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Barack Obama Would Create Cleantech VC Fund

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barack1.jpgFormer VP Al Gore has gone all cleantech VC, so why can’t a presidential candidate use a cleantech venture fund as a platform for election? Illinois Senator Barack Obama said on Wednesday that, if elected, he would create a ‘Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund’ backed by an annual $10 billion investment over five years. He said in a statement that the fund is “to ensure that promising technologies move beyond the lab and are commercialized in the U.S.”

Obama announced his overall plan on tackling technology and innovation, including creating a Chief Technology Officer position, this morning. We’re not sure of the details of the cleantech VC fund plan, but given that venture investing and handing out government grants are very different animals, the move has us scratching our heads. Would government officials lead the fund? Would the fund be looking for standard venture returns? We’re sending a bunch of questions over to the campaign, so if you have any, feel free to enter them in the comments section, and we’ll try to get them answered.

As part of his overall energy policy, Obama says he would invest the equivalent of $150 billion over the next 10 years into energy technology. The specifics are:

  • “Double federal science and research funding for clean energy projects, relying on the resources and ability of our national laboratories, universities and land grant colleges.”
  • “Invest in the development of the next generation of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.” (Good idea to stay away from corn ethanol!)
  • “Increase the resources devoted to the commercialization and deployment of low-carbon coal technologies.”
  • “Invest in a digital smart energy grid.”
  • “Use innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency and stability of our economy and improve our national energy intensity 50 percent by 2030.”

15 Responses to “Barack Obama Would Create Cleantech VC Fund”

  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. Jason Leher

    I’m surprised to hear support for biofuel.
    Energy that goes into the grid and energy to power cars are two different things, and biofuel is an application that cheifly applies to cars. It isn’t the best solution because 100% electric cars are an ideal system because the infrastructure is already there and the efficiency of not having a power plant under the hood makes them inherently more viable than any other propulsion idea, not to mention that much of the energy for the cars is already being produced because most charging would be done at night, taking advantage of all the extra grid power.
    This means that the energy issue is squarely on the level of the grid, making biofuel (and all its downfalls) pointless unless its implemented at that level.

  3. Is Obama talking to Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of Break Through (the book) fame? If not, they should be because this sounds very similar to their recent article in the New Republic (24Sep07):

    “Our priority, then, should be a five- or ten-fold increase in investment in clean enegy — broadly defined to include R&D, deployment, procurement, education, and infrastructure — from less than $3 billion per year to $15 to 30 billion.”

    Sounds to me like Obama is considering a combination of a domestic OPIC-like venture combined with a NIH-like approach for clean energy R&D. A cabinet position for technology czar is long overdue.