Federal Funding for Renewable Energy Commercialization

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Editor’s Note: The is a guest contribution by Ian Rogoff, Chairman of the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization, and Chairman and CEO of The Helio Group (parent company to HelioPower). This is the sixth post in a series from the CEO’s of major solar companies. You can follow the complete series here.

There is a long overdue debate underway in industry and political circles regarding the merits of federal funding for renewable energy (RE) commercialization.

Distinct from RE projects and RE deployments, commercialization involves identifying specific technologies and entrepreneurs based on their perceived commercial potential and financing the respective project teams along a vector towards commercial success.

The types of commercialization activities typically funded include scaling benchtop prototypes to meet market requirements, characterizing technologies to understand performance and limits, testing boundary conditions, designing for manufacturability, testing for real world conditions, scaling refinery processes, among others.

Commercialization is quite distinct from basic research, and expressly does not seek to fund pure science or unproven claims. Typically, commercialization funding stops at a point where the private sector steps in and either assumes the next funding milestone or market acceptance/rejection obviates the need for additional financing entirely.

Two types of barriers exist today in the commercialization of renewable energy technology: the “valley of death” and the “mountain of death.”

Renewable Energy’s Valley of Death

Basic RE research is being conducted at numerous institutions around the world and much of this technology remains trapped in labs for want of commercialization know-how and funding. Basic and applied research is likewise being conducted in commercial enterprises, but much of that research is often constrained through short-term return on investment requirements.

In addition, renewable energy technology often fails to garner the resources and funding needed in order to reach commercial viability as a result of existing regulatory and fiscal regimens that bias markets towards incumbent technologies. Absent investment and institutional know-how, the commercialization of renewable energy will continue to be hampered in its application and hindered in its ability to cross the so-called “valley of death.”

About the Author

Ian Rogoff is Co-Founder and General Partner at Sierra Nevada Partners, an investment management company established to buy and grow sustainable businesses located in the Western US. Ian is currently Chairman and CEO of The Helio Group, an integrated renewable energy company, and Chairman of the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization. He is an active angel investor in renewable energy and is involved in a number of technology transfer and technology commercialization initiatives. Ian has diverse industry experience including software, discrete manufacturing, aerospace and energy, and prior roles include Vice President of the Worldwide Partner Group at Microsoft Corp, Vice President of Enterprise Services at Microsoft, District Manager for Systems Integration at Digital Equipment Corp., and Co-Founder and President of Optimum Software, a privately-held software and consulting firm. Ian holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Miami, a Master of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology, a Master of Liberal Arts from Stanford University, and has completed an executive management program at Dartmouth College. He serves on the Board of Directors of a number of technology companies, nonprofit organizations, and higher-educational institutions.
  • I agree with the new governor of Utah. I also think small nuclear plants made by Hyperion will be the best source for clean energy.Oil is more evironmentally safe done in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. We need to bring the petro dollars home as we wean ourselves off of oil. Natural gas should be used more also. Only the free market should decide whether solar and wind can survive as alternatives. Don’t become Spain-18%unemployment.

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  • Rick-While I agree that the private sector can play a huge role in alternative energy–I write a blog about for-profit green and social ventures, http://trueslant.com/annefield–I think it’s ludicrous to take a free-market-only position.

    There are areas that are vital to our economy and future — solar, wind and other alternative sources being some of them – and they need a boost and support from government. That doesn’t mean they’re owned by government. That means we have decided they are too important to leave to the vagaries of the free market.

    And, excuse me, since when has the oil industry been solely a creature of the free market?

    Finally–Spain’s unemployment rate? What does that have to do with this topic? Spain got caught in the global financial real estate mess and that’s what’s caused its current problems.

  • Spanish company touts process to turn urban waste into biodiesel

    By Ron Kotrba

    A group of Spanish developers working under the company name Ecofasa, headed by chief executive officer and inventor Francisco Angulo, has developed a biochemical process to turn urban solid waste into a fatty acid biodiesel feedstock. “It took more than 10 years working on the idea of producing biodiesel from domestic waste using a biological method,” Angulo told Biodiesel Magazine. “My first patent dates back to 2005. It was first published in 2007 in Soto de la Vega, Spain, thanks to the council and its representative Antonio Nevado.”

    Using microbes to convert organic material into energy isn’t a new concept to the renewable energy industries, and the same can be said for the anaerobic digestion of organic waste by microbes, which turns waste into biogas consisting mostly of methane. However, using bacteria to convert urban waste to fatty acids, which can then be used as a feedstock for biodiesel production, is a new twist. The Spanish company calls this process and the resulting fuel Ecofa. “It is based on metabolism’s natural principle by means of which all living organisms, including bacteria, produce fatty acids,” Angula said. “[It] comes from the carbon of any organic waste.”

    He defined urban waste as “organic wastes from home like food, paper, wood and dung,” and added that any carbon-based material can be used for biodiesel production under the Ecofa process. “For many years, I wondered why there are pools of oil in some mountains,” he said, explaining the reasoning behind his invention. “After delving into the issue, I realized that [those oil deposits] were produced by decomposing organic living microorganisms.” This, in Angulo’s mind, sparked the idea that food waste and bacteria could be turned into fatty acids that could react into biodiesel. Two types of bacteria are under further development by Biotit Scientific Biotechnology Laboratory in Seville, Spain: E. coli and Firmicutes. The Ecofa process also produces methane gas, and inconvertible solids that can be used as a soil amendment or fertilizer. “There is a huge variety of bacteria,” Angulo said. “Currently, [biodiesel producers] receive a fat that must be processed through transesterification into biodiesel, but we are also working on other types of bacteria that are capable of producing fatty acids with the same characteristics as biodiesel.” He said this would eventually allow producers to skip the transesterification step.

    Ecofasa may avoid the ongoing food-versus-fuel debate and its expected successor, indirect land use, with its Ecofa process. “It would not be necessary to use specific fields of maize, wheat, barley, beets, etc., which would remain for human consumption without creating distortions or famines with unforeseeable consequences,” the company stated in a press release. “This microbial technique can be extended to other organic debris, plants or animals, such as those contained in urban sewage. You can even experiment with other carbon sources, and this opens up a lot of possibilities. It is only necessary to find the appropriate bacteria.”

    The company created its name by combining the term “eco-combustible” with F.A., the initials of the inventor.

    “Today we feel that we can produce between one and two liters [of biodiesel] per 10 kilograms of trash,” Angulo said. That’s a little more than one-fourth to one-half of a gallon for every 22 pounds of trash—or between 24 and 48 gallons per ton of urban waste. “We are working to improve that,” he said.

  • BHO will not want to tell the persons it will cost double for being environmentally friendly prior to November.

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