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Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs was designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Every post — as well as the top five best and worst things the Cleantech Open has to offer — is listed below.

After five months and now 10 posts on the Cleantech Open (or clean tech open if the search engines are slacking), it’s time I get back to things that are ongoing, like my disdain for Captain Planet. Before I go, however, here’s a post of the top five best and worst parts of the Cleantech Open, as well as every post of what to expect from each section of this green business accelerator:

Top Five Best Things in the Cleantech Open

  1. You get your money’s worth: Despite the initial cost, with the extensive networking, volunteer services, and yes, free swag, you’ll get more value than what you put in. Based on time input, though, that’s a whole other angle. For more on this, see posts I and III below.
  2. Rapid education for new small business people: If you’ve just started a company or you just have an idea, the Cleantech Open is for you. Established companies should stay away. For more on this, see post III, IV and VII below.
  3. Excellent business clinics: Currently these are only in the Rocky Mountain region, but with the caliber of support and the expertise of the specialists, they should be expanded to every region. For more on this, see post IV below.
  4. Cleantech Open volunteers genuinely want to help every team succeed in business: With the networking alone, you’ll start to connect to some of the right people (though networking is always a numbers game and you never know its true value until later). More than that, however, Cleantech Open volunteers want to see innovation succeed. For more on this, see post II below.
  5. Win or lose, your company messaging will improve: Whether it’s your elevator pitch, legal needs, target market or customer connections, the Cleantech Open will point you in the right direction. For more on this, see posts III, IV and V below.

Top Five Worst Things in the Cleantech Open

  1. Very disorganized; needs more staff support: This was the true constant in the Cleantech Open. If they want to grow, they need to invest in the proper infrastructure, but those costs could well change its value. For more on this, see posts I, II, IV and VI below.
  2. Not all regions and personnel are created equal: Whether it’s the amount of finalists, the engagement of personnel, or what state you’re in (in proximity to where the regional events are held), your experience can vary. Call up past semifinalists in your state and check. For more on this, see post III below.
  3. The worksheets are frustrating and have little value (especially to an established company): Whether it’s meaningless deadlines, shifting requirements, or the sheer amount of busy work (especially with the webinars) for a product that doesn’t have that much value in the Cleantech Open or the business world, the worksheets — at least with their current form and emphasis — are a waste of time and effort. Additionally, much of the education materials throughout default to the lowest common denominator, meaning the more basic info you know, the less you learn. For more on this, see posts IV and V below.
  4. Some judges will continually miss the value of your product: People mess up and have biases, and since the judges in the Cleantech Open are no different, it doesn’t matter what you say, some will miss or misconstrue what you present (even if those worksheets were supposed to help ease that problem). This can happen as early as the application phase or as late as final judging, but it will happen. For more on this, see posts I, VI and VII below.
  5. Final judging bias overrules overall competition effort: Although the Cleantech Open says overall competition participation is important, it feels more like you can shrug off the first 80% of the competition and hope to hit the judges niche at the end. Rather than sending on the best teams, it feels like they send on the teams that safely fit the Cleantech Open mold. For more on this, see posts VI and VII below.

Process Posts: What to Expect from the…

I. Application

II. National Conference

III. Regional Academy

IV. Webinars (part one) and business clinics

V. Webinars (part two), worksheets and mock judging

VI. Final judging and the awards ceremony

VII. Final thoughts on the Cleantech Open

Misc. Posts on the Cleantech Open

VIII. Five insights to the current state of green energy in the U.S.

IX. Vortex Tools clip from the Cleantech Open

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If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This blog covers Vortex Tools’ final placement and all the things we couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have said along the way.

After nearly five months, the 2012 Cleantech Open has wrapped. In writing these final thoughts, I wanted to give it some time so that I’d be fair. Inevitably, if you win, it’s hard to not come across as wearing rose-tinted glasses, and if you lose, it’s hard to not come across as sour grapes. As this entry is long (and I’ve covered the complete process over a half-dozen other entries), I’ll post a complete summary soon.

Throughout the Cleantech Open, I’ve tried to be fair about both the good and the bad, even if it’s just my opinion. Hopefully this blog is no different:

1. Vortex Tools Placed As a Runner-Up in Both Categories 

In getting picked as runner-up in both sustainability and the overall competition, we had two avenues to mercilessly threaten the winning teams to get to the national finals, but for all the horse heads we left on pillows, no one dropped out to allow Vortex Tools to go on. As both these runner-up nods indicate that the Cleantech Open thinks somewhat highly of our product, we should be satisfied, right?

Well… we’re not. Before I get the “you’re just disgruntled because you didn’t win” line, let me explain:

Let’s get ready to rrruuuuumble! 

2. The Best Teams Did Not Win

Bear in mind, throughout this process, you will connect with many other teams. If you’re like me, it’s possible to enjoy people, but still be objective about their strengths and weaknesses. Of the three teams picked as finalists in the Rocky Mountain region, one was clearly the favored pick, as they won both the finalist slot and the sustainability slot. This threw off the other teams in the region — as we thought there were four finalists, not three — but upon questioning this, we were told that the Cleantech Open judges like it when the same team wins both categories, as it shows that a winning team can also be sustainable. It should be noted that this is a 2012 rule update (in previous years the same judges divided these categories).

As sustainability is supposed to be 20% of your final grade, I figured each of the finalists would have a strong sustainability component, but all of them seemed surprisingly lacking, especially as several other teams excelled in this area. Worse than that, the sustainability finalist was a terrible pick. I’m not saying this just from my viewpoint, but also by the stated Cleantech Open guidelines. At mock judging, the sustainability judge told us that sustainability was graded based on a triple bottom line, meaning that the technology has to provide a profit, as well as benefiting both people and the planet. We were also told that Vortex led in this category, because as of the mock judging stage (as in two weeks before the competition was over), no other team had incorporated sustainability into their presentation. That’s right: in a green competition not one team save Vortex had green benefits noted in their presentation. Seemed pretty nuts to me, too.

