Remember those fairy tales about trolls in the forest with magic potions that could make the hero invisible or someone fall in love? That's sort of what it is like to cover the clean tech world some days.
A number of start-ups have emerged promising a molecule that can simulate photosynthesis, a way to turn wood chips into ethanol, or materials for converting much more of the sun's energy into electricity.
Naturally, they never tell you what it is. Take GreatPoint Energy. The Cambridge-based company has come up with a catalyst that can convert coal, one of the dirtiest fuels out there, into clean-burning natural gas fairly efficiently and cheaply. The process is 65 percent efficient, says co-founder Aaron Mandell. So what's the secret? A catalyst, and he doesn't say much beyond that.
EE Stor, based outside of Austin, Texas, has a battery that many claim can revolutionize how power is stored. Good luck in trying to figure out the formula. They won't talk.
It's the Rumplestiltskin business model. (Ron Epstein, a principal at IPotential, came up with that metaphor first, to describe some patent companies.)
Some of these ideas will succeed and many will fail. Over the years, the basic formulas will likely emerge. But right now, the companies all have the same line. Believe me, it's magically delicious.