The Plenty 20
From small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, they're pushing the eco envelope and changing the world.
By Danielle Wood
Illustration by Matthew Bandsuch
From old-school Fortune 500 companies to start-ups barely out of first-round financing, businesses are committing big bucks to the green revolution. And while it seems like everyone’s doing it these days, we think these 20 companies are the ones pushing the ecological envelope. Whether it’s because of their reach, their potential, their influence, or the sheer genius of their innovations, we predict that each one will have a hand in changing the world in one way or another—sooner rather than later.
Green Mountain Coffee
Green Mountain Energy
Green Sandwich Technologies
Palo Alto, California
Solar power has been around since the ’70s, but until recently, people were about as likely to use it as they were to live in geodesic domes and grow all their own food. The reason? No company has been able to make solar power as affordable as electricity produced by coal and natural gas.
That’s where Nanosolar comes in: Its thin film technology involves “printing” a microscopic layer of solar cells onto metal sheets as thin as aluminum foil. The resulting panels are lighter, cheaper, and as efficient as traditional solar panels, but they require no silicon, short supplies of which have caused many solar companies to stumble. Others are pursuing thin film, too, but Nanosolar is poised to produce enough to generate 430 megawatts of electricity a year—four times the amount produced by all solar plants in the U.S. combined.
Perhaps more importantly, Nanosolar is the first company to figure out how to produce these cells cheaply. How cheaply? Less than $1 per watt, or one-tenth of the cost of traditional cells. In other words, solar power will finally be able to compete with gas and fossil fuels.
This year, the company will begin building the world’s largest solar-cell factory, which will triple U.S. capacity and make us second only to Japan in output. Investments from Silicon Valley heavyweights like Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, are bolstering the company, and a new deal with Conergy, the nation’s largest solar electric systems integrator, gives Nanosolar a huge jump on its competitors.
2: ECD Ovonics
Rochester Hills, Michigan
When inventor Stanford Ovshinsky first opened ECD Ovonics in 1960, he had a lofty goal—to use science to change the world completely. Over the past four decades, he’s done just that, inventing everything from the flexible solar cell to the nickel-metal hydride batteries that power every hybrid car on the market.
The spry octogenarian’s latest obsession is that clean-fuel sticky wicket: hydrogen. Though often touted as a replacement for gasoline in cars, hydrogen is extremely flammable in its gaseous state. But Ovshinsky has solved that problem by pioneering a method for storing hydrogen in solid form, rather than as a high-pressure gas. The process involves a proprietary formula made up of non-polluting metals that are ground into a fine powder. When added to a tank of hydrogen, the powder acts as a sort of sponge to encapsulate the gas. When the hydrogen is needed for fuel, a small amount of heat is added to the tank, which releases the element.
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