The Week In Cleantech (Mar. 30 to Apr. 4) – Sawdust Futures, Anyone?

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On Sunday, Aline van Duyn argued that businesses face clean water scarcity risks. Arguments about business risk and water scarcity, or about investing in water as the next hot commodity, come and go, but nothing ever seems to stick. This is probably because very few companies have yet managed to make big bucks from water problems. However, on the risk side, things could materialize sooner than some think. Question: what’s put Canada on the map globally, attracted vast amounts of capital, has all oil majors in a stampede, and is (tacitly) key to America’s plans for a safe and secure energy future? You got it, the Oil Sands. On Tuesday, Green Wombat wondered whether it was too late for big solar to save the day. This is a huge deal and, in my opinion, a significant sign that solar thermal is coming of age (which I don’t believe can be said of PV yet). But Wombat hits it on the nail when he says that bureaucratic and procedural hurdles, coupled with an uncertain policy environment, are slowing solar development down materially. My prediction (get ready for some real insight): don’t expect those hurdles and uncertainties to disappear anytime soon. On Tuesday, Neal Dikeman at Cleantech Blog wondered whether cellulosic ethanol would always be the bridesmaid. Interesting piece, especially in light of Neal’s accurate predictions on the corn ethanol industry earlier. For my part, I have steered clear of all biofuels so far with my portfolio. When I look, I see big promises but no positive operating earnings for years to come in the case of cellulosic, or just a complete mess for corn ethanol driven mostly by wonky government policies. All in all, I yet have to encounter a good risk-adjusted value proposition in this space. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of smart money piling in, and I certainly get excited by the potential promises of cellulosic ethanol…I just have a hard time seeing where I can make money out of it. On Thursday, Clarke Canfield at The Seattle Times told us about the latest commodity to be bubbling up: sawdust. While there isn’t really an angle for most investors here, this is indicative of a broader secular trend of basic commodity scarcity, something the world has never really experienced for a prolonged period of time. While the sawdust story is amusing, tightness in commodity markets is not something to be taken lightly, as illustrated by recent unrest caused by global rice shortages. On Friday, Jim Fraser at The Energy Blog informed us that Transalta Corp and Alstom were planning on building the first coal power plant CCS project in North America. Let us hope this one doesn’t go the FutureGen way. This could also be an interesting proposition for Alstom. As in many other areas, a technological race is currently underway for end-of-pipe GHG management solutions, and emerging as a technology leader could mean access to booming markets for pollution control like China and India.

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