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US threatens to take Europe’s ‘clean’ lead

22 января 2008

A US investment boom in alternative energy and other new “clean” technologies is threatening to put Europe in the shade in a field it has traditionally dominated.

The wave of money could hand the US a lead in environmentally important technologies, as some of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capitalists scour European universities and research institutions for the next big ideas in fields from solar power to waste management.

“Europe is like a rich vein of unmined stuff that hasn’t been put into the world, even given the emphasis on ‘green’ in Europe,” said Bill JOY, a founder of Sun Microsystems and now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which has led the charge by US tech financiers into the area.

European investment in clean technology companies last year was only a third of the $3.7bn ploughed into the field in the US, according to Cleantech Group, a specialist US research firm. That is a big swing from two years before, when Europe mustered nearly two-thirds as much investment as the US.
US threatens to take Europe’s ‘clean’ lead

Clean technology spans a range of industries including alternative energy, energy storage, recycling and waste management and advanced new “clean” materials.

Europe laid the groundwork for many of these technologies thanks to government policies supporting investment and still has a strong scientific presence. But “the financial engine has swung back heavily over the past couple of years” to the US, said John Balbach, a partner at Cleantech.

The US push reflects a stampede by venture capitalists centred on both San Francisco and Boston, who are seeking to apply an approach to building up new technology industries that was honed in the PC and internet businesses.

Clean technology “re­quires the kind of innovation that we have seen in [Silicon] Valley,” said Mr Joy. “That’s the perfect place for venture investment behind scientific discovery.”

The US financing boom has already started to attract specialists from other countries. They include Ausra, the solar power company, which was based on technology developed at Sydney University but moved to California after raising money from Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures.

However, the rush of venture capital money is already prompting warnings of a coming bubble in the US, particularly in the field of solar energy. Nearly $1bn was poured into alternative energy ventures in California alone last year, according to Cleantech, as investors raced to harness technologies from the chip industry to try to find the next breakthroughs in photovoltaic cells.

“There are lots of methods, but none of them [has] been proven,” warned Ray ROTHROCK, a partner at venture capital firm Venrock.

Источник: Financial Times

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