Going green was big news for a while, then the collapsing economy put a cloud over the movement. Nonetheless, a derth of reporting doesn’t mean that the scientists, entrepreneurs, and business brains behind the burgeoning industry have slowed down. If anything, their products are growing in maturity and potential. We waded through hundreds of eco-oriented companies to pick out the ones with the most promise, in terms of product potential and marketability.
25. Bionic Power Inc.
Bionic Power Inc.’s Biomechanical Energy Harvester uses the energy your body creates during the process of walking to charge portable batteries. The device, which after development should weigh about two pounds, is geared towards people need easy, cheap portable power. Importing disposable batteries costs heavily in terms of fuel for transportation. Target markets include the military, public safety officials, first responders, and others who need charged batteries during blackouts. Bonus: Wearers can charge their cellphones on it at night.
Feelgoodz manufactures eco-friendly shoes using hemp, bamboo, natural rubber, and recycled paper. 3% of its profits go to charitable causes, including the Fair Trade and 1% For the Planet. Their comfortable flip-flops are all-natural and 100% biodegradable. The flip-flops could be huge if they gain an international market.
23. DEKA: The Slingshot
Better known as the inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen is now manufacturing the Slingshot, a filterless water purifier that makes drinking water out of sketchy water sources like sewage, ocean water, and urine. Hoping to instigate a phenomenon, Kamen is handing units to impoverished villages. The handy device costs the rest of us $1,000-$2,000.
22. WhiteWave Foods
Dairy food specialist WhiteWave Foods produces natural foods while offsetting 100% of its electricity with renewable power purchases. The company works with both human sustainability, in which soy and organics may play a big role, and industrial sustainability. Their flagship brands include the popular Silk (soy products), Land O Lakes, and Horizon organic dairy products. The company is recognized for its green power use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
21. Ice Energy
Ever lived in a city that has rolling blackouts during the summer? Energy glutton air conditioners are a main reason for peak electricity issues. Ice Energy has a solution that lets you keep cool in summer and save energy. Their Ice Bear cooling unit, which plugs into air conditioners, makes ice at night, when electricity is off-peak. During the day, the Ice Bear cools the air conditioner’s coolant (usually cooled with electricity) using ice, cutting electricity consumption by as much as 30%. So far, the company only sells to businesses, but look for it residentially soon.
20. Ascent Solar Technologies
Ascent Solar manufactures solar cells using a highly efficient technology called CIGS. It already produces solar modules that are incorporated into building materials and portable electronic devices. The company has plans to power satellites and other space devices with its technology. Its technology does not use silicon, so it is immune to the silicon shortages that strike the rest of the industry. Ascent has its eye on subsidized markets like Japan and Europe.
19. Adura Technologies
Commercial buildings spend roughly 1/3 of their operating budgets on energy. Adura pegged building operators’ pain by offering a solution that increases a space’s energy efficiency with minimal retrofitting, new switches, or reconstruction. With Adura’s technology, you can use the same switch to turn off the lights in one part of a room while turning them on in another part. These “advanced lighting controls” run off a wireless system that saves up to 70% on electricity use. This efficiency made easy has stirred up quite a bit of customer interest.
Chicago paper company GPA has devised a way to produce paper without trees or water. Instead, it uses calcium carbonate and limestone-derived mineral powders to make the paper, which it then binds with resin and polyethylene. Dubbed Ultra Green paper, the product is cheaper than synthetic paper, more weatherproof, doesn’t yellow, and is even antimicrobial. Despite this plastic-like durability, GPA claims the paper is as printable as that made from trees. Energy savings and favorable features make Ultra Green a product to watch out for.
Indiana-based Waterfurnace manufactures and installs geothermal heating and air-conditioning systems. The system uses an underground loop to either suck in or siphon out heat from buildings. The system’s pump, compressor, and fan require little energy to operate, are easy to maintain, and don’t break easily. The company employs a just-in-time manufacturing system to keep prices competitive, making it an increasingly attractive alternative to the usual energy hog furnace and A/C setups.
Colorado’s Solix builds bioreactors that produce biofuel made from algae. Its bioreactors maximize energy to the point of cutting production costs a whopping 90-95%. Algae fuel isn’t competitive on the market quite yet, but Solix’s technology, which can produce 1,500 gallons of fuel per acre annually, aims to make it so. Commercial production is still about five years away, but keep an eye out for Solix if and when algae does hit the market.
Imara produces long-lasting, eco-friendly lithium-ion batteries. Traditional nickel-cadmium batteries cause cancer, while lead-acid batteries poison landfills when they’re not recycled properly. Lithium-ion batteries, which you may know from your laptop and cell phone, last far longer than the other two types of battery, and are easier to reuse in manufacturing once drained. Imara’s batteries run longer than the competition. They are also powerful enough to use in a broad variety of markets. Unlike most other batteries, which are manufactured in Asia, Imara batteries are made in California, giving them a leg up in the energy independence movement.
14. Integrity Block
Integrity Block, based in Silicon Valley, manufactures a soil composite-based building block with the same strength, load bearing capacity and price as a standard concrete block. It takes 40% less energy to make Integrity Block than it does concrete; the stuff also contains 50% pre-recycled material. The company markets its block to builders interested in using green, sustainable, eco-friendly materials to get LEED credits. So far, people are biting.
13. Cool Earth Solar
Cool Earth Solar circumvents traditional solar panels by producing balloons that harvest solar energy. This divergent technology puts the company at a potential advantage: Traditional rooftop solar panels don’t put out enough electric power for high-population urban areas. Cool Earth’s balloon technology delivers gigawatts of bang for its buck, using cost-efficient materials and far fewer building resources than panels. It can meet demand quickly and without subsidization. Not bad, for a balloon.
