Question: What do rocket science, sand castles, and video projectors embedded in cell phones have in common? Answer: A clean tech future led by superlative venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Blair was announced May 24th as senior advisor with Khosla Ventures in a science-fiction-becomes-reality event in San Francisco. The meeting showcased a half dozen Khosla-Blair investments that broaden just about anyone's definition of what a clean tech future really means. And it's a whole bunch more than solar panels and electric cars (which, face it, is what most folks think about when they think about clean tech).
Khosla, famous for his low key yet mind-bending presentations, insisted that the ecosystem for clean energy is not the "niche-y" dream just of wind power advocates and water turbines. It will be the process of great innovation, a tolerance for failure, and ultimately success for those entrepreneurs who persevere. Khosla and Blair emphasized that solutions to climate change and the search for clean energy does not just belong to techies and environmentalists:
- a former Detroit auto engineer discussed a diesel engine that beat the Toyota Prius as clean car of the year in 2009 with 50% better gas mileage at 25% lower cost to the consumer
- a former concrete executive offered a coral-like sand castle to prove that bad carbon dioxide (CO2) can be turned into hard calcium carbonate (CaCO3), potentially removing 10 billion tons of CO2 per year by adding a little salt water and some chemistry
- a former Houston oil and gas man showed crude oil that can be produced in a factory out of plants and other biomass in only a few seconds rather than needing to be pumped out of the Gulf of Mexico after millions of years of cooking
There were indeed conventional clean tech innovations as well, including an LED light bulb that will consume 75% less electricity by using laser chip technology that will also allow us to project videos from cell phones, not just take a sad little photo. (Wow is right. You shoulda seen the prototype.) And there was a rocket scientist who combined his history at Northrup-Grumman with years at Whirlpool to make air conditioners that use 75% less electricity to cool our buildings.
So you see, by thinking big and beyond, the new clean energy economy is already happening in places that you might not expect. It's not just corn ethanol and wind turbines and polar bears and hurricanes. In fact, the growth of this new economy (where the Chinese and Germans are knocking our red-white-and-blue socks off) does not even depend on your view about the reality of man made climate change. As Khosla pointed out, our two main sources of oil are those deep waters in the seas and too often from those little dictators in Iran and Venezuela...
If the corollary to "follow the money" is "follow the brains," then there's no doubt that the smart investments are with Blair and Khosla as they help build the private capital and pursue the innovation that will change our lives in the most unexpected ways.
"We are not trying to do incremental things," said Khosla. "We are trying to do the stuff of dreams."