ZHANGJIAGANG, China — Sam Huang has found a new land of opportunity for Silicon Valley — in the shadow of a giant smokestack in the Yangtze River Delta.

Dressed in a black designer suit, with a Treo attached to his ear, the executive with San Jose-based Echelon, whose smart-building technology is usually associated with gleaming high-rises, paid a recent visit to a new client: China's third-largest steel mill. The plant is trying to go green by using Echelon's products to reduce the energy consumed to forge steel and iron to feed China's around-the-clock construction craze.

Less energy used means fewer tons of coal burned to produce electricity. At the Jiangsu Shagang Group, a vast complex located 100 miles west of Shanghai, that savings could be as much as 65,000 tons a year. It is a tiny step for cleaner technology — and clean air — in a nation that is building coal-fired power plants at an assembly-line speed of one a week.

Silicon Valley companies, which first looked to China to manufacture PCs and iPods, now see potential profit in its environmental meltdown.

They see opportunities to sell a vast range of clean-tech products and services. Those include water filtration systems; green building technologies that reduce energy use; processes to convert waste into biofuels; better wind turbines; solar power technology; "smart" street lights; and even software for energy companies to help manage operations more efficiently.

 

"Every market is big in China," Huang said.

'Next 24 months'

 

Gary Rieschel, a veteran valley venture capitalist who relocated to Shanghai, sees a "tidal swell" of interest in the China energy and clean-tech market from abroad. "The wave will occur some time in the next 24 months," he predicted. "Silicon Valley has a huge play here."

Already venture capitalists are increasing their clean-tech bets in China, from $7 million in 2004 to $222 million last year, according to VentureOne and Ernst & Young. Over that same period, venture funding for clean-tech deals in the United States soared from $522 million to $884 million.

Chinese government officials and environmentalists say the only hope to head off environmental catastrophe is through the kind of technology Silicon Valley offers. China's air, water and land are so polluted that environmental hazards kill hundreds of thousands of its people each year. And China's pollution problems are spilling over onto other countries. Dirty air traced back to China can be found in California's skies, and could become a major source of pollution here.

Cleaning up China's environment "will require good technological assistance and sheer political commitment," said Hal Harvey, environment program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, which funds projects in China.

Doing business in China is never easy for foreign companies, and executives who move into this growing sector face the same challenges others have run into, including corruption, intellectual property theft and a wall of distrust erected by Chinese industry leaders.

But the opportunities in China are too great to ignore, particularly for risk-taking valley entrepreneurs and investors who relish change-the-world business plans.

Some initiatives are driven by personal reasons. Peggy Liu, a former Silicon Valley Internet executive now living in Shanghai, grew tired of watching her two young boys breathe "black air."

So Liu, whose home is outfitted with four air filters, created an international network linking academics, government officials, entrepreneurs and investors on both sides of the Pacific to find practical — and profitable — solutions to China's environmental woes.

"It's the do-good, save-the-world, on-the-edge, it's-OK-nobody-has-figured-it-out-before mentality," said Liu, who in 1996 co-founded an early e-commerce Web site. "I was one of those people."

In early April, she organized a conference on energy for U.S. investors in Shanghai that attracted high-level Chinese government officials and members of the Bush administration (www.mitenergyinchina.org). She then founded the Joint U.S.-China Cooperation on Clean Energy, a network of government officials, investors, industries and researchers to promote innovation in areas such as energy-efficient buildings, transportation systems, non-food biofuels and "clean" coal technology.

Big-ticket tech

 

"It's not just the technology that comes out of Stanford University," said Lui, chief operating officer of Mustang Ventures, a $40 million fund focused on investing in start-ups in China. "There is a whole industry of things that will appear, a whole slew of service-based companies."

But for any venture to succeed in China's new and often ruthless market economy, it must produce clear economic benefits, and those can be hard to achieve.

"On the one hand, we want the best technology," Lai Ming, general director of science and technology with the Ministry of Construction, said in his office in one of Beijing's boxy, Soviet-era buildings. "On the other hand, we may not be able to afford it. The Silicon Valley guys may not be able to lower the price."

  Selling to this once-closed society requires a very different business model.

"You must find some old China hands, people who understand the government," advised Xiong Sihao, a vice minister who oversees network coordination and information security. "You just can't come here and say, 'I have the greatest technology.' Who cares?"

Plenty of patience must be built into any China business plan, said Andrew Hu, who has headed up China operations for Oracle, and is now president of China operations for San Jose's Wyse Technologies. Wyse makes "thin client" devices, desktop monitors that resemble a personal computer but operate on a network and provide significant energy savings.

Wyse, which had trouble getting traction in China, now has a more receptive audience because of the new focus on saving energy. A Wyse device uses about 10 watts per hour, versus 300 watts for a regular desktop.

"The pollution is killing the environment," Hu said. "The government is trying to do everything to make even the slightest improvements."

