Clean tech. If you haven't already heard about it, you will. Clean tech refers to technologies that save energy and otherwise allow for a cleaner, greener world. As we head into 2008, it has become the hottest new area of venture capital funding, where financial folks support promising new technology companies in hopes that they will hit it big and make everyone, including the venture capitalists, really rich. Lots of these clean tech companies are in the development phase—some solid, others more experimental.
Take, for example, Dr. Stephen Paul, a Princeton University research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, where he works on thermonuclear energy. Paul is also an experimental eco-entrepreneur, driven to exploit the energy content of the massive amount of carbohydrates—including food wastes, paper, tissues, napkins and sawdust—we dump into our landfills. Paul has developed a technology to turn these types of materials into motor fuel. Through his project, Trenton Fuel Works, he envisions making his new product: the U.S. Department of Energy-approved P-Series Fuel.
Will that day ever come? Not for lack of his trying, says Paul, a passionate organic waste recycling advocate. "This material has tremendous energy value and yet we're just throwing it away."
The entrepreneurs have dreams of successfully taking their products to market and so do the investors—the guys and gals with the big bucks. Greg Olsen is a New Jersey scientist and entrepreneur with his eye on clean tech. If you're an aspiring entrepreneur, this guy's your guru. Olsen sold his own technology company, Sensors Unlimited, for $600 million in 2000 (that's right $600 MILLION). You also may remember hearing about Olsen a few years back when, in October 2005, he became the third private citizen to orbit the Earth on the international space station. He's one of the few business people who has added "astronaut" to his resume. Olsen's business card has a picture of him in his space suit.
These days Olsen's view of Earth is on the inside looking out—at all the possibilities. He teaches a class on energy and the environment at Rider University and, from his office in Princeton, he invests in clean-tech companies. His investments include Princeton Power Systems, which makes the switches to put solar power onto the energy grid; Gaia Power Technologies, which makes battery back-ups for homes; and Innovative Engineering, a company that makes energy-efficient equipment. These are just a few of the fascinating technology firms that are building the backbone of New Jersey's energy economy. "In my class at Rider one Monday in the New York Times there were six articles in the front page related to energy," says Olsen. "It's a very exciting time for these types of businesses."