Having spent 14 years of my professional life at Raychem Corporation, the world leader in material science and technologies, I was exposed to cleantech businesses before they were named that way. I am very interested in this field because it addresses the quality of our air, water, the sustainable availability of key natural resources and the well-being of mankind in general.
What is cleantech?
Quoting the CleanTech venture report.
The concept of “clean” technologies embraces a diverse range of products, services, and processes that are inherently designed to provide superior performance at lower costs, greatly reduce or eliminate environmental impacts and, in doing so, improve the quality of life. Clean technologies span many industries, from alternative forms of energy generation to water purification to materials-efficient production techniques.
The term “clean technology” describes technologies developed by biological, computational, and physical scientists and engineers that enable more valuable use of natural resources and greatly reduce ecological impact, although this may be only one of a technology’s benefits. […]
The impact of clean technologies is ubiquitous: there are large and highly disruptive market opportunities emerging in the multi-billion dollar agricultural, manufacturing and transportation sectors, as well as in the fundamental enabling areas of energy and water.
Example: an emerging cleantech shining star
I recently visited a very interesting and promising company: Energy Recovery Inc. in San Leandro, CA. Energy Recovery Inc. is the world leader in high efficiency energy recovery technology for seawater and brackish water reverse osmosis systems. Its energy recovery technology uses the principle of positive displacement to achieve efficiencies up to 95%. This technology is making desalination affordable.: it can turn deserts into forests and provide affordable water to everyone on earth. Quoting Hans Peter Michelet, Chairman of ERI: “Our oceans are now becoming our future fresh water reservoirs; it is cheaper for California to desalinate the Pacific than to continue to use the Colorado river water”. This company has the potential of becoming one of the shining stars of cleantech.
California takes the lead in cleantech
California is taking the lead in structuring this innovation. I attended the 2006 Award Ceremony of the California Clean Tech Open, at San Francisco City Hall on September 26, 2006. This was an interesting event sponsored by prominent entrepreneurs in different fields. For instance, Frank Levinson, founder of Finisar, is a gold sponsor of the event; we are both on the board of directors of Finisar. Another gold sponsor is Geoff Ralston, former Chief Product Officer of Yahoo!, whom I met on the advisory board of INSEAD. Vinod Khosla, a famous venture assistant (as he calls himself) provided a fascinating overview of what is ahead. Take a look at his site. There was also an insightful talk on the economics of cleantech by Arthur Rosenfeld, PhD, professor at Berkeley and California Energy Commissioner. More on this later.