hawks, or even a first definition of cleantech washing (maybe I’ll write that next).
  • It is worth noting with some humor how many of these definitions try to shoe-horn in the notion of “and it’s cheaper, too!”.  I figure that  falls into the category of if you have to say it is, then it probably isn’t, but since half of these definitions include input from venture capitalists trying to justify why they’re investing in policy driven investments, a historic no-no in VC-land.
  • Note how the last three definitions build on concepts from the earlier ones.

But the real question is, just because you think you’re cleantech, are you actually cleantech – across EVERY definition?