Chronoptimists: Cleantech Is Full of 'Em


The Urban Dictionary, the user-generated slang web site, recently had a word of the day which I thought was particularly fitting for cleantech companies and entrepreneurs: the chronoptimist, someone who constantly underestimates the time it takes to complete a task (chronologically optimistic.) While entrepreneurs everywhere are guilty of being optimistic about how long it will take them to bring a product to market or raise funding, it seems like the slow nature of some clean technologies and the hopeful way of the do-gooder entrepreneur mean cleantech has chronoptimists in spades. Here are three of them:

Cellulosic Biofuel Makers: If you’re an exec at one of the companies racing to be the first in the U.S. to commercially produce cellulosic ethanol from non-crop plants and biowaste, then chances are, your firm has had to extend its commercial production deadline — maybe even a few times. Companies like Coskata, Verenium and Range Fuels have done so, and could face more hurdles if the economic downturn continues for a lot longer.

Slow-Moving EEStor: First stealthy ultracapacitor developer EEStor was planning to have its energy storage devices ready for Zenn Motors to integrate them into vehicles by mid-2008. Then the timeline moved to sometime in 2009. Are EEStor CEO Dick Weir and Zenn CEO Ian Clifford still being chronoptimists? The companies say Zenn’s car will be initially introduced in late 2009, with commercial availability in 2010. We’ll see.

Tesla’s Roadster Production: Now that electric car maker Tesla is producing Roadsters at a constant pace, you might not remember that the company had long delays getting the Roadster to market. During a media event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk even once actually acknowledged his persistent optimism in meeting quick deadlines, regardless of the reality that he was sometimes overshooting them. Chronoptimism!



there is a company producing bio-ethanol starting 2007, and up to this moment they have 3 plants up and working, maybe on a lower production level, but they also have an oil company as client for these products
but i think that negative info always gets further


Brendan – thanks for saving me the time to explain something – to someone who won’t get it, anyway. :)


Great article Katie… The areas that I find the most number of chronoptimists in cleantech are in lighting (LEDs) and electric vehicles (Li-Ion batteries).

People are grossly underestimating the technical and market challenges of introducing these new technologies that are arguably not ready for prime time. Many investors will be burned… not for being wrong, but for being way too early (e.g. Project Better place raising $200M+ for electric vehicle charging infrastructure… last I checked, there were virtually no electric vehicles – anywhere). And, many under-appreciated technologies are going to make a lot of money in the meantime.


Jill, I have to smile at your apparent belief that what would be classed as an “insignificant” component of the atmosphere cannot possibly have a not so insignificant effect here on the ground.

I must ask you: have you ever heard of the Ozone layer? We are led to believe that it is a very large component of the atmosphere (after all, it’s ~30km thick!) when the reality is very different. If the whole atmosphere was sea level pressure then it would be about 10km thick (that’s 10,000m, or 10,000,000mm). The Ozone layer would comprise only a few mm of that, which equates to (being generous let’s say it’s 10mm at sea level) a millionth of the atmosphere. Yup, just a single part per million or 1 ten thousandth (0.0001) of 1 percent! That’s it! that’s all that stops a big chunk of the UV that would otherwise damage or kill lots of life on the ground.

So, getting back to CO2 … There is over 350 TIMES as much CO2 in the atmosphere (recent measurements say over 380 times, or 380 parts per million and rising) as there is Ozone. Sure, the sun’s output most definitely has an effect, and if it changes by much (either up or down) there will be a large impact on this planet, but can you really say without solid undeniable proof that CO2 has no impact on the climate system and life when there is so much more of it than there is Ozone, which is so vital to our survival?

Katie Fehrenbacher

thanks kent I am aware of it and have written a story on it. it doesnt mean they are now producing the energy storage devices commercially yet. I think a “we’ll see” approach is very reasonable.

Jill whelan

I have to smile at the chronic believers in the current theory of the hour about global warming. They actually think that an atmospheric component as insignificant as carbon dioxide is going to determine future climate – and take 100 years to do so!! So 1% of the greenhouse system will determine 100% of its behavior. You’d have to paint these folks as cockeyed optimists for their beliefs. I note that the Little Ice Age took less than a decade to
drop temperatures enough to kill almost 50% of food production capabilities. I hope there is global warming. Global cooling is what’ll kill you and millions of others. Warming won’t. And unfortunately, it looks as though the sunspot minima is presaging changes in cloud formations, encouraging them. That effect wil be thousands of times more potent than any carbon dioxide increases and will cool the planet
quickly. It’s probably appropriate that the Earth will face one disaster while the people are out running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to
prevent an opposite catastrophe that’ll never happen. Humans are so emotional and unthinking. Especially mostly illiterate and non-competitive Americans. This website seems to function just like the CAtholic Church in the Middle Ages – pushing a set of values that are baloney.

kent beuchert

Fehrenbacher obviously doesn’t follow EEStor nor Zenn Motors all that closely. She doesn’t seem to understand the reason for the delay from a deadline,oh,about 2 years old. Her info is desperately obsolete. Nor does she seem aware of the recent third party testing, which was successful, and the last hurdle to be overcome on the
road to production.

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