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The New Energy Companies

Joel Makower, The Oil Drum
What, exactly, is an “energy company”? That used to be an easy question to answer, but no longer. Now, it seems, just about everybody wants in on the energy game.

One of the more noteworthy aspects of what has come to be called “the clean-tech revolution” is that industry sector lines are blurring. It’s no longer just oil, gas, coal, and utility companies that qualify under the “energy company” moniker. As the world’s energy choices diversify, so, too, has the number and nature of companies jumping in. There are now “energy companies” emerging from a variety of decidedly non-energy sectors, from electronics to chemicals to aerospace to ag.

Consider Dupont, which just announced a $50 million expansion of a facility to manufacture materials for solar panels — specifically, the panels’ protective backsheets. This is hardly the first big energy bet for Dupont, the company who’s tagline was, famously, “Better Living Through Chemistry.” For example, it boasts an entire division making “more powerful, more durable, and more cost-efficient fuel cell materials and components,” as the company puts it.
(27 Aug 2006)

For struggling West Texans, giant turbines bring winds of change

Alyson Ward, McClatchy Newspapers via Charlotte Observer
The thing about West Texas that you can’t ignore, that you can never forget, is the wind. On that big, flat stretch of land dotted with scrubby mesquite trees, the wind sweeps through effortlessly, unimpeded. It rakes across acres of ranchland, over cattle and rocks and red dirt, over nearly dry stock tanks and abandoned oil pump jacks. Always, always it whips at your face or pushes at your back. It fills your ears with a high-pitched, wavering whistle. There’s always another gust on the way.

And that wind brings a lot of things with it. Tumbleweeds, maybe, that scuttle along highways and prairies. Or dirt, picked up and carried through the air, turning the sky red, choking the atmosphere with dust and sand.

These days, though, the wind is blowing something else across West Texas: change. Giant turbines are going up by the hundreds, planted all over the prairie to harness that wind and turn it into clean, renewable energy.

Head west and you’ll see them. About 20 miles past Abilene on Interstate 20, they first appear on the southern horizon, lined up neatly atop a broad mesa. They cut a strange profile – dozens of steel-and-fiberglass towers, spinning gently like pinwheels against the vast sky.

The turbines look new and shiny, smooth and modern. They look graceful and high-tech. And in this dusty, wild stretch of West Texas, they look like they landed from another planet.
(27 Aug 2006)

Promoting Alternative Energy Without Being Too Green

Matt Richtel, NY Times
Nicholas Parker would like to take this opportunity to loudly and clearly dispel any misconception that he is a tree hugger.

As chairman of the trade group Cleantech Venture Network, Mr. Parker helps venture capital invest in technologies aimed at improving energy sources or providing alternatives by promoting the concept, providing research and sponsoring conferences that marry investors and entrepreneurs.

The broad, loosely defined environmental category – known as cleantech – includes companies with ideas in solar power, fuel cells, batteries, water, pollution control, recycling, even farming.

But make no mistake, Mr. Parker said. “This is not the venture equivalent of socially responsible investing,” he insisted. “This isn’t about creating a few shekels for a community group.”

It’s about money, Mr. Parker said. And venture capitalists are clamoring to get in. In the first two quarters, venture capitalists invested $379 million in 30 cleantech companies, according to the National Venture Capital Association. That is up from $230.8 million in 27 companies in all of 2005.
(25 Aug 2006)

Engineers race to steal nature’s secrets

John Vidal, The Guardian
Giant wind turbines based on a seed, and desalination plant that mimics a beetle
A new generation of small green companies is emerging with radical but proven ideas to revolutionise engineering and create anything from intelligent fridges to colossal wind turbines moored at sea.

The designers hope their projects will transform energy supplies and cut carbon emissions in the next 20 years. They include huge wind turbines, more powerful than any seen before, anchored to the seabed 20 miles off the coast; fridges that monitor the national grid to use less power; a desalination plant that is also a theatre; and a tidal lagoon that protects the coast while generating electricity.

The new companies are rethinking major infrastructure projects using natural objects as their basis. The aero-generator turbine, now being laboratory tested before sea trials next year, mimics sycamore seeds that spin like propellers in the slightest breeze. Its twin arms could each be as tall as the Eiffel tower, and the structure could be moored like an oil platform in 450 feet of water.

Each turbine, said Martin Pawlyn, an architect with Grimshaw – which developed the transparent “biomes” at the Eden Project in Cornwall – could produce 20 megawatts of electricity, nearly five times as much as any existing wind turbine. “A cluster of 100 of them spread over just a few square miles of ocean, each turning at just a few revolutions a minute, could outperform almost all Britain’s existing wind farms put together,” he said.

“We are now learning from natural eco-systems, and are scaling up projects. We are going back to first principles, taking our inspiration from nature.”
(29 Aug 2006)