Innovators focus on green energy

March 14, 2008 9:41:16 PM PDT
Fuels made in a lab could lower America's dependence on imported oil, and they could start appearing by the end of next year.

That's one of the optimistic predictions to come out of a Wall Street Journal conference on eco-nomics.

Drivers up and down California are feeling the pain as oil and gas prices shoot higher.

However, engineered fuels in development could provide relief.

"I'm convinced four years from now it'll be production cost a dollar a gallon. Oil will have a hard time competing, and it will drive the prices of oil down," said Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.

Vinod Khosla is co-founder of Sun Microsystems and now one of Silicon Valley's leading venture capitalists.

He is pumping millions of dollars into a number of new technologies -- ethanol is just one of them.

"By 2015 we are likely to see a hundred, two hundred plants or 10 to 20 billion gallons of capacity, which should start to make a significant dent in our oil imports for gasoline," said Khosla.

Many of the technologies, including solar, continue to face hurdles. Governor Schwarzenegger gave an example.

"The whole world, the Germans, the French, the Canadians, the Japanese, everyone has come to us and said, 'we want to build solar out in the Mojave Desert and everywhere. We want to build solar, but we can't find, you know, how to get it to the grid.' That's the big challenge," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) California.

Nuclear energy remains a potential solution for global warming. G.E, Toshiba and a French company are all working on next-generation designs.

John Bryson is chairman and CEO of Edison International. He says building a new nuclear plant in California is years off because of cost, waste disposal and safety concerns.

"Every other form of major base load is fossil fuel derived. That involves not just greenhouse gas issues but also national security issues. Nuclear is carbon emission free," said Edison International Chairman and CEO John Bryson.

Another issue is attracting talent to create energy solutions.

Andrew Liveris, President of Dow Chemical, says he's building new labs in China, India, Brazil and Eastern Europe because U.S. immigration policy is forcing Ph.D. students to return home.

It's an issue that also bothers T.J. rodgers, chairman of Cypress Semiconductor.

"Of course if you take a bunch of people, send them to Stanford or Harvard, then send them back so they can compete at Hitachi or at some place in China, you're fueling foreign competition with the best talent in the world," said Cypress Semiconductor Chairman and CEO T.J. Rodgers.

Progress is on the horizon for green technology solutions. Some of them will come from start-ups, others from large multi-nationals. All of whom see the opportunity to make money to address energy and climate change issues.