Living In A Material World

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that cleantech, in large part, is actually materials tech.  “Nanotechnology” has some vogue as a term, but fundamentally nanotech is materials technology, and materials technology is broader than nanotech (altering materials at a molecular or atomic scale).

Materials are at the core of most of the required innovations to help solve our most daunting environmental and energy challenges.

New materials to help extract contaminants from gaseous and liquid pollution streams.

New materials to improve the electrochemistries of batteries, solar modules, and fuel cells.

New materials to eliminate the need for rare earth metals in permanent magnet generators and motors.

New materials to lighten and strengthen vehicles and wind turbine blades.

New materials to increase the efficiency of thermal transfer in anything combustion-related.

And on and on and on. 

Alas, materials science and engineering is not a particularly widely-pursued discipline — it’s quite nichey relative to chemical engineering or chemistry. 

It strikes me that we cleantech advocates need to get smarter in and pay more attention to the materials arena as fertile ground for the next big thing.  For young people with good STEM aptitude and strong interest in cleantech, materials science/engineering is a good field in which to start digging.

We in Northeast Ohio are fortunate to have two of the world’s best university programs in materials, at the University of Akron and at Case Western Reserve University.  Also, and not coincidentally, a large ecosystem of companies based on materials innovation is clustered in Northeast Ohio, with some of the most well-known being Goodyear (NYSE: GT), Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW), Lubrizol, Ferro (NYSE: FOE), Materion (NYSE: MTRN), RPM (NYSE: RPM), GrafTech (NYSE: GTI), PolyOne (NYSE: POL)A. Schulman (NASDAQ: SHLM), etc.  Between academia and industry, our region is well-suited to inventing the materials technologies that can make a huge difference in the cleantech world.

Seven cleantech companies Silicon Valley just learned about

As a reporter and analyst, I wrote about hundreds of cleantech companies. As a managing director of the Cleantech Group, I spent years listening to hundreds of pitches, coached companies on presenting to institutional investors and helped facilitate cleantech deals around the world. Just last month, I served on a committee at the request of the Canadian consulate in San Francisco to evaluate companies to present at a cleantech investor event.

So I’ve seen a lot of cleantech companies pitch well, and some not so well.

Last week, I had the privilege to help present seven strong cleantech companies actively seeking capital to investors in Palo Alto. And the two-dozen institutional cleantech investment firms in the room liked what they saw.

Read more

Blogroll Review: Flash, Reforestation, ED

by Frank Ling

Memory Revolution

Here’s another example of nanotechnology contributing to energy efficiency. Through improved ability to manufacture memory, flash is starting to replace traditional hard drive applications.

Hank Green at EcoGeek writes:

“There’s a lot of reasons to herald the dawn of flash-based hard drives. They’re faster, smaller, silent and, of course, tremendously more energy efficient. The difference between a traditional hard drive and a flash drive is roughly the difference between an incandescent light and a compact fluorescent light.”

Still, isn’t the brain the most energy efficient means of storing information or is it DNA?

Forest Better than Biofuels?

Just as biofuels are becoming accepted, more evidence is coming in that their overall effects on emissions and the environment is negative. One recent study shows that reforestation is much more effective at offsetting CO2 than biofuel production.

Jeremy Elton Jacquot writes in Treehuggger:

“Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust and Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds estim that the initial cutting down of forests to plant more food crops, like corn and sugarcane, would release as much as 100 – 200 tons of carbon per hectare. “

Endocrine Disruption

Back when I was a chemist, I used to play around with exotic compounds like phthalates, which are used in plastics and cosmetics. Though touted as safe in commercial products, they are also recognized as being absorbed into humans, causing endocrine disruptions.

In this week’s Gristmill, Theo Colborn writes:

“Endocrine disruption should be right at the top of the list of most critical technological disasters facing the world today, up with climate change. With little notice, vast volumes and combinations of synthetic chemicals have settled in every environment in the world, including the womb environment.”

No more sniffing chemicals for me! :)

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.

3rd Generation Solar Cells – Dyesol Interview

Nick Bruse runs Strike Consulting, a cleantech venture consultancy; hosts the cleantech show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment; and advises Clean Technology Australasia Pty Ltd and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia.

It seems we cant go a day at the moment without hearing about a new commissioning of a energy plant, or new technology development, or fund raising in the solar energy space at the moment.

Last week on The Cleantech Show I interviewed Sylvia Tulloch (podcast), the Managing director and founding team member for 3rd Generation solar cell technology company Dyesol (ASX: DYE). 3rd generation solar cell technology utilises biomimicry of the chlorophyll dye in plants to produce energy from the sun.

You can access the interview here

Many of you may be aware of Dyesol which has been a pioneer in the field of Dye Sensitised Cells (DSC) over the last 10 years, now providing the key dyes and Titania pastes to some of the 800 research and commercial organisations around the world developing DSC applications.

Don’t miss this interview, as Sylvia goes into detail about how DSC technology will have a large roll in the coming decade. Dyesol has also recently signed a number of large partnership agreements and supply contracts to for new DSC applications.

We discuss the technology and the applications where its lower cost high volume potential for energy generation in building materials, consumer devices and a host of other applications means it will have a signifcant roll in the future.