Oct. 16, 2014

Alum urges students to drive clean tech revolution

Dan Miller
Miller

“Climate change – we understand the problem really well, and we understand the solutions really well, and yet we are doing virtually nothing,” Dan Miller ’78, managing director and co-founder of The Roda Group, a venture capital group focused on clean technology, said in his Sustainable Global Enterprise talk on campus, Oct. 7. “We need to change out $30 trillion of energy and transportation infrastructure over the next 30 years to address [climate change],” Miller added.

Entreating Cornell students to leverage their degrees in agriculture, engineering and business to start clean tech companies, he said: “With climate change, bad things are happening. But it is a bad problem which opens up great opportunities to you.”

Miller cited three companies The Roda Group has invested in: Inventys, which has developed a low-cost method to capture CO2 from power plants; Gridtential, which is developing a new kind of lead-acid battery optimized for microgrid energy storage; and Solazyme, a renewable oil and bioproducts company.

Solazyme uses engineering and genetic science to create renewable diesel fuel from algae that is grown and fermented in tanks in a three-day cycle. The end product is identical to petroleum-based diesel, but unlike fossil fuels originating with CO2 from the atmosphere hundreds of thousands of years ago, Solazyme’s diesel is made from CO2 captured from the atmosphere today and has a “net-zero” carbon footprint once it is burned.

“The most important thing to know about climate change is that CO2 is not like other types of pollutants,” Miller said. “If you have a river that is polluted, maybe by industrial run-off, we see this as a problem which can be fixed. We rally our neighbors and enact legislation, and we get the polluters shut down. And, after a few years, the river is clean again and you can fish and go swimming again. But CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years. That is why it is so important to address it immediately.”

To learn more about clean tech and Miller’s climate outreach efforts, visit ClimatePlace.org.

Debra Eichten is a staff writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.