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

Those who say a hydrogen car is impossible need only look at Ovshinsky’s modified Prius, which has an internal combustion engine powered entirely by solid-state hydrogen. George W. Bush has even shown interest. An unlikely ally? Maybe, but stranger things have happened. A few years ago, Chevron came calling, hoping to sniff out the threat. Instead, they invested $67.3 million for a 20 percent stake in the company.

3: GreenFuel Technologies
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Former International Space Station researcher Isaac Berzin, along with his team of scientists from Harvard, Columbia, and MIT, have found a truly bizarre secret weapon in the fight against carbon dioxide emissions: algae. Yes, algae. Not only does it “eat” CO2, it can also be used as a clean, renewable biofuel. The researchers at GreenFuel Technologies have developed an emissions scrubbing system that takes advantage of this happy coincidence.

Power plants that use Berzin’s system not only reduce their carbon footprints and gain valuable emissions credits, but they can also use the algae-based fuel themselves or sell it on the open market. If it sounds like a pipe dream, it’s not. The company has already launched small projects in Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York. A large U.S. utility company and a major U.S. power generator are poised to begin partnerships with GreenFuel to build 1,000-megawatt plants, which will each generate over 100 million gallons of biofuel a year; the owners of a 2,200-megawatt coal plant are also ready to try out the technology. With $20 million in venture capital investment in the bag, GreenFuel is one to watch.

4: Envirofit International
Fort Collins, Colorado
In the U.S., two-stroke engines are mostly used for chain saws and go-karts, but in the developing world, they are the motor of choice. There are more than 100 million two-stroke vehicles in Asia alone, from Thailand’s tuk-tuks to India’s auto rickshaws. They ply the streets leaving swirls of brown smog in their wake; the toxic clouds of ash, soot, and other particles spewed from the exhaust cause hundreds of thousands of people to die each year from respiratory disease.

Those days may be drawing to a close, thanks to a retrofit kit originally developed for snowmobiles. Envirofit has retooled the technology to convert two-stroke engines into cleaner-burning, more efficient engines, testing them first in the Philippine cities of Vigan and Puerto Princesa. By this fall, Vigan’s government is requiring all 3,000 of its city taxis to switch to the new technology, and if all goes well, Puerto Princesa and other Asian cities will adopt it, too. Though the retrofit is relatively cheap—just $300 a pop—it’s still a lot of money for most taxi drivers. Luckily, government grants can help offset the cost, and the increase in fuel efficiency means that the payback period is less than a year.

Envirofit expects to sell retrofits for 100,000 engines by the end of 2007, and two million by 2011. Best of all, every retrofit the company sells eliminates more than a ton of pollution a year.

5: General Electric
Fairfield, Connecticut
Two years ago, GE hopped onto the sustainability bandwagon with its Ecomagination initiative, promising to attack some of the world’s biggest problems with an army of some of the world’s biggest brains. Oil and gas reserves being depleted? Greenhouse gases out of control? Over one billion people lacking clean water? GE’s on it—and with 25,000 technologists and 2,500 scientists on staff in their research facilities alone, it certainly has enough brainpower to make it happen.

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Comments

Whoa! Unjournalist conduct! Dr. Berzin, et.al., didn't discover algal technology -- their work is based on the achievements of the (atrociously underfunded) Aquatic Species Program, 1978-1996, Department of Energy, U.S.A. -- and they would be the first ones to give credit where it's due. Ignoring the opposition to this development is a sure-fire formula for failure.

solar power

About Konarka.. the company is named after the famous ancient Hindu temple of the Sun. Also, 3 of the 4 founding scientists appear to be Indian-born. But they are nowhere to be seen in any news about the company. Wonder what happened to them? Did the current management team treat them fairly? It's odd that not one of the 3 is on the board. Hmmm....

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