I won’t list the finalists’ names (as that would be unfair to them based on what I’m about to say), but of the three winning teams in the Rocky Mountain region:

  • The favored team didn’t show up to several “required” events, but was a shoo in as they’re a safe pick, had won prior green competitions, are involved in academia and nanotechnologies, but not in-revenue (all Cleantech Open soft spots). One of their team members noted that the Simon Cowell judge knew him from another competition and was excited to see him again (not surprisingly, this was one of the few teams that judge didn’t grill). Most judges would understand the need to remove bias and recuse themselves, but I’m assuming the Cleantech Open doesn’t have the support for that kind of personnel switch. In the end, it just serves to note that the green world is as much of an insider’s club as the good old boy industry agendas they despise. It’s okay; networking is that way of the world. We’ve benefited from it as much as it has hurt us.
  • The second finalist is easy to pick apart, but as they worked hard and are a different take on what clean tech means, I’ll actually give kudos to the Cleantech Open for selecting a great long shot pick.
  • The final team though — that’s the one that highlights all the issues with the Cleantech Open judging: This team struggled throughout the process, was unprepared several times (but allowed to fix things after deadlines), and didn’t even finish their final presentations. As a result, I have a hard time believing they came out ahead of most of the other semifinalists. For as harsh as that may sound, consider this: Even the leader of this team was surprised at being picked as one of the winners.

So if there were better teams in the Rocky Mountain region, how did we get these three finalists? 

3. Cleantech Open Biases Come Out Late in the Game

As far as the 2012 Rocky Mountain region is concerned, there were certain obvious biases (covered above), but there also seemed to be judge opposition towards in-revenue companies and dirty industries (oil and gas, clean coal, biofuels, landfilling, etc.) — regardless of how much innovative companies improve these areas. I say this because most of the best teams in the Rocky Mountain region fell into at least one of these categories and didn’t win. Every team that won hasn’t sold anything yet.

At the beginning of the competition, we thought we had a chance to do well in our region, but not at the finals for a couple of main reasons:

1) This is a clean tech competition: Inevitably, we figured we’d run into the kind of green crowd that hates that we work in the oil and gas industry, even if we’re trying to improve it. Do you really see a clean technology competition picking an oil and gas company as their winner? As crass as an example as it may seem, it’d be like a mainstream beauty pageant picking a plus-sized model as their winner. It should be possible — as beautiful is beautiful regardless of size and there are a variety of factors in those competitions (like the verbal horror of the question and answer sections) — but in the end, whether it’s stated or not, we all know what they’re looking for.

2) Chevron was the main sponsor: Yes, you read that correctly: one of the six supermajor oil and gas companies was the largest corporate sponsor of the Cleantech Open in 2012. While some might think this should have improved Vortex’s chances to win, large “dirty industry” companies promote green activities to A) keep a pulse on innovation; and B) improve their image. Again, with the latter, there’s no way they’d pick and oil and gas company to win a green competition. Everyone would assume it was rigged by sponsor dollars.

Even with these factors in mind, Vortex figured we’d enter to network and prove that the oil and gas industry can do better environmentally (reducing CO2 emissions) while doing so economically (increasing oil vapor and natural gas liquid recovery for greater profit). Up until the final judging, we thought we were wrong about these initial assumptions and the aforementioned biases, but it was really disappointing to be proven right in the closing days.

As a clean coal company won the Rocky Mountain region in 2011 — but got ripped apart at the national finals — we thought we had a chance, but it turns out the only reason that clean coal company went to the finals at all was because one of the safe companies took the prize money and immediately dropped out of the competition. You can bet your pocket lint that little payday flub got fixed this year. As a result, the biases we noted above have remained consistent over several years.

4. Come On, Are You Sure You’re Not Just Bitter?

With this much criticism, I imagine a number of you must be thinking: “Why don’t you just say you should have won?”

Okay, I’ll say it: Vortex Tools should’ve been one of the finalists.

Angry cat: More socially acceptable than I am in this situation

It’s one thing if we say it — we could easily be delusional about how good we are (watch the tryouts for any talent show on TV) — but the problem is others were saying “Vortex should win,” too. This includes some of the other semifinalists, the volunteers who helped teams with their messaging, and even Cleantech Open personnel. When Vortex didn’t win and the wrong company did (above a field of stronger competitors, not just us), the Cleantech Open personnel said things to us like, “I don’t know what happened”; “I don’t get it, but we have no pull on the judging team”; and bluntly: “You should have won.”

As I’m as direct in private as I am publicly, Vortex discussed this with some of the more open Cleantech Open personnel. One high up volunteer told us, “You only lost by half a point” (hence the runner-up status in both categories) and that we were leading the competition until late in the day. The problem is that two of the teams who beat us presented early and the last one was the weakest team. As genuinely supportive as the Cleantech Open is to each company throughout (and even after) the process, there are still hidden standards and expectations for their winners.

Final judging should not be able to override what was a good process, but as of this year in the Cleantech Open, it does. Pick the wrong judges and they’ll send on their bias rather than consistent teams. In the end though, it’s their competition; they can judge it however they like. However, people also have the right to judge the way they judge — especially when they don’t follow their own guidelines — and we’ve come to the conclusion that Vortex’s runner-up nods were given as platitudes for a dirty industry team that wouldn’t be allowed to win a clean tech competition.

I’m guessing that I’m not the first person to feel this way, but if the Cleantech Open doesn’t want a repeat of Vortex Tools in the future, it needs an update. The easiest ways I see to do this are A) have pre-revenue and in-revenue companies compete for different finalist slots; B) place “dirty” technologies in their own category that they can actually win; and/or C) rewrite the entry rules so that a team like Vortex can’t slip through the initial process.

