Kleiner Perkins announces 100K green prize, puts more into ethanol

Tech Culture

Venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has announced that it will award $100,000 annually best technology or policy innovation in green technology. A panel of five independent judges will select and announce the first winner in this fall. MIT and the University of California have similar contests.

The firm also announced it has made an announcement in Altra, a biofuels company. Altra wants to build five biofuels plants, which will have the capacity to produce 175 million gallons of ethanol and 80 million gallons of biodiesel each year. The company has already garnered $50 million in funding.

Two years ago, venture investors were just dipping their toes into alternative energy and technologies for cleaner water. Now it's one of the fastest growing segments for start-ups and has attracted firms like Kleiner Perkins as well as individuals like Bill Gates. The potential for the market is large, but some investors also fear that hype may be running ahead of reality.

Solar and biofuels have emerged as two of the more promising alternative energy ideas, while the potential for hydrogen has dimmed. In solar, companies are trying to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of traditional solar panels as well as develop alternatives to silicon solar panels.

In biofuels, most are looking at ways to cut car gasoline with cleaner vegetable fuel. It's going to take work. Most ethanol today is made from corn in the U.S. or sugarcane in Brazil. While these work, these plants are not ideal as sources of fuel--the plants have been bred for centuries to produce food. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab and elsewhere are trying to develop leafy plants or weeds that can convert more sunlight into liquid fuel.

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