Friday, December 07, 2007

Basically Green

California seems to make it into Nature News almost as if it were a country in itself. In this week's issue, Nature reports on green technology as "California's latest gold rush," where venture capitalists pour millions of greenbacks into green technology. Roughly $725 million found its way into CA coffers of the $2.6 billion total venture capital over the first three-quarters this year, up from $1.8 billion in 2006. Of course, to put it into perspective, Genentech apparently spent $1.8 billion on R&D alone in 2006.

So where is all this money going, and will it turn into not only sustainable resources, but also sustainable technology? Here's a quotation from the article, with a comment on the basic science aspects of the investment:

There is always a chance that the current wave of investment could peter out, perhaps owing to a substantial fall in oil and energy prices, or a fading of environmental concerns — but these are unlikely. The biggest risk is that the pace of basic technological improvements may fail to provide a pipeline of emerging technologies that venture capitalists can feed off. Venture capitalists are not in the business of funding the basic research that will be needed to make the sort of breakthroughs needed to make solar energy cheaper than coal. Without a significant expansion of public spending on basic energy research, the innovation pipeline risks drying up.

"The biggest risk is that the pace of basic technological improvements may fail to provide a pipeline of emerging technologies..." Of course, this is coming from a journal publishing some of the most prominent articles of basic science research. But it's helpful to be reminded that the building blocks, however tiny, being created day by day in basic science labs may actually form a foundation helpful and perhaps necessary for future technology. I have become particularly interested in translational research in my own projects, but even in translational work, the translation to the clinics starts with the basics.
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