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Experts See Bright Economic Future for Renewable Energy

President-elect Barack Obama will likely provide the long-needed national leadership to economically advance renewable energy, said Michael Polsky, ’87, president and CEO of Invenergy LLC. “We believe we will have a national policy that finally will take this country down a path to really rebuild our infrastructure toward renewable energy,” Polsky said during the opening remarks of the Midwest Alternative Energy Venture Forum at Gleacher Center on November 6.

The day-long annual forum, sponsored by the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, along with 20 partnering organizations and sponsors, featured three additional speakers, 13 presentations by Midwestern alternative-energy companies seeking venture financing, and discussion panels on the next generation of biofuels, clean coal technology, solar technology, and the wind-energy supply chain.

“We will not have research and development on a long, sustainable level unless we have a national policy,” Polsky said. “Researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs simply will not stay in an investment field unless there are long-term obligations for their inventions.”

Polsky, who said he is a longtime friend of the President-elect, said he urged Obama to make renewable energy a significant part of his policy platform. “If we solve energy, we solve a lot of other problems,” he said. “We solve national security and improve infrastructure, global climate issues, and economic development.”

During the biofuel panel, Wes Bolsen, chief marketing officer for Coskata, outlined his company’s potential to convert carbon monoxide and hydrogen into fuel-grade ethanol through a naturally occurring microorganism it developed and patented. “This provides flexibility on the front end to use locally available materials to make ethanol,” Bolsen said. “There is no pipeline in this design. You can take trash in New York — where they’re now shipping it 600 miles to get rid of it — convert it back into renewable fuels, and put it back into the city.”

More than 100 gallons of fuel can be created from one dry ton of material in the process, he said. Coskata has been able to lower its production costs to less than $1 per gallon of ethanol without taking a single dollar from the U.S. Department of Energy or other public institutions, Bolsen said.

“The financing will come,” he said. “This is a process that is going to require $250 to $300 million to build a facility. But it’s about the ability to compete directly with gasoline — unsubsidized. That’s a big piece politically as we go larger and larger with our fuel.”

Among the Midwestern companies seeking venture capital was SoCore Energy, LLC. The solar energy developer was a finalist in the 12th annual Edward L. Kaplan New Venture Challenge Business Plan Competition at Chicago Booth earlier this year. By leasing its own portable infrastructure, SoCore gives its clients the benefits of green energy with no upfront costs, said Pete Kadens, president and cofounder.

“Our overarching corporate goal is to make solar energy more flexible, more accessible, and more affordable than any other company in America,” Kadens said. “SoCore Energy uses a power purchase agreement to help commercial and municipal organizations procure solar energy with no upfront capital commitment. In a PPA, a solar energy developer like SoCore owns and operates the solar installation and simply sells the electrical output to the host facility at competitive market rates.”

—Phil Rockrohr

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