12. Ecology Coatings
Ecology Coatings sells UV-curable nanotechnology coatings for paper, plastic, and metal products. It’s not a glamorous business, but the concept is essential. Most product protective coatings—almost every manufactured product has one—use solvents or carriers that aren’t safe or environmentally friendly when mixed and applied to products. Ecology Coatings came up with an eco-friendly solution by marketing its Liquid Nanotechnology coating. The inexpensive coatings cure under a UV light, allowing for clean mass production without the environmental risk.
Makani Power, still in stealth mode, uses patented “membrane structures” to harness high-altitude wind power. Think of its product as a gigantic, eco-functional kite. The kite gets launched several miles into the air and captures high-altitude winds, which are more dependable than winds closer to the ground. Not surprisingly, the company is staffed by a fair number of kitesurfers. Google has invested $11 million into Makani.
10. Altra Biofuels
Altra Biofuels finds, buys, and develops biodiesel and ethanol energy technologies throughout the United States. Once the technology is sound, Altra puts it into production, making it master of several promising technologies, and putting it in a position to become a big energy company if and when its types of fuels become a national standard.
9. Guardian Industries
Guardian Industries is known for its home- and auto glass products. More recently, they starting producing vacuum glass, a specially-designed glass that insulates as well as an average home wall. The glass’s insulating properties come from a vacuum area between two panes that highly diminishes convection, conduction, and radiation. Guardian has taken this simple window science to the next level by making its windows cheaper, thinner, and lighter. As a result, the windows are more marketable to builders. These windows fit in well not only with Obama’s weatherization campaign, but with a greener future in general.
8. Organic Valley
Based in rural Wisconsin, Organic Valley provides the country with pure-grown eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and meats. Started by seven farmers 16 years ago, Organic Valley now boasts sales worth hundreds of millions of US dollars. The farmer-focused co-op operates out of eco-friendly headquarters, employs mostly locals, and is co-owned by upwards of 600 farmers around the nation. Organic Valley’s takes reasonable prices and demand-based production seriously, which helps keep organic farming as an industry alive. You can find their products at Whole Foods, Larry’s Market, Town & Country, and at other natural grocers.
Coskata procures ethanol from landfill waste by processing waste gas in bacteria-based bioreactor. Their method is incredibly energy-efficient, using half the water of corn ethanol production as well as cutting CO2 emissions by 84%. The company’s patented bacteria can produce ethanol from plant waste, garbage, feedstock, and old tires for half of what it costs to make gasoline. If ethanol stays in the green-energy game, Coskata could make a killing.
6. Eaton Corporation
Electric hybrid vehicles are well and good until you try applying the technology to the big boys. By big, we mean delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and other rigs. At that size, it just isn’t as efficient as it is on, say, a Toyota sedan. Instead, hydraulic power holds promise for these types of vehicles. Eaton Corporation manufactures hydraulic hybrid trucks that UPS, FedEx, and Waste Management are currently testing. Hydraulic hybrids use energy from their brake systems 45% more efficiently than what electric hybrids can capture from their batteries. Eaton has also made electric hybrid systems for trucks and buses in the US and China, positioning it well to become a market leader.
Zipcar enables city dwellers to reserve a car online, walk up to a car lot, get in using a credit card, and drive around—with insurance and gas covered—for $11/hour. Customers get all the perks of owning a car, without the hassle. A $50/year membership gets you access to cars in 50 cities. The company is targeting cities and college campuses to catalyze ongoing growth. Offerings include everything from 5-series BMWs to SUVs to tiny compacts–something for everyone.
4. GreatPoint Energy
“Clean coal” is something of an oxymoron. But Cambridge, Mass.-based GreatPoint Energy has figured out how to make this tricky concept work. It uses catalytic gasification technology to transform coal into natural gas. The company claims that once its plants are operational, it will be able to produce natural gas from coal at below-market prices. It can also capture and sell the carbon dioxide, mercury, and sulfur emitted during the process. GreatPoint is clean, green, and with serious potential.
3. Tesla Motors
PayPal cofounder Elon Musk is on a roll with his latest venture. Tesla Motors designs an all-electric roadster that goes from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds, and zips around at up to a governed 125 miles per hour. The car only costs $0.02/mile to power, but its price tag is in the hundreds of thousands. Nonetheless, the eco-hip rich of Silicon Valley and Los Angeles have snapped up the roadsters like hotcakes. Tesla’s next car, the Model S, is slated to be released in 2010. Its comparatively modest $60,000 price tag puts it up against luxury sedans like the Audi A6. Tesla also has successful divisions that sell battery packs, powertrains, and solar chargers.
California-based Calera specializes in carbon capture and storage. In lay terms, that means diverting carbon dioxide emissions from factory smokestacks and running them through calcium- and magnesium-rich seawater to create cement. The CO2 gets turned into carbonates, making cement instead of polluting the atmosphere. Calera wants to replace Portland cement—120+ million metric tons of which the US uses in roads, sidewalks, and buildings a year—with its more eco-friendly product. If allowed to piggyback on coal and natural gas plants in the United States, Calera could do some major carbon cleaning cum cement production.
Vestas, aptly headquartered in Denmark, is the biggest manufacturer of wind turbines in the world. Vestas’ specialty lies in planning, installing, maintaining, and servicing windmills. Government purchases of turbines continue to boost the company’s growth. It expects turbine sales to top $9.2 billion this year. The numbers can only get higher.