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Al Gore Joins Kleiner, Becomes Clean Tech Venture Capitalist

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algorenobelprize1.jpgHe has the Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy Award for his eco-work, what more could the former Vice President do for green technology? Ah yes, help a Silicon Valley venture firm invest in it. The word is out this morning that Al Gore will join Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers as a partner. Wow, the venture world hasn’t got this high-profile a VC since Bono and Colin Powell (a KPCB strategic partner). The fact that Gore will be looking into cleantech startups speaks volumes about the buzz around the industry.

We’re also thinking it probably means no presidential run. While Gore will join Kleiner, the investment firm that Gore co-founded, Generation Investment Management, will partner with KPCB on a broader scale; KPCB’s John Doerr will join Generation’s advisory board. Doerr himself is a high-profile green VC and is well-known for his teary-eyed TED speech. Of course, being the eternal green do-gooder that Gore is, he will donate 100 percent of his KPCB salary to the Alliance for Climate Protection.

Beyond the celebrity factor, Al Gore will certainly be able to open doors for portfolio startups — who would refuse an intro via the man that won once won the popular presidential vote? And when it comes to helping influence regulation that will help the cleantech industry, there are few better advocates to have in your corner.

Fortune has a great article on the collaboration between Gore and Doerr, which leads with Gore doing due diligence on KPCB-backed solar thermal startup Ausra, which we’ve covered extensively. Gore tells Fortune he will be an “active, hands-on” partner with KPCB, unlike the rarely heard about KPCB celeb partner Powell.

Fortune also gives us KPCB’s cleantech stats:

“According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner’s latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner’s 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.”

Oh yeah and one little nagging point:

“Five years after Kleiner Perkins made its first green investment, the firm hasn’t had one ‘exit’ — VC-speak for an IPO or a sale of a company that validates the investment thesis.”

34 Responses to “Al Gore Joins Kleiner, Becomes Clean Tech Venture Capitalist”

  1. Prof.Hans-Jürgen Franke & Prof. Pengcheng Fu


    University of Hawai’i Professor Pengchen “Patrick” Fu developed an innovative technology, to produce high amounts of ethanol with modified cyanobacterias, as a new feedstock for ethanol, without entering in conflict with the food and feed-production .

    Fu has developed strains of cyanobacteria — one of the components of pond scum — that feed on atmospheric carbon dioxide, and produce ethanol as a waste product.

    He has done it both in his laboratory under fluorescent light and with sunlight on the roof of his building. Sunlight works better, he said.

    It has a lot of appeal and potential. Turning waste into something useful is a good thing. And the blue-green-algae needs only sun and wast- recycled from the sugar-cane-industry, to grow and to produce directly more and more ethanol. With this solution, the sugarcane-based ethanol-industry in Brazil and other tropical regions will get a second way, to produce more biocombustible for the worldmarket.

    The technique may need adjusting to increase how much ethanol it yields, but it may be a new technology-challenge in the near future.

    The process was patented by Fu and UH in January, but there’s still plenty of work to do to bring it to a commercial level. The team of Fu foundet just the start-up LA WAHIE BIOTECH INC. with headquarter in Hawaii and branch-office in Brazil.


    Fu figures his team is two to three years from being able to build a full-scale
    ethanol plant, and they are looking for investors or industry-partners (jointventure).

    He is fine-tuning his research to find different strains of blue-green algae that will produce even more ethanol, and that are more tolerant of high levels of ethanol. The system permits, to “harvest” continuously ethanol – using a membrane-system- and to pump than the blue-green-algae-solution in the Photo-Bio-Reactor again.

    Fu started out in chemical engineering, and then began the study of biology. He has studied in China, Australia, Japan and the United States, and came to UH in 2002 after a stint as scientist for a private company in California.

    He is working also with NASA on the potential of cyanobacteria in future lunar and Mars colonization, and is also proceeding to take his ethanol technology into the marketplace. A business plan using his system, under the name La Wahie Biotech, won third place — and a $5,000 award — in the Business Plan Competition at UH’s Shidler College of Business.
    Daniel Dean and Donavan Kealoha, both UH law and business students, are Fu’s partners. So they are in the process of turning the business plan into an operating business.

    The production of ethanol for fuel is one of the nation’s and the world’s major initiatives, partly because its production takes as much carbon out of the atmosphere as it dumps into the atmosphere. That’s different from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which take stored carbon out of the ground and release it into the atmosphere, for a net increase in greenhouse gas.
    Most current and planned ethanol production methods depend on farming, and in the case of corn and sugar, take food crops and divert them into energy.

    Fu said crop-based ethanol production is slow and resource-costly. He decided to work with cyanobacteria, some of which convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into their own food and release oxygen as a waste product.

    Other scientists also are researching using cyanobacteria to make ethanol, using different strains, but Fu’s technique is unique, he said. He inserted genetic material into one type of freshwater cyanobacterium, causing it to produce ethanol as its waste product. It works, and is an amazingly efficient system.

    The technology is fairly simple. It involves a photobioreactor, which is a
    fancy term for a clear glass or plastic container full of something alive, in which light promotes a biological reaction. Carbon dioxide gas is bubbled through the green mixture of water and cyanobacteria. The liquid is then passed through a specialized membrane that removes the
    ethanol, allowing the water, nutrients and cyanobacteria to return to the

    Solar energy drives the conversion of the carbon dioxide into ethanol. The partner of Prof. Fu in Brazil in the branch-office of La Wahie Biotech Inc. in Aracaju – Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke – is developing a low-cost photo-bio-reactor-system. Prof. Franke want´s soon creat a pilot-project with Prof. Fu in Brazil.

    The benefit over other techniques of producing ethanol is that this is simple and quick—taking days rather than the months required to grow crops that can be converted to ethanol.

    La Wahie Biotech Inc. believes it can be done for significantly less than the cost of gasoline and also less than the cost of ethanol produced through conventional methods.

    Also, this system is not a net producer of carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide released into the environment when ethanol is burned has been withdrawn from the environment during ethanol production. To get the carbon dioxide it needs, the system could even pull the gas out of the emissions of power plants or other carbon dioxide producers. That would prevent carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere, where it has been implicated as a
    major cause of global warming.
    Honolulo – Hawaii/USA and Aracaju – Sergipe/Brasil – 15/09/2008

    Prof. Pengcheng Fu – E-Mail: [email protected]
    Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke – E-Mail: [email protected]

    Tel.: 00-55-79-3243-2209

  2. Gore and his wife Tipper live in a behemoth 20-room mansion outside of Nashville that used nearly 23,000 kilowatt-hours last August, more than twice the annual-yes, annual-energy usage of a typical American home. Before he starts to “develop” better ways to make Americans use their homes why doesn’t he personally consume far less himself? Something to ponder….

  3. Henry Eisemann

    I am trying to start a new business, conserving water in San Luis Obispo Co. Calif. This would consist of educating the public,and saving water by collecting their own rain water from roofs, and parking lots. I would appreciate any info about getting a grant to get this started. It is called The Rain Harvester. We have a contractors license and a cement contr. license already. Thank you, Henry and Marc Eisemann