Archive for the ‘green chemicals’ Category

In Thursday’s New York Times, I write about a new guide to green products vetted by the city of San Francisco, which in 2005 instituted strict purchasing standards:

In 2005, the City of San Francisco instituted strict purchasing standards requiring municipal departments to buy products that met certain environmental, health and toxicity guidelines.

Now the city has put online the database it has developed over the past five years to serve as a resource for other cities as well as for corporate purchasing agents and consumers. Called the SF Approved List, the Web site lists more than 1,000 products, like bathroom disinfectants and computer keyboard cleaners, that do not emit greenhouse gases.

“It is quite difficult for purchasing agents to find environmentally preferable products,” Karl Bruskotter, environmental programs analyst with the City of Santa Monica, Calif., wrote in an e-mail. “Any vendor can offer a product or service and call it green, and the purchasing agent may not know how to ask the right questions to uncover whether or not the product really is green.”

For example, he said, it can be challenging to find a safer chemical product to remove graffiti. He noted that Santa Monica maintained its own green purchasing program. “I have looked at the San Francisco list and sought a distributor down here in L.A. to give to our staff for removing graffiti,” Mr. Bruskotter said.

Chris Geiger, the green purchasing manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said the city researched the environmental and health hazards for each product category.

Mr. Geiger said his team developed its list based on existing “eco-labels,” its own testing and by tapping a database of chemical hazards maintained by GoodGuide, an online consumer service. The city evaluates ingredients, energy efficiency and volume of recycled content. Rather than just compare various products, the environment department also researches environmentally preferred alternatives to using a particular product.

“The biggest difference between SF Approved and commercial guides is that this is coming from a government agency that has looked at products for its own use with an objective eye,” Mr. Geiger said.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

photo: Genomatica

This post first appeared on Grist.

You can buy green jeans, green greens at the farmer’s market and green beer. But the reality is that many, if not most, products in our industrial society contain some petroleum-based chemicals.

In fact up to a quarter of oil consumption in some regions of the United States – such as on the Gulf Coast – goes for petrochemical production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A number of startups, however, are working on developing green chemicals that take the petro out of petrochemicals and eliminate the environmental and safety hazards from manufacturing industrial chemicals.

A couple of years ago I wrote about one of those companies, a San Diego startup called Genomatica, that had developed a green version of a chemical compound called 1,4‐butanediol, or BDO. Your skateboard wheels, sneakers, golf balls and host of other products are all made with the chemical, whose manufacture alone is a $3 billion business.

At the time, Genomatica, which was spun out of the University of California, San Diego, in 2000, had only produced batches of BDO in the lab. The startup’s scientists had bioengineered a microorganism that eats water and sugar and spits out BDO. Goodbye hydrocarbons, hello carbohydrates. The microorganisms are designed and tested “in-silico” – i.e., on computers, which also simulate chemical production.

Last year, the company, which is backed by top Silicon Valley venture capital firms Mohr Davidow Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, announced that it had also bioengineered a benign version of an industrial solvent called methyl ethyl ketone, or MEK. Better yet, Genomatica planned to produce MEK in shuttered ethanol plants.

On Tuesday, Genomatica executives said they had successfully moved from the lab to small-scale production, producing 3,000 liters of BDO in a pilot plant.

“By successfully implementing the manufacturing process at this scale, we have shown that our first product is ready for commercialization and that our platform delivers,” Mark Burk, Genomatica’s chief technology officer said in a statement.

The company claims its’s technology can cut chemical development costs and time by 50 percent to 75 percent.

Scaling up to industrial-scale production is another matter, of course. But if Genomatica and other green chemical startups succeed expect to see a lot more green products on the shelves in the coming years.

Read Full Post »

photo: eSolar

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, I write about how the rise of green technology is changing the way Silicon Valley venture capitalists do business:

Silicon Valley venture capitalists have always been about inventing the future — taking a wild idea, nurturing it with cash and creativity and giving birth to new products, companies and industries we once couldn’t imagine and now can’t conceive of living without: the Web, Google, the iPhone, Twitter.

But as green technology becomes the latest tech wave to break from the nation’s entrepreneurial epicenter, it’s now all about companies reinventing the past. Solar power companies, electric car start-ups and algae biofuel ventures aim to remake century-old trillion-dollar industries on a global scale.

Venture capitalists poured $4 billion into green-tech start-ups in 2008 — nearly 40% of all tech investments in the U.S., according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Green-tech investment plunged in the first half of 2009 to $513 million as the recession dragged on, but there are signs of a rebound: Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures announced this month that it had raised $1.1 billion — the biggest first-time fund in a decade — that would be largely devoted to investing in green-tech start-ups, many in Southern California.

But green-tech companies face unique challenges, including global markets, tough technological hurdles and a future shaped by government incentives and regulatory policy. Those challenges are changing the game on Sand Hill Road.

“If you’re starting a Web 2.0 company, your basic needs are personnel and servers — there is no physical product, no manufacturing capacity, no inventory, no steel in the ground,” VantagePoint’s Salzman said, referring to software-based companies that provide services over the Internet.

Green-tech start-ups, he said, often need big money and investors steeped in big science and big government.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »


image: Genomatica

Talk about recycling: “Green chemicals” startup Genomatica on Wednesday said it has bioengineered a petroleum-free version of a widely used industrial solvent that can be produced in shuttered ethanol plants.

You’ve most likely never heard of the chemical, methyl ethyl ketone, or MEK, but it is used as a solvent in paint and other coatings. Genomatic says it has bioengineered a microbe that ingests sugar and water and produces MEK without the toxic byproducts and environmental risks that come from making petroleum-based industrial chemicals.

The San Diego company – backed by Silicon Valley venture capital firms Mohr Davidow Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson – last year produced its first green chemical in the lab, 1,4‐butanediol, or BDO, which is a raw material found in everything from skateboard wheels to spandex. Genomatica plans to license its bio-chemicals to industrial producers.

When it came time to develop its next product, Genomatic CEO Christopher Gann says the company targeted a chemical that could be produced by existing industrial plants. “We said is it possible to shorten the development cycle by using existing assets,” Gann, a veteran of a veteran of Dow Chemical (DOW), told Green Wombat. “Can we develop a bioprocess for a chemical that would operate in the same conditions as corn ethanol.”

Why ethanol? The financial crisis has left a couple dozen ethanol plants idle. Gann and Genomatica president Christophe Schilling determined that existing ethanol plans could easily be repurposed to produce MEK. That’s potentially a win-win situation: Capital costs are kept to a minimum as new chemical factories don’t have to be built, while ethanol producers get a new lease on the life of their plants.

The food-versus-fuel controversy that has plagued corn ethanol producers is unlikely to pose a problem for Genomatica as the United States’ annual production of MEK is only about 57 million gallons (not 57,000 gallons as Green Wombat originally reported.), according to Gann. Still, it’s an attractively big market — about $2 billion, Gann estimates.

At least one ethanol producer, DAK Renewable Energy, has expressed interest in modifying some of its plants to make MEK, according to Genomatica.

So far, bio-MEK has only been produced in small batches in Genomatica’s lab. Meanwhile, Gann says the company is about to embark on a fundraising round to finance the construction of a demonstration plant in Southern California to produce BDO.

Read Full Post »