Inevitably, whatever the Cleantech Open is at this stage — a small business accelerator, a positive image shift for large sponsors, or a way to feel good about supporting small green startups  — it’s not a business competition.

5. The Bottom Line: Knowing What We Know Now, Vortex Tools Wouldn’t Have Participated in the Cleantech Open

It’s safe to say that Vortex got more out of the Cleanteach Open than we put in. There are many good parts, including:

  • Lots of networking opportunities
  • Several great Cleantech Open staff volunteers, including David Talon, Rex Northen, Cindy Jennings, Jerry Healey and Jennifer Mayes
  • Excellent business clinics (every region should have these); and
  • The ability to improve your marketing message, especially with volunteer companies like Posit Partners involved

So then… what’s the problem?

The problem is that you can do all the above with far less commitment. You can be intentional about networking; you can work with business clinics and marketing groups more specifically (even if you have to pay for their services, they’re worth it); and guess what? Usually it doesn’t take a four-month commitment and you don’t get all the bad we’ve covered either.

Early on, we knew the Cleantech Open would be a hefty commitment, but we chose to dedicate the resources. This meant working early/late and on our vacations. It meant that as a company already selling a patented and proven technology into growing markets, we had to spend our resources carefully, so to get a late game bait and switch from the Cleantech Open feels like a rip off.

I will say this: If you’re just starting a business (pre-revenue), the Cleantech Open is worth it. You’ll get a rapid business education, technology development, market help, a level of credibility for your company, extensive networking and many other good things. As a company actually doing business, however, we got a basic business education we already knew and are far beyond, resources we could get elsewhere more efficiently, and the final jab of watching weaker teams stumble into awards with less effort.

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In the next (and final) Cleantech Open blog, I’ll provide links to every Cleantech Open blog I’ve written as well the top five pros and cons of the process. If you read all of this entry, you get an e-high five. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

 

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs is designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Today’s blog: What to expect from the webinars (part two), the worksheets, and regional mock judging.

Now that we’re finished with the webinars, worksheets and mock judging, here’s what you can expect from each. As usual, these are the opinions of one participant going through the process in 2012.

1. Webinars: See Part One

I originally split my thoughts on the webinars into two posts, as I thought some dazzling, new, revelatory information would come to me at the end of the process, but, uh, it didn’t, so what I said about the webinars last time still applies. I will say that there are only eight weeks worth of webinars and you’ll do them all in a row before taking a week off. In the tenth and final week, the Cleantech Open organizers give a slew of announcements (on due dates, completing a survey on your generalist mentor, etc.) but there’s not much to it.

2. If You Don’t Use the Resources, Another Team Will

Hollie from Posit Partners: She was very helpful

As mentioned during the business clinics post, several companies donate free consulting time. In the Rocky Mountain region, this included Faegre Baker Daniels (legal), Merrick (engineering), Posit Partners (marketing) and YouSeeU (presentation help). You’ll also hopefully get some help from specialist mentors. In my region, this equated to one—a sustainability mentor—but each consultant we met with gave us assistance that benefited us both in the competition and in our day-to-day business.

Here’s the thing: In talking with several of the consultants, half of the participants in the Cleantech Open didn’t take them up on their gracious offer. These are professionals who make their living charging companies for the very services you’re getting for free, so if you skip out, you’re missing out. (That said, we passed on the legal and engineering help, as they couldn’t help with how far along we are as a business—something we mentioned to them at the clinics.) One of the consultants told us that their company had set aside a certain amount of hours to help Cleantech Open semifinalists, so with half the companies not taking the help, Vortex got the hours dedicated to them instead.

In short: Take the help and opportunities offered.

3. The Worksheets Will Frustrate You

Here’s where you’ll put in the most work: As the webinars wrap up, you will submit PDF versions of eight worksheets, a one-page executive summary, and an in-progress version of your investor presentation. In noting the obvious, if you try to put all of this off until the week beforehand, you’re screwed. We thought we’d try to wrap up and get our worksheets in early. Instead, we used most of that last week to refine the work that we’d already labored on.

Make the time for the worksheets—you’ll need it.

Your answers to the worksheets will depend on how far along you are as a company, but they cover your product/market fit, technology/product validation, business model, markets and getting to them, finances and funding, legal, management team, and your sustainability benefits. Each worksheet has several sections and many require additional uploads. For example: the financial worksheet also required an Excel spreadsheet of several years’ worth of earning/cost projections.

Here’s what Cleantech Open volunteers didn’t tell us early enough: The worksheet guidelines on their wiki and the guidelines on the main Cleantech Open site are different. Additionally, although we knew each worksheet had character limits—as the judges read several entries and we all need to learn how to be concise—the breakdown of sections and their associated character limits weren’t released until two weeks before the due date. This meant that some of the work we did during the first eight weeks was for naught.

Hands down, this lack of worksheet guidelines is the most frustrating part of the Cleantech Open and the one thing they must work to change for future semifinalists. In case this isn’t fixed, most sections allowed between 1,000 and 2,500 characters (or in Twitter terms: 7-17 tweets). Of course, if like us, you don’t have the section breakdown on each worksheet, these character limits won’t help, but it’s still more than we had in this area.

4. Mock Judging: Practice, Update, and Practice Again

Although there’s only one mock judging day, you actually have a couple of chances to present beforehand and get feedback. This is where you’ll use that investor (PowerPoint) presentation I mentioned above. Basically, you make a 10-minute presentation, receive 10 minutes of Q&A from the judges, then 10 minutes of feedback. The presentations are scheduled throughout the day and you don’t get to see other teams present. The content of your presentation is based on the worksheets (generally: the problem, how your company addresses it, why you do it better than the competition, how your business is successful, and why this is good for the environment). In the Rocky Mountain region, the event was held in Colorado, so if you don’t live there/fly in, you’d have to present via Skype (save for Arizona who had their own in-person presentation day).

