Vinod Khosla believes green tech future. He's often called upon to share his vision, as he did recently for the national science board. However, he also has put an estimated $300 million of his own money on the line, investing in start-up's working on innovative ideas. Khosla says he gets thousands of pitches a year for funding.
"There are ideas in both incremental improvements, better solar cells, better windmills, but the ones that really excite me are the ideas from left field. Ideas that nobody thought about and you say, 'Duh, I should have thought of that,'" says Khosla.
In all, Khosla is funding 45 green tech ventures, covering all the bases: electrical power and efficiency, mechanical efficiency, water, biofuels and cellulosic ethanol. Many of the companies are secretive and almost invisible on the radar screen, such as Calera in Los Gatos, which is trying to sequester carbon gasses produced by power plants.
"What we do is we don't need to separate from the major admitters coal-fired power plants in order to capture it. We take the raw flue gas from a coal-fired power plant and we transform that into a useful building material and it's stored in the form of a mineral," says Brent Constantz, Ph.D., President and CEO of Caldera.
That mineral is then made into cement, the major component of concrete. This would help the fast-growing countries like China where a construction boom is underway. Calera says 47 percent of all the concrete poured last year, was poured in China. Khosla likes the idea of reducing greenhouse gases and filling a need.
"If the technology is right, building more plants will clean up the air because the air coming out of the plant will be cleaner, less carbon dioxide, than the air going into the plant," says Khosla. Gasoline prices have been volatile following fluctuation in global oil prices. Khosla hopes for a day when oil will drop to $35 a barrel as a result of bioengineered fuels.
"There's another group we found in Europe who said all oil comes from biomass. It just takes millions of years. Nature takes time. How about if we can do that in an hour? And they're running an experiment to see if they can reduce a million-year oil production cycle from biomass to an hour or less, and they're making pretty good progress," says Khosla.
In Khosla's mind, no one has a monopoly on innovation. However, he's counting on Silicon Valley to be the green tech leader.
"I am convinced 10 years from now we will see 10 new companies like Google, created in the energy space, and that's why California can be ahead of the game," says Khosla.