10 Companies Reinventing Our Energy Infrastructure – Agrivida in Wired Science

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010
Original source of this article:

by Alexis Madrigal
When most people think about changing the way America uses energy, they imagine new ways of generating electricity like solar farms or new nuclear reactors.

But at an innovation summit organized by the Department of Energy’s high-risk, high-reward research branch, ARPA-E (modeled after Darpa), it’s not just power generation that’s getting a makeover. The companies hawking their ideas there, which all received grant money from ARPA-E or were finalists, are trying to reinvent the entire energy system. Everything is getting a technological re-evaluation from the actual wires that power is transmitted on to the waste heat produced in industrial processes.

And of course there are also new ways of making electricity beyond just burning some rocks or oil to create steam to drive a turbine.

Here are 10 companies that caught our attention. Any one technology is unlikely to solve the looming climate change and peak oil problems, but working together within the larger system, they could tilt the globe away from catastrophe and towards a sustainable future.


Now, ethanol is made with corn cobs, which are just a small amount of the corn plant’s total biomass. For years, people have been trying to come up with ways to use all the rest of the plant to make fuel. They call that stuff “cellulosic ethanol,” because it doesn’t just use the sugars in the cobs, but the cellulose in the rest of the plant. It turns out, though, that it’s not so easy to do the chemistry that transforms a corn stalk into a liquid fuel that works.

Agrivida is working on plants that release enzymes to degrade the cellulose in their own cell walls — on command. They throw a molecular switch, and the plants start turning themselves into sugar, saving fuel processors a key and energy-intensive step.

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