I said there are a couple of other times to present before though. One is luck of the draw. At the business clinics, you can enter in to do an open version of the mock judging where only five teams present, but everyone can attend to learn. Vortex was fortunate enough to be one of those five. That said, of the 15 companies who attended the Rocky Mountain business clinics (of the 20-something semifinalists in our region), only seven put in to present. I can tell you that even though the Cleantech Open is more of an accelerator for each company involved—something that they do quite well—in my eyes, the competition for finalists in my region immediately boiled down to those other companies pursuing advantages and opportunities.

The other option was open to all semifinalists via getting your presentation critiqued on YouSeeU (where you upload a video of your investor presentation and you get feedback on what isn’t clear, your mannerisms, speech, etc.). From what I understand, most semifinalists did not take advantage of this offer either.

Again: Take the help and opportunities available.

In terms of what to keep in mind for your presentation:

  • Don’t use anything too flashy (video files crash, graphics don’t load up, etc.)
  • Less slides, fewer words, visuals and pithy phrases often work better (so you have to know your material)
  • Don’t read what’s on screen (people read faster than you can talk and wind up disengaging)
  • This is a clean tech competition, so sustainability is 20% of your grade
  • Don’t talk while the judges talk, don’t get defensive, and only answer the questions they ask (back up slides can help)

From here, there are only two events left: Final judging and the regional awards ceremony. Both are next month. If Vortex Tools is selected as a finalist, you’ll see more blogs on what to expect from the Cleantech Open. If not, I’ll upload a video of me crying sustainable tears. Considering I haven’t sussed out how to make the latter work, we’re aiming for the former.

*          *          *

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs is designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Today’s blog: What to expect from the webinars and the business clinics.

Last time I shared what to expect from the regional academy. This time, I’m covering what to expect from the 10 weeks of webinars and the business clinics that show up at the halfway mark. As usual, these are the opinions of one participant going through the process in 2012.

First off, Vortex is not yet done with the webinars, so this blog is designed to cover the first half of this process. Basically, every Tuesday for 10 weeks—save one bye week late in the sequence (meaning there are nine webinars total)—you’ll spend a few hours sitting at your computer. Hosted by the University of Phoenix, you log on and listen through your computer or phone while watching the presenter slides, essentially on a shared screen. You can ask the presenter questions by typing in a chat box—as the microphones of listeners are muted—as well as sending technical questions to the host.

Oh, and if you think that you’ll just turn on the webinar and do something else without anyone noticing, you’re wrong. I did a five-minute speaking slot on grant writing, and when you’re logged in as a presenter, there’s a list of who isn’t paying attention. They do not announce this feature. Make no mistake about it: You’re graded on everything; don’t think you can coast here.

Given the differing time zones, some regions get better slots, but in Colorado, the webinars go from 3:30 to 6:30 (MST), with a 15-minute break after the first one-hour-and-45-minute session before wrapping with the second one-hour session. (The webinars are recorded and available for viewing if you can’t make it live, but they’re not always uploaded fast, and as of this writing, one of the week four videos is still missing.) If you’re like most people, that time frame won’t be the easiest slot to work with, and you probably have a full-time job along with everything else that pulls on your schedule. This brings us to point one of what to expect:

1. You Get Out What You Put In

Early on in the process, Vortex sat down and figured out if we should really invest in the Cleantech Open as an established, in-revenue company, and if so, with how much effort. Upon seeing the time requirements of the webinars, we had this debate again. We’d spoken with another semifinalist company from a year ago, and upon asking what they got out of the Cleantech Open, they said, “Nothing.”

Given that we got a fair amount out of the national conference and the regional academy, we thought this was strange, but soon figured out this company didn’t actually do anything with the Cleantech Open. Like a few companies each year, they were selected as a semifinalist and then proceeded to do nothing, so they got nothing. In realizing the time cost and that there is a lot of effort involved with the worksheets, we decided that if we were going to stay in the competition, we’d have to go all out, even if the requirements are painful to aspects of our business at times. (If you haven’t noticed, it’s taken a bite out of my ability to regularly update this here blog.) As a result, we’ve gotten a fair amount out of the Cleantech Open, and we think we have a decent shot of making the finals, but there have been bumps along the way:

2. Technical Difficulties

This is the biggest gripe you’ll have about the webinars (and it’s similar to the issue of disorganization that’s been consistent throughout): technical issues.

By Kmashaye5220 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From what I understand, 2012 is the first year the Cleantech Open is working with the University of Phoenix on these webinars, so while I expect a bump or two along the way, with the same issues popping up week after week, my grace has long since run out. At first I thought these issues reflected poorly on the University of Phoenix, but it seems the issues lie more with the Cleantech Open. Don’t get me wrong: the volunteers are kind and work hard; there are just not enough of them and too many things they can’t control.

The first week, the audio didn’t work at all through the computer, so you had to dial in. If you’re like me where you’re often out of the office and your home phone has long since gone the way of the dodo, three hours on a weekly webinar won’t do any favors for your cell phone bill. While there wasn’t a repeat of this incident, the computer audio cutting out for 30-45 seconds is common.

Additionally, there’s always background noise: a bird tweeting, some bighead conducting a business call for 20 minutes, random cussing, etc. Notice how I said above that listener microphones were muted? This means that it’s always one of the presenters who isn’t speaking at the time and hasn’t muted his/her phone or computer mike. Again, this is every single week. Next year, the Cleantech Open needs to give their webinar presenters basic training on how to mute their microphones and act professionally. Right now, it’s hard to value their expertise with this consistently happening.