While companies trying to crack the clean-tech market in China face many challenges, some can take advantage of its authoritarian government structure.

"You can do things on a scale in China that you can't in the United States," said Charles Freeman, managing director of the China Alliance, an association of law firms. "And the government can demand things on fiat: If you've got a better catalytic converter, the government will actually mandate it."

But there are downsides, added Freeman, who served as the United States' chief China trade negotiator between 2002 and 2005. "Your intellectual property will be pirated. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. The key is to be constantly innovating."

Intematix, a maker of materials for next-generation energy efficient and longer-lasting nonfluorescent street lights, counters the piracy threat by manufacturing its products in Fremont, then selling them in China.

"Everyone tries to copy," said Chief Executive Peter Larsson. But he added that China is changing and that copycats are increasingly concerned about getting sued.

Skeptical about cleanup

 

Whether China can sustain economic growth while improving its environment remains to be seen. Likewise, Silicon Valley's ability to succeed as a clean-tech partner in China is far from guaranteed.

"All this hype, all these people running around — it reminds me of the bubble," said Shanghai-based venture capitalist Andy Tang, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson's Dragon Fund in China.

Still, Tang said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the new business environment in China, particularly for companies with clean-tech pitches. Many of the start-ups he has investigated actually have made money.

Rob McCormack, co-founder of Mustang Ventures and husband of Peggy Liu, isn't optimistic that the government has the will to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

"I go to cities of 400,000, 500,000 and they are just disgusting," he said. "China doesn't care about pollution. They are still going for growth, because growth is stability."

  But his wife looks at the country's exploding economy and draws an opposite conclusion.

Driving through Shanghai's Pudong district, a forest of skyscrapers that 15 years ago was farmland, she pointed to yet another nearly completed high-rise. "This building didn't exist a few months go." She sees the same get-it-done drive in the government's campaign to save the environment.

  "I think the government is absolutely serious about what they call green GDP," Liu said.

 

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Prototype Development, Materials Application Capability to be Included in Next Phase of DARPA-Sponsored Research Consortium

WILMINGTON, Del., July 23 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- As part of its strategy to be the leader in developing some of the key materials for more efficient solar panels, DuPont today announced that it will be managing the critical phase of prototype development and applications testing for the newly formed DuPont-University of Delaware Very High Efficiency Solar Cell (VHESC) Consortium. The announcement follows the University of Delaware's demonstration of a viable design for a solar cell with a potential efficiency increase of 30 percent.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the consortium $12.2 million as part of a three-year, multi-phase program that could total up to $100 million. DuPont, the only company with more than eight key materials used in solar panels, will manage the consortium of proposed companies and scientific institutions dedicated to the optimization of the VHESC solar cells for efficiency and cost. The company has a 30-year history of science and innovation in the solar industry, developing new materials that make solar cells smaller and lighter, more efficient and cost effective. Solar panels convert light into electrical energy through the use of photovoltaic solar cells.

"DuPont is focused on providing innovative renewable energy technologies to the photovoltaic industry," said DuPont Senior Vice President and Chief Science and Technology Officer Uma Chowdhry. "We applaud the University of Delaware's milestone achievement in developing a lab-scale solar cell module with exceptional efficiency." We believe the science being developed under this consortium can be transformative if the successes of the program to date can be transitioned from the research laboratory to engineering and manufacturing prototypes. In our view, this is one of the most difficult steps in developing a new technology and we look forward to working with the University of Delaware and others in the next phase of research."

The DuPont-University of Delaware VHESC consortium initially will focus on the development of affordable portable battery chargers based on ultra-high efficiency solar cells, which allow readily deployable recharging of batteries. The proposed system offers significant improvements in solar cell efficiencies compared to existing battery chargers and record flat plate terrestrial solar cells that collect both the direct and diffuse radiation and are not mobile.

Today, American soldiers carry packs that weigh nearly 100 pounds, of which about 20 pounds are the three-day supply of batteries needed to power their gear. The DARPA program aims to dramatically improve battery life and provide the soldier with more power at reduced weight, thus improving mobility, survivability and the availability of advanced electronic technologies on the battlefield. With the higher efficiency of the VHESC technology, solar rechargers could be integrated into common battlefield devices such as night vision goggles, radios and GPS navigation systems.

DuPont offers the broadest portfolio in the photovoltaic solar market, with eight key materials used to make solar cells and modules. The company is manufacturing, or conducting research on, solar energy products at three sites in the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, China and Japan.

By 2015, DuPont will grow our annual revenues by at least $2 billion from products that create energy efficiency and/or significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions for our customers. Some of this growth will be achieved through solar panel technology. DuPont provides materials for conducting the electricity produced by the cell and for encapsulation of cell assemblies into environmentally stable panels for protection from moisture, UV rays and impact. DuPont is investing approximately $100 million to expand its product offerings in this rapidly growing market.

