Prior to helping start the Cleantech Practice at Schwartz MSL, my technology PR career kicked off in the late 90s with a focus business-to-business software and infrastructure companies like MapInfo, webMethods and IONA. My days were spent talking about the evolution of web services and standards like XML, UDDI, .Net, Java and others, and how they impacted the development of ecommerce, business process automation and supply-chain integration.
If ever there was a journalist that I felt followed a similar path as me to eventually "covering" renewable energy, energy efficiency and green IT companies--albeit on the editorial side--it was Martin LaMonica. Martin is a veteran journalist of more than 20 years, having spent a good chunk of time covering enterprise technology for IDG (InfoWorld, etc) and then CNET, before managing the Green blog at CNET. Recently, he joined MIT Technology Review as an outside contributor to cover clean technologies for the publication which is famous for writing about cutting-edge innovation before it becomes mainstream.
Martin was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his new gig to answer three questions related to his role at the publication.
Schwartz MSL: What is your new assignment with MIT Technology Review? What types of topics will you be covering?
LaMonica: The new gig at MIT Tech Review is a blog on energy. The focus is clean technologies (rather than the traditional oil & gas and power industry) so it covers a lot of ground in terms of topics and companies--both startups and established energy and materials companies. With my background in covering the IT industry, I'm always looking for crossover between the high-tech industry and energy/environment.
Schwartz MSL: What do you think makes a good MIT Technology Review story? What sources do you like to speak with beyond inventors or corporate executives?
LaMonica: Tech Review does a great job of identifying interesting companies before they get a lot of attention and identifying important trends. Broadly speaking, that's what I'm looking for. Investors and academics who have evaluated a company's technology are important sources.
Schwartz MSL: Are you focused more on news or features? What’s the best way for marketers and PR professionals to submit post and article ideas?
LaMonica: The blog mainly covers news, but I plan to do more feature/trend stories for the site as well. I plan to freelance for other media outlets as well. Email's a good way to get in touch. I'm usually pretty active on Twitter and always check story comments.
Posted by Jason Morris on June 27, 2012 at 2:41 PM
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If you were expecting this post to be a comprehensive review of the new Microsoft Surface, launched this afternoon in a mysterious event in an undisclosed location hosted by he-who-shall-not-be-named (continuing with the mystery theme, not a comment on you, Mr. Balmer), then I am sorry to disappoint you. The Twittersphere has made it clear that Surface pricing details and availability had not yet been disclosed as this post went to "press."
Instead, I decided to look at this news through cleantech goggles and discuss what the impact will be from an energy perspective. So in the battle of Microsoft Surface versus Apple iPad versus Android Tablets, who wins? I have no clue.
I do, however, have an idea who loses: the consumer. Don't get me wrong, the world will continue to get top-flight devices built on platforms by companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Samsung that will keep them checking email, watching video and shooting pigs with birds long into the night.
Where the consumer loses is when battery technology can't keep pace with the accelerating power and feature race taking place in today's tablets and smart phone industries. The battery issue will continue to hold companies back from putting all of the power and features consumers want in devices, and even impact the physical form factors they take.
There are several new battery chemistries that hold promise, but most of today's devices don't employ them. Until they get beyond lithium ion, I think we're in for some bad reviews about the charge/discharge capabilities of next generation devices.
Energy storage is a major issue that rears its ugly head in transportation (electric vehicles), renewables (grid-level storage) and now, consumer electronics. It's high time that the media, government and private industry more intensely focus their attention on one of the biggest technology bottlenecks facing society.
Posted by Jason Morris on June 18, 2012 at 7:32 PM
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It's not hard to get me excited about clean technology companies since I believe so strongly in their impact on the economy, the environment and the overall good of humankind. And at Schwartz MSL, we're fortunate to handle public relations for a number of true "platform" type of players that are not only selling products, but also providing the necessary "building blocks" to enable an entire ecosystem of third-party products and services, like Tendril (smart grid), Picarro (GHG measurement and isotopic analysis for food safety, emissions management, etc), Enviance (environmental compliance and emissions tracking), Leyden Energy (energy storage) and too many others to mention.
Well, today you can certainly add Virdia to that list. The company has just launched with new public and private financing from leading venture capitalists like Khosla, Burrill & Company and Tamar Ventures; a new CEO from Genencor; and the imminent opening of its pilot facility.
So what is Virdia doing that is attracting so much attention? The company has a proprietary and proven process that turns wood chips into cellulosic sugars and lignin used in the production of biochemicals, the development of second generation biofuels and other industries. The process the company is using is actually decades old, with some major upgrades, including the recapture of solvents used to produce the sugars. The result is something that promises to be sustainable and scalable.
Virdia's successful ramp up can come none too soon, as the market needs a scalable, cost-competitive and high quality supply of cellulosic sugars for the fermentation processes that companies use to produce biochemicals, fuels and nutritional additives. And it isn't just for the environmental good of society that we need cellulosics succeed--it is also important to the billions of private and public equity invested in companies like Amyris, Coskata, LS9 and others to deliver materials for sustainable product development.
Many of these companies launched on the assumption that cheap, scalable sources of cellulosic sugars would be a given. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened and this is where some companies launched the proverbial cart before the horse. The market has had to rely on corn and other crop-based sugars that suffer from price volatility related to the success or failure of short growing seasons, fuel prices, food prices, water prices and agricultural land prices.
Product manufacturers value cost certainty and long-term contracts, which are almost impossible when dealing with seasonal sources of sugars. The wood for cellulosics comes from sustainably harvested and replenished wood sources grown over multiple seasons, reducing exposure to weather and resourced-driven price fluctuations, to deliver a more consistent cost structure.
Cellulosics will happen and so will the categories of products they enable, and so the major question is (as Virdia's CEO Philippe Lavielle says), "who will win the sugar wars?"
, burrill & company
Posted by Jason Morris on March 6, 2012 at 12:16 PM
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Cleantech investors, companies, media and green PR folk watched today's A123 Nasdaq debut with intense interest as the battery maker became the first cleantech concern to IPO in some time. Up 36 percent in early trading, A123 has not disappointed. With cleantech patents at an all time high, cleantech investing on the rebound and stimulus money starting to flow, there could be more green IPOs in the coming months.
A123 benefits from being at the intersection of two important trends: energy storage and the electrification of cars. Batteries have long been cited as a technology that needs to improve for renewable energy to reach its full potential. Car electrification dominated discussion among some of the panels at AlwaysOn GoingGreen last week as Tesla, Bright Automotive, Coda, Fisker and their investors littered panels at the event.
Expect A123's IPO to be a further boon to battery start ups in the coming weeks and months, as VCs look to find the next big technology in that sector.
Posted by Jason Morris on September 24, 2009 at 1:32 PM
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