Finally, that 15-minute break I mentioned above: well, it gets cut. A lot. Do I even have to say this is bad form? It gets replaced by testing presenter connectivity; by going long on question and answer sessions; and by unscheduled announcements. As a result of this, there isn’t a webinar that’s gone by that I feel couldn’t easily be 30-45 minutes shorter. I’m sure that there were plenty of times that the program popped up that I wasn’t paying attention, as most people aren’t wired to stare at a computer presentation for three-plus hours straight.

3. The Lowest Common Denominator Factor

As mentioned in the regional academy post, the knowledge and training you have going in, as well as how far along your business is, will shape what you get out of the Cleantech Open. A lot of the material continues on in the topics covered at the regional academy: the business model canvas, determining and navigating your market, sustainability, legal issues, and creating your management team, etc. As you can probably tell, for an established company, a lot of these topics have long since been addressed and early-stage thoughts don’t really apply, but I will say that these webinars help highlight all the areas where we do things right, all the problems we know about but haven’t fixed, and the places where change is possible. Every business, no matter how established, should have this kind of reflection time.

Remember, many of the companies in the Cleantech Open aren’t much farther than the idea stage, so unfortunately, everything gets boiled down to the lowest common denominator: presentations get simplified for the everyman; the same awkward, low-brow questions get asked every week (and yes, some of them stop just shy of asking the experts to do their work for them); all of which can be very frustrating for savvy or established companies who hope for a lot more depth. One guy, in a moment of frustration at the business clinics, declared the process a coarser version of bovine scatology. I won’t go that far, but it’s disappointing to feel held back by people who aren’t even sure if they’d like to try their hand at this whole small business thing.

However, since I’ve mentioned the business clinics, I’ll mention that they have far more strengths than weaknesses:

4. The Business Clinics are Different Than Announced, But Well Worth It

At the midway point of the webinars, you’ll attend classes for three days (8-4: Monday through Wednesday). If you’re in Colorado, you’ll attend these classes in person. Like all the other training sessions, you’ll be receiving far more information than your poor, little head can handle, but you’ll be well fed while you’re at it.

In addition to the public classes where you go deeper on many of the topics covered already, you’ll have several one-on-one meetings with experts donating their time. These people have expertise in a number of areas including business management, engineering, legal advice, etc., and we were very impressed with how well the Cleantech Open volunteers matched up these experts with our needs (for example: all of them had oil and gas connections/experience).

One of the engineers we were matched up with spent most of the hour arguing with us on the validity of the Vortex technology–not uncommon with engineers, as, for them, old textbook standards can trump real-life innovation–and this experience of going off-topic was common (albeit usually less combative with the other experts). I imagine if we were just starting out as a company and needed more help, the conversations wouldn’t have gone this route, but these off-topic treks served us well and the networking strength of the Cleantech Open remains a positive standard.

Another thing you’re supposed to do is bring rough drafts of your worksheets to go over with the experts during your one-on-one sessions, but this didn’t happen (at least not for us). Finally, there are a number of beneficial resources you’ll get out of the business clinics, but as these affect the latter part of the webinars/competition, I’ll delve into those in the next blog. I will say this: If you’re not volunteering and connecting with the resources available to you, you’re not only hurting your chances in the Cleantech Open competition, you’re missing out on some great perks for your business.

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In the next blog, I’ll cover the second half of the webinars as well as what you can expect from the worksheets. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

SpiroFlo discusses the processes of New York’s new water-only café, Molecule, and how the co-owner came to believe in the value of purified water.

By Roger McLassus (Own work by author.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsIf you were ever one to mock the notion of paying for bottled water, here’s your new target: Molecule in New York City.

Molecule is a water only café. They’re selling tap water for $2.50 for a 16 oz. to-go cup (like many green businesses, they prefer you bring your own reusable container). However, before you judge, this tap water is first sent through a $20,000 seven-stage filtration system—including U.V. light, ozone treatments and reverse osmosis—leaving the café looking more like a science lab with this giant machine.

To break it down, U.V. light kills bacteria; ozone treatments usually means O3—oxygenating the water in a way that soon dissolves, eating the bacteria as it goes; and reverse osmosis is essentially a number of chambers acting as a form of super-fine filtration. The problem with reverse osmosis is this: You don’t actually get rid of the bacteria and minerals; you essentially just concentrate them in one area (like when you sweep dirt into a corner). I’d be curious to know how Molecule deals with this problem and if their mega filtration system will ever become sentient and attack passersby with gloriously purified water (hey, I can dream).

Not convinced? Molecule can add in vitamins and supplements—including the Cordyceps mushroom, which grows in China, Nepal and Tibet—for $1 per serving. Combos are available for $2. Recommended blends from their site include:

  • Fountain of Youth: C, E, Green Tea, H/S/N
  • Glamour Shot: H/S/N and B comp; and
  • Night Vision: A, B comp

Maybe when the filtration machine goes sentient it’ll enable me to truly live forever, be ridiculously good looking, and have night vision (still dreaming…).

Still not convinced? Molecule is offering delivery—by bike, of course, not car/truck—to the East Village. A five-gallon container is $10.

While some praise Molecule, not all are convinced. New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo conducted a blind taste test and noted the following: “Guess what? Molecule was the only one I didn’t like. My notes say “tannic” — a term usually applied to an unpleasant astringency in too-young wine. All that purging yielded an unnatural-tasting result.”

It should be noted that he is a defender of the baseline purity of New York City tap water.

Part of the problem is that there are many less-than-reliable people who believe better filtrated water has healing properties, yet experience is powerful. According to a Huffington Post article, Molecule co-owner Adam Ruhf “knows first hand the healing properties of purified water, claiming that drinking it regularly helped eased the pain caused the pain brought on by two serious car accidents that left him without a spleen and a leg held together with metal pins.”