DuPont -- one of the first companies to publicly establish environmental goals 16 years ago -- has broadened its sustainability commitments beyond internal footprint reduction to include market-driven targets for both revenue and research and development investments. The goals are tied directly to business growth, specifically to the development of safer and environmentally improved new products for key global markets, including products that help increase energy efficiency.

DuPont is a science-based products and services company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 70 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture and food; building and construction; communications; and transportation.

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Midland, MI - July 23, 2007

DOWTHERM™ A Heat Transfer Fluid from The Dow Chemical Company is helping the world’s third largest solar power plant, Nevada Solar One, convert sunlight into electricity.  Dow Performance Fluids recently delivered several million dollars worth of the fluid to Solar One’s Nevada desert location. The large quantity of material will play a critical role in the operation and generation of renewable electricity at the new solar power plant.

Heat Transfer Fluids & Solar Power

Solar energy collectors generate a great deal of heat.  In the parabolic collector system, the role of the heat transfer fluid is actually to collect this heat energy and transmit it to the power generating equipment where the steam to drive the electricity generating turbines is made.  DOWTHERM A Fluid is ideal for systems that use liquid phase or vapor phase heating. The material is a mixture of two compounds, biphenyl and diphenyl oxide.  Both substances possess the high-temperature thermal stability needed to collect and transport heat from the sun to the power generating station.

Temperature Controlled Transport

In addition to Dow’s capacity to supply Nevada Solar One with an immense amount of material in a short amount of time, the company also provided the logistical support needed to transport the DOWTHERM™ A Fluid.  Seventy-two ISO-containers with fluid heated to 130 degrees Fahrenheit were sent to the site in just five days.

“There are very few companies that have the ability to fulfill a shipment of this size while also meeting the necessary requirements,” said Steven Stanley Ph.D., global business director for Dow Performance Fluids.  “There are other, similar solar opportunities coming on line in Spain and Mexico.  With global supply capabilities, we believe Dow is well positioned to perform in those countries just as we have in Nevada.”

Solar One Harnesses The Sun

Nevada Solar One uses parabolic mirror troughs as thermal solar concentrators to heat tubes of liquid DOWTHERM™ A.  The heated material generates steam to power electric turbines. These solar receivers are specially coated glass and steel tubes.  About 19,300 of these four-meter long tubes are being used to generate 64 mega watts of electricity—that’s enough electricity to power about 45,000 average homes for a year.  Plants like Solar One are ideal for areas like the Southwestern United States that use a significant amount of electricity to run air conditioning.  With the land and sun resources available in places like Nevada, and state regulations mandating that at least 5% of electric power come from solar energy by 2015, it is likely that even more plants like Solar One will be built.

Nevada Solar One is located on 350 square acres of property, near Boulder City.  Nevada is one of a growing number of states with a mandate that their electric utilities source more power from renewable sources.

About Dow

Dow is a diversified chemical company that harnesses the power of innovation, science and technology to constantly improve what is essential to human progress. The Company offers a broad range of products and services to customers in more than 175 countries, helping them to provide everything from fresh water, food and pharmaceuticals to paints, packaging and personal care products. Built on a commitment to its principles of sustainability, Dow has annual sales of $49 billion and employs 43,000 people worldwide. References to “Dow” or the “Company” mean The Dow Chemical Company and its consolidated subsidiaries unless otherwise expressly noted.

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Leaves (picture by Martin Dohrn/Science Photo Library)
Plants convert sunlight into chemical energy





Learning how plants turn light into energy could lead to the
production of cheap, emission-free power in the future, according to
experts.


Leading figures in photosynthesis research have been discussing potential benefits at an event in Glasgow.

Professor Jim Barber, of Imperial College London, said they did not yet fully understand how the process works.

However, he said recent advances meant the time was right to consider it as a basis for sustainable energy in future.

Tuesday's public discussion at the Glasgow Science Centre has been organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Solar energy

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants, algae and certain bacteria convert sunlight into chemical energy.

It is thought that mimicking this process could help improve the design of solar panels or work out how to extract hydrogen from water to produce hydrogen fuel.

"More solar energy strikes the earth in one hour than all the global fossil fuels provide in a whole year," said Prof Barber.







Professor Jim Barber (right) with Jason Ormiston, chief executive of Scottish Renewables
Professor Jim Barber (right) and Jason Ormiston





"Early on in the history of life on earth, plants developed mechanisms that took advantage of this immense energy resource and captured it in the process that we now call photosynthesis.

"We do not fully understand how photosynthesis works, but recent key advances in plant research mean that the time is right to consider this science as a basis for future sustainable energy sourcing."

Jason Ormiston, the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said it was already possible to get cost-effective energy from solar panels.

"The holy grail is bringing the cost down and making it much more efficient than it currently is," he said.

Experts were also due to hear how an improved understanding of photosynthesis could help grow better crops for biofuels.

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