Companies to watch in green tech: Recycling

If it smells, it sells. That could be the motto for a new wave of business efforts looking for good, new ways to use old stuff.

Makin' algae. GreenFuel Technologies

With Earth Day upon us again, CNET News.com green reporters sat down and selected five leading companies in five different clean technology categories. Here are the ones to watch in the recycling realm:

1. GreenFuel Technologies: Large oil companies and many academics favor capturing carbon dioxide, turning it into a liquid, and storing it underground. Politically, though, that's a tough sell.

, with a pedigree from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and millions in venture funding, wants to feed captured carbon dioxide to algae, and then turn the algae into biofuel. The company is still fine-tuning its system and had to swap CEOs last year, but it's one of the more intriguing ideas for turning carbon dioxide into a salable product. The world is waiting to see the results from the Arizona test plant, the coming European plant, and the progress on turning algae into food.

Baking soda, made from smoke stack emissions. Michael Kanellos/CNET News.com

Other carbon dioxide recycling ideas include turning it into baking soda (which start-up Skyonic is working on) and baking powder ().

2. Electronic Recyclers: More than 200 million pounds of electronic waste went to recyclers in California alone in 2007, according to John Shegerian, CEO of Electronic Recyclers, one of the largest e-waste recyclers in the U.S. And roughly 80 million analog TVs will get heaved out in 2008 and 2009. The European Union and four states have already implemented e-waste regulation and more are expected to follow.

The companies make their money in a couple of ways. First, governments pay them to process waste. Second, recyclers are free to refurbish and resell equipment. Third, if the PC must get melted down, the raw materials can be sold as commodities. Other ones to keep an eye on: (a server refurbisher), TechTurn (notebooks), and (a joint venture with Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba.)

PCs getting chewed up. James Martin/CNET News.com

3. Climate Exchange: Climate Exchange was the early pioneer in allowing companies to buy and sell their carbon credits. Most of the company's business has occurred on its European exchange; nearly 7 million tons of carbon emissions exchanged hands a day in the first quarter. The U.S. doesn't have a mandatory carbon cap and trade system yet, but since all three presidential candidates approve of such a system, large companies are buying credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange, which the company bought. The daily average rose from 114 contracts a day traded in 2006 to 1,117 in 2007, an 881 percent increase.

Revenue came to $27 million last year.

4. Ze-Gen: It's the one word business model: trash! The company takes trash, converts it into gases, and then uses the gases to run a . There's a host of these companies out there, each with a slight twist. and Microgy take one kind of waste, manure, and turn it into methane. The methane gets sold to specific customers or down a pipeline. Onsite Power Systems has showcased how it can convert food into gas. All of these companies are relatively small and new, so it's a real horse race here.

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5. Recycled Energy Development: More than half of the electricity generated in the U.S. never gets used. It gets lost during transmission or gets converted to waste heat. RED has created systems for capturing industrial heat efficiently and then converting it to power. Not only does this lower power bills, it allows manufacturers to obtain credits for cutting energy consumption.

RED doesn't sell equipment. Instead, it keeps ownership and runs the business as a service. Expect to hear more about , which has discovered a more efficient way to convert heat to electricity, and China Energy Recovery.

 

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