Is that legitimate and repeatable? There isn’t enough research to say, but there are a number of fringe books and beliefs prodding the issue.

Here’s what SpiroFlo has found: In industrial water purification applications, with water alone (meaning zero chemical treatments), the SpiroFlo device took biofilm (bacteria that grows from water) from “too many to count” to less than 100 parts per million (statistically zero). For more on biofilm and how SpiroFlo removes it from the pipeline wall, see here.

Although SpiroFlo has applications as a stage in purifying drinking water, since Molecule’s filtration system is already at seven-stages and $20,000, we don’t want to push that 16-oz. glass of purified water to $2.75. That’d be ridiculous.

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Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs is designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Today’s blog: What to expect from the one-day national conference.

Last time, I gave an overview of the Cleantech Open and what to expect from the application process. Although I originally intended to cover both the one-day national conference and the multi-day regional academy in this blog, upon finding so many words falling out of my fingers, I decided to split the two and cover the one-day national academy here. As stated previously, these are the opinions of one participant going through the process in 2012.

If your company gets accepted to the Cleantech Open, the first big event you’ll attend is the national conference in San José, California. (You’ll likely have a regional mixer before this, but it provides a limited glimpse of what the Cleantech Open is about.) Although the one-day national conference is optional, as the required 3-4 day regional academy is immediately after and in the same city, it makes sense to tack on the extra day, unless you’re strapped for time and/or you live close to Boston, Massachusetts (where the east coast academy is held the following week).

Here’s what to expect from the one-day national conference:

1. Non-Stop Networking

Part of attending the national conference is having a trade show booth.

If you’ve ever worked a trade show, you know that it’s odd to interact with people in this environment. They don’t make eye contact; they wander off mid-sentence; and you can only bribe them to interact with so much free swag (candy, pens, water bottles, etc.) for so long. If people do come near your booth — pray you don’t get stuck next to the bathrooms or the food — they’ll take in any visual information you provide (in the form of fliers, posters, videos, etc.) far too quickly, and if it’s not bluntly clear what you do, they’ll lock in the wrong impression of your company and wander off ill-informed.

By Townsville Chamber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIt’s okay. I’ve attended trade shows and acted the same way towards trade show workers, because no one wants to feel trapped in a sales pitch, even if that’s not what you’re there to do. What you are there to do is network, and you’ll do a ton of it at both the national conference and the regional academy. My boss and I came back with over 50 cards between us with very little overlap.

Sure, collecting cards isn’t anything impressive — there was a guy who went around vomiting business cards on anyone with a pulse — but it never hurts to get your company out there more, and we came home with a half-dozen decent opportunities to pursue. Additionally, as there was another similarly aligned trade show going on at the same time in the same space (though the conferences were clearly divided), there was opportunity to connect with non-Cleantech Open contacts as well.

However many people you send to this event, split up so that you cover more ground. No one gets to stand around and be the pretty face.

2. Expect Some Bluster

In addition to having a trade show booth, you’ll also have to juggle your time with required presentations. As you’ll be leaving your booth all by its lonesome, this means that, a) you can kiss your free swag goodbye; b) you’ll want info sheets people can take; and c) You won’t want to leave anything valuable behind (internal reports, laptops, a briefcase full of unmarked bills, etc.).

In watching presentations in the main hall, you’ll realize that the national conference is the day for bluster material. To a degree, this should be expected, as the first day of any conference has a degree of self-congratulatory moves. Additionally, you can expect that the corporate sponsors have bought speaking time to make themselves look good.

Two of the major sponsors, Chevron and Walmart, got to give speeches on their commitment to sustainability, and whatever your opinion of those two companies before those presentations, I doubt it would’ve budged much. Although part of this is image makeover techniques of major corporations (and yes, statistically it actually works in increasing marketability, quality workers and profits), this also shows one of the greatest strengths of the Cleantech Open: As an organization, they’re open to hear about what’s out there in terms of green pursuits without writing anyone off. There’s no environmentalist snobbery that says, “Your company isn’t green enough.”

Sadly, this line of thinking is rarer than it should be when it comes to green conventions, but it’s necessary for wider acceptance and growth.

Finally, debates on whether cleantech has finally arrived will do little to sway your view of that either, as the definitions are broad enough that it’s easy to debate in the first place. However, as covered before, this national conference will give you lots of insight as to the current state of green energy in the U.S.

3. More Disorganization

By myself - Bilboq (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsI mentioned this in the application phase blog in problems with the Cleantech Open website and the trend continues here, only at this stage it’s in person.

The first thing that happened is that there was supposed to be a 10-minute shuttle that came to collect all the participants in the Cleantech Open and take us from the hotel we were told to book into with lower rates and over to the convention hotel. Upon walking outside after breakfast, however, there was a mob of angry people who’d already been waiting for this shuttle that was apparently 45 minutes late. As a result, I took a cab over to the convention hotel with my teammate. We asked people if they wanted to split the fare, but didn’t get much of a response. We assume we were docked greenie points because of this, but we wanted to set up our booth in time, as there was no time to do so the night before.

An hour later, all those polite people who waited for the shuttle showed up rather disgruntled. Additionally, they all had to wait in line to get their trade show passes to set up their booth and attend it… after the conference had already officially started. Although I got to skip this huge line by taking a cab to arrive early, the convention center workers handed out the wrong passes to us early birds and expected us to wait in line again for this mistake.    

Although it’s very impressive what the Cleantech Open is undertaking here—helping to accelerate 150 green companies—they’re long overdue to build in some more structure and organization. Additionally, there’s a degree of defensiveness when you share any criticism, even if it’s appropriate. You can expect to hear things about your “lack of initiative” and the all-encompassing shield of “We’re all volunteers.” If you’re as opinionated as I am, you likely won’t accept these excuses, especially since you, as a participant, are paying for this experience (this doesn’t mean being rude, rather that accountability is still in play). However, I will state that by the end of the subsequent regional academy, you will be ahead in terms of the value the Cleantech Open has given to you.

