One of the most interesting aspects of my career over the last 10 years is working with people who are trying to bring environmental disruptive technologies to market. Current and future environmental emissions, discharges, and damage result from invented technology. Innovation that leads to modified existing technology or new technology can reduce or eliminate the environmental impact of pre-existing technology.
Interestingly enough, evolution that takes so long to occur in natural ecosystems, can have quite rapid results in human technology, economies, and societies. Human evolution itself, may have ended in terms of physical terms or in our DNA, but our inner ideas and concepts and the resulting development of innovative technology never ends. Our post-physical evolution is potentially unlimited.
As a result, it is not out of the question that we can develop technologies that greatly reduce, and in some instances, eliminate environmental impact in certain sectors of business, industry, or our personal lives.
Disrutpive environmental technologies may be of many types. For fossil fuels, it may be a cheaper way to capture carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, or capturing the CO2 and making a product from it. It could be a new additive that increases gas mileage, reduces emissions, or both. A more efficient natural gas power plant may reduce emissions.
Capturing CO2 and using it for enhanced oil recovery, what is know as Carbon Capture, Use and Storage, is the more likely approach that may in time help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It is being used for fertilizer plants, natural gas processing plants, and certain other plants that produce a more concentrated stream of CO2.
For renewable energy, it may be a more efficient wind turbine or solar panel. Manufacturing changes that make these technologies cheaper has been a major development particularly with respect to solar panels. Solar and wind are approaching fossil fuel prices to produce electricity, and in some parts of the world or even the US, this price has already been achieved.
We can recycle and reuse a number of materials now considered wastes. Converting waste plastic to energy or transportation fuel is one of a number of waste to energy or fuel technologies under development or in early pilot or full-scale plants.
Thus, the future need not be considered bleak. How bleak was disease before immunization and antibiotics? How bleak was food supply before innovation in agricultural techniques and technology? How did we communicate before the Internet and email? How about the disruptive impact of computers, cell phones, and now smart phones and pad computers?
Environmental inventors and environmental entrepreneurs are working every day to try to bring new disrutpive environmental technologies into being. There are thousands of technologies being developed in the United States and around the world. Some of those wil be commercialized and most will never make it out of the garage stage. But the innovation continues apace.
Like any other invention, early stage capital will be needed to develop the technology to a pilot and then commercial level. This is the hard part. Finding capital is extremely difficult as I have watched many parties struggle and many times give up. Sometimes the technology is not right or cannot be developed into a cost-effective product or is otherwise not able to lead to a profitable business.
Other times, the inventor or others involved are not willing or able to work with capital providers to bring the technology along. Often the inventor will not give up enough ownership to get capital or wants to be the CEO, when they don't have the training or skills to manage a business, even though they may be highly talented with inventing technology.
Over the last 27 years of my own career as an energy and environmental lawyer, I have seen amazing strides in reducing environmental impact of industry and other aspects of our society and economy. I believe we will see a number of disruptive technologies come to the forefront to greatly reduce the environmental emissions and impact of our time. I am working with groups developing some of these technologies now.
We need more early stage investors with the knowledge and funding to invest in these companies, and have the capacity to evaluate the technologies and make good judgment as to which ones to invest. This will be one of the more crtical steps in our environmental evolution--enabling the commercialization of new and innovative technologies to address environmental concerns. Keep up the faith.