Vinod Khosla: Innovation Heals All Wounds

A colleague forwarded me some information this week about ethanol and Flex cars, a video in which Stone Phillips interviews Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and now head of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, a group whose interests in biofuels, solar power, web 2.0, microfinance, education, health, and more line up quite perfectly with mine. This quote from Khosla’s site exemplifies some of the sentiments I shared in my call for grassroots collaboration to solve global problems:

Innovative, bottom-up methods will solve problems that now seem intractable–from energy to poverty to disease. Science and technology, powered by the fuel of entrepreneurial energy, are the largest multipliers of resources we have to solve our many social problems.”

-Vinod Khosla, venture capitalist and ethanol fuel evangelist

The May Dateline NBC report, The answer to sky-high prices?, examines the tremendous success of ethanol in Brazil, which has recently gone completely energy independent. There, “flex” cars give consumers the choice to use ethanol, gasoline, or an 85% mixture thereof (E85). Three out of four new vehicles sold in Brazil are equipped with flex-fuel engines, and automakers like Ford Brazil are pulling in profits, even while their domestic counterparts are failing. Drivers say the ethanol is cheaper in almost every case, and Khosla gives three reasons for making the change here in the States:

  • Economic: The fuel costs significantly less to produce, and he argues that prices at the pump could go as low as a dollar or even 70 cents! What more incentive do you need?
  • Environmental: Khosla also discusses alternate methods of processing the alcohol from waste materials such as leftovers from paper mills, fruit peels from food processing plants, and even from prairie grass. Such methods would be even more economical and go further to reduce and recycle waste. = Happy Earth!
  • Social: Ending our energy dependence on the Middle East would put more money into U.S. agriculture and new energy markets rather than into corrupt regimes and terrorist groups. Not to mention, make us INDEPENDENT! Which is always good.

Dateline also reports that WalMart has committed to install E85 pumps at all of its gas station locations. For a full transcript and links to more information, see A simple solution to pain at the pump? And for those of you with a little more technical understanding of ethanol, watch extended footage of Phillips’ interview with Khosla here: Fuel of the future?, in which he discusses the science and process behind ethanol in more detail.

Note: Ethanol is a very disputed topic among environmentalists. I’ve seen the argument that ethanol from corn delivers only very little excess energy than is necessary to produce it. (But that’s why it’s Khosla’s comments about ethanol from other, ready sources that interests me!) Get the other side of the argument at Robert Rapier’s R-Squared Energy Blog. Robert is a chemical engineer in the energy sector, and he takes a critical approach to Khosla’s claims. Very interesting piece.

I don’t have the answers. But it’s certainly worth looking at!

The only thing standing in the way? BIG OIL.