December 13, 2007 4:00 AM PST
U.S. green-tech hot spots go coast to coast
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December 13, 2007
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Texas netted 149 million in clean-tech venture dollars in the first nine months of this year, with more than half of that going to Austin-based HelioVolt, a company that is building solar electric cells using CIGS (copper-indium-germanium-selenide), an alternative material to silicon.
The Austin area is the hotbed of activity for Texas clean-tech start-ups, where there is a University of Texas-linked Clean Tech Incubator to foster development of new companies.
Austin benefits from the advocacy of Mayor Will Winn who is pushing for mass transit, a green-building program in conjunction with municipally owned Austin Energy, and plug-in hybrid stations. "You tell people (they) get to drive around on West Texas wind, not Middle East oil, and it resonates with a broader spectrum of people," Winn says.
Texas has the fastest-growing wind industry in the U.S., according to the American Wind Energy Association. And its strong ties to the gas and oil industries make it a natural place to test material technologies to improve refineries and exploration.
Washington State is right behind Massachusetts in the number of deals thus far this year with 10, although it ranked fourth in total dollars invested for the first nine months of the year.
Although it's in a different industry, Microsoft's heavy presence in the Seattle area could be helping boost the creation of green companies.
Former Microsofties, who either cashed out or simply moved on, have founded green-tech companies. Perhaps the most successful Microsoft veteran so far is Martin Tobias, CEO of biodiesel maker Imperium Renewables.
Technology to make IT more efficient is attracting former IT people. Seattle-based Verdiem, a company that makes power management software to reduce PC power consumption, has many veteran IT managers and board members.
The rest of the country is the fifth green-tech hotspot.
Who knew that Boise State University had a lab devoted to technology that converts kinetic energy, or motion, into electricity? This research may have gone on for years in obscurity, but because of growing interest in alternative forms of energy, a company was formed--M2E Power--to commercialize the battery technology.
Similarly, Novomer was spun out of Cornell University in upstate New York to make biodegradable plastic using carbon dioxide as a feedstock.
And in the world of biofuels, the U.S. agriculture states are playing a huge role in the run-up of corn ethanol production.
As plant wastes, such as corn cobs and wood chips, become viable sources to make ethanol, states with agricultural and forestry industries are trying to get a toe-hold in the emerging industry.
Two cellulosic ethanol companies--Range Fuels and Mascoma--have announced plans to build plants that use wood chips to make ethanol in Georgia and New York.
There's another thing the middle of the U.S. has a lot of: coal. The biggest reserves of coal are in the Midwest and plains states, according to the Energy Information Administration.
One of the most important technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is carbon capture and sequestration, by which large amounts of carbon dioxide are either pumped in underground geological formations or in emptied ocean gas wells.
In a study earlier this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommended construction of coal-fired power plants that include machinery to sequester carbon dioxide on site.
One of the first locations to try out this technology is in Texas where, alongside a booming wind industry, more coal plants are being proposed.
The U.S. is outpacing Europe in terms of venture dollars invested. According to the Cleantech Network, North American venture capitalists invested almost three times as much as their European counterparts in the third quarter of this year.
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