I’ll close this blog with the note that while I’ve covered a number of negative aspects of the Cleantech Open, my overall view of the process is favorable. These blogs came out of the reality that for as big as the Cleantech Open is, there’s very little independent information on it. My goal is to share both the good and the bad aspects for potential future applicants.  

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In the next Cleantech Open blog, I’ll cover what to expect from the regional academy.

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This video was taken live at the national conference trade show by Silicon Valley Teal.

I never knew how much of a bobblehead I was until I appeared on camera:

*     *     *

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs is designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Up first: What to expect from the initial application process.

Since this is the first blog in this series on what to expect from the Cleantech Open — save last week’s post on green insights from their national conference — I’ll answer the burning question most people have: Is the Cleantech Open a scam?

This is a fair question, as between the application costs and, if you’re accepted, the semifinalist fees, flights and hotel rooms (for at least two team members), you’re out a few grand before you really get anything  back. I’ll be blunt: The Cleantech Open is not a scam, but you won’t shake that feeling until you go to the national conference and subsequent regional academy to experience it for yourself.

(I know, sounds like the kind of things scammers say, but there you go.)

First things first though, you’ve got to fill out the competition application form and pay the entry fee. As the Cleantech Open is largely a volunteer organization that is trying to improve their competition, things may have changed by the time your company goes through the process. For more questions, they have a handy FAQ available, too.

Here’s what to expect from the application process:

1. You’ve Got to Pay to Play

I covered this a little bit above, but I’ll put the actual 2012 numbers here: The cost of the initial application is $140 per team (with cheaper rates for early birds and students). If accepted, the cost of being a semifinalist (including training, mentoring, materials and some event meals) is $475 per person, and you are required to have at least two team members. You are also encouraged to send at least two of these team members to the one-day national conference in San José, California. Additionally, these team members are required to attend a 3-4 day regional academy. Thankfully, the west coast academy is in the same hotel right after the national conference, so you can pool your flight and hotel funds into one trip (the east coast academy is in Boston, Massachusetts, a week later).

All this is to say that much of the financial cost of the Cleantech Open is in the initial weeks. There’s a time cost, too, especially in the 4-5 months following acceptance. Most weeks, you’ll be working on worksheets (which, while they shape your business, do still require some additional attention), chatting a bit with your assigned generalist mentor, and dedicating a few hours on a Tuesday to 10+ weeks of webinars. Although you’re encouraged to take part in these webinars live, you can watch the recordings later if need be.

If this scares you off from the Cleantech Open, so be it. Better you know this before you apply.

2. You Will Experience Website Problems

Photo attribution: By stuartpilbrow at Flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe biggest complaint you’ll have about the Cleantech Open application process is the website.

Apparently this is a source of frustration every year and they’re working to upgrade the site (which hopefully will have happened by the time future applicants show up). As of this year, you fill out an online application that you can update until the deadline or until you hit “final save.” You have to pick a category for your technology — green building, energy efficiency, transportation, etc. — but if you’re a better fit in a different category, they’ll move you. From there, it’s what you’d expect from a green technologies competition application: You have to explain your technology, sustainability benefits, funding history, team members, etc.

However, the site has certain glitches, and if the application deadlines get extended, those glitches become more common. Thankfully, there’s a fairly responsive troubleshooting team for when you do have issues, but since you will likely have website issues, you can’t wait until the last minute to complete your application.

Common glitches include your application getting submitted before you’re ready and the site saying you haven’t paid for all team members when you have.

3. Judges Will Misconstrue Your Answers and You Will Not Have a Chance to Clarify

This is something that will happen at every stage of the Cleantech Open, but it has the chance to be the most detrimental in the application phase. If you can’t communicate clearly within the limited character count for each question of the application, you won’t get accepted (bear in mind that only 30-50% of applicants are accepted from each region).

Here’s the kicker: Even if you do get accepted, with the character limits (and therefore inadequate space to explain important nuances of your technology), at least one judge will completely miss the point of your project in key areas. I have to imagine that at least some of the companies rejected by the Cleantech Open received that rejection because their message wasn’t clear enough and too many judges misunderstood.

Take this as your warning: You will not have a chance to clarify with these judges later, so get your application right. While you may be familiar with your industry and the great technology you have to change it, these three judges will be looking at it for the first time, so try to bounce your application off a person unfamiliar with your technology before submitting.

In the later stages of the competition, you won’t get any judge feedback at all, so if you’re accepted, take this round one feedback from the judges as a warning of where you need to clarify certain parts of your presentation. As frustrating as the character limits of the application can be, as the famous quote goes, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Alternatively: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

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In the next Cleantech Open blog, I’ll describe what you can expect from the national conference and the subsequent regional academy. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

SpiroFlo analyzes the Navy’s $26 a gallon biofuel scandal.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus plans to have half of the fleet on alternative fuels by 2020.

As a step towards that goal, Secretary Mabus introduced a “Great Green Fleet” — five ships that run on a 50/50 blend of conventional fuel and alternative biofuel (as it does not require engine modifications). Since the biofuel runs on algae, chicken fat and seeds, there’s  hope that the biofuel will also help with that classic reliance-on-foreign-oil conundrum.

There’s just one problem: The biofuel currently costs over seven times more per gallon than conventional fuel ($26 a gallon compared to $3.60 a gallon).

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark Rankin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Does this biofuel make me look green?

As this green fleet includes a destroyer, tanker and an aircraft carrier, these aren’t exactly small hybrid vehicles daintily sipping on that fuel either. As mentioned in a previous blog, it seems as though you can run a vehicle on just about anything; it’s simply a matter of whether it’s economical on a large scale. At $26 a gallon, clearly this biofuel isn’t economical, at least not yet.

However, In the 1980s, there was a scandal over the Navy buying $640 toilet seats. On closer analysis, it was revealed that the high cost largely came from retrofitting the parts on a small number of out-of-production  P-3C Orion fleet ships. As the molds and equipment needed to be recreated for a relatively small number of installs, the costs naturally went up.

In the same way, this $26 a gallon cost comes from providing only one day’s worth of biofuel. Secretary Mabus hopes that as the Pentagon supports and expands the biofuel use, the cost per gallon will go down.

In the mean time, Republicans (including Rep. Randy Forbes and war veteran Sen. John McCain) believe that biofuels will always cost more, that President Obama’s alternative energy initiatives are too costly for mainstream use/taxpayer funds, and that it’s wrong for the military to help build green technologies in this manner.

What no one has (publicly) stated is the obvious: The Navy, like any military branch, is tasked to defend its country and, in the event of war, use the means necessary to ensure victory. War is a cold, brutal affair, and if there’s one thing the current U.S. deficit has taught us, it’s costly, too. If and when there’s a greater need for warships, the ideal options — especially easily dismissed, expensive luxury options — will fall away or fall in line with the grueling requirements of war.

Finally, on the off-chance the biofuel does stick around during wartime, no one is going to feel good about being Earth conscious while people are killing each other.

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Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools shares five insights on the shifting views of green business in the U.S.

Each year, the Cleantech Open holds a national conference. In order to attend this conference, your company needs to be a semi-finalist in their competition to accelerate emerging green technologies. As Vortex Tools qualified in the energy efficiency category in the Rocky Mountain region (for transforming harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells to recovered high-value energy), some of our team attended the event.

Although I’ll comment more on the Cleantech Open in later blogs, as this national conference brings together leading minds in green industries—both the proven standards for today and hopefully the better standards of tomorrow—there’s a lot of insight as to what’s shifting in the world of green.

While these may be obvious to many in the green energy market, for the Average Joe, here are the top five green insights from the Cleantech Open:

1. Global Warming is Dead; Long Live Climate Change

There are certain words the green industry doesn’t say anymore. Clearly, Solyndra is out—I suppose these things happen when a California solar company gets $527 million from the Obama administration to go out of business with an inferior product—but global warming was officially announced as debunked, dead and a term to ditch (yes, at a green conference).

In the mean time, climate change is still alive and well. Like the vague buzzword green, climate change is broad enough to mean different things to different people, giving it wiggle room to be easily updated.

2. Wind Power is Down; Solar Power is Up

Despite the variety of companies at the Cleantech Open, I expected to see a number of  innovators from solar and wind power. While there were nearly a dozen solar companies, only a couple of wind power companies qualified from around the country. Five years ago, the split would’ve been 50/50, maybe even slightly in the favor of wind power, but now the solar power market is heavily saturated.

According to a solar energy expert, these companies are playing a game of last man standing, because many believe solar will be huge… sometime. However, most solar companies know that the market can only handle a fraction of them, so barring acquisition from a larger company on the way through, most will falter before the boom. In many ways, it’s the behemoth companies with infrastructure—the BPs, the GEs: the very companies these smaller startups want to replace—who’ll do the best when (and if) solar does go big.

3. Trending Companies Include Nanotechnologies and Green Roofs

As for newer representation and buzzwords, nanotechnologies and green roofs are taking off in the American green world.

Nanotechnologies is a broad market, as all nano really means is that it’s small, so there are benefits for coatings, electronics, bugs, material strength, etc. You name an industry, nanotechnologies are improving it, but the added cost is often prohibitive to success.

By Nickenge (Taken by Nick.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Green roofs are popular in Europe—1 out of every 5 houses in Germany has a green roof—but with the benefits of shading and improved insulation (especially in lowered AC costs), the trend is rising in the States now, too. The problem is that many older buildings, both commercial and residential, can’t handle the weight of 4-6” of soil, especially if it’s loaded with water. With this in mind, newer, lighter green roofs (likely with lesser benefits) are increasing in demand.

Hotter, arid climates like California, Arizona and Texas are slated to benefit the most from green roofs.

4. Natural Gas is Still the Bad Guy

This isn’t a new insight so much as a maintained trend. A couple of the main speakers expressed their (disgruntled) opinion that low natural gas prices are standing in the way of emerging green technologies. While I understand this viewpoint—as natural gas is a proven and plentiful energy source that’s been depressed for far too long—it seems as though many in the green crowd miss this point: Overall, the oil and gas industry is as unhappy about the price of natural gas as they are. The oil and gas industry wants the value of their proven resource to not be so low that it’s competing with emerging green alternative energies.

Finally, the other maintained trend:

5. Europe and Japan are Still Held Up As the Standard; China is Still Catching Up to the U.S.    

This one is no surprise, as Europe has a greater need for more efficient means, thus the reality reflects the necessity. Meanwhile, China’s current waste is still nearing where the U.S. was in the 1970s.

One ongoing trend I dislike is that many European and Japanese trends are held up as the standard  for America without qualification. For example, one of the panel members cited Japan’s recent minor emphasis on solar energy as indicative that clean tech has finally arrived in the world, so I asked how less than $10 billion in projected (not actual) solar energy could offset the $1.5 trillion juggernaut of Japanese nuclear power. While this panelist stated that he never argued that solar would replace nuclear energy, if your technology isn’t replacing an incumbent solution—likely in a cheaper, greener, more effective way—it doesn’t have a place, period.

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In upcoming blogs, I’ll share my experience with Cleantech Open competition. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

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