2012 was a bit of a downer for the clean tech industry, thanks in no small part to the highly publicized failures over the past few years of companies like Solyndra and Abound Solar. That doesn’t mean the year was a total bust: While manufacturers have struggled, other sectors of the industry—like solar leasing—have flourished.
At the same time, we’ve seen the emergence of what entrepreneur and investor Sunil Paul calls the "cleanweb"—defined by him as "a category of clean technology that leverages the capability of the Internet, social media, and mobile technologies to address resource constraints." Companies like Mosaic and Sidecar are part of this trend. We’ve also seen increased interest in developing off-grid solutions for the developing world, which may ultimately leapfrog us, skipping more polluted fuels (in some places) and going straight to solar.
As for biofuel? Well, the future of the industry is still in question. Companies like Solazyme, which diversify beyond transportation fuel, probably have the best chance of surviving.
The GravityLight gets power from the slow lowering of a weight. All it takes is enough elbow grease to hoist the bag, and you can light a room with nothing but a bag of sand.
Surviving stormy weather and a shark attack, the Wave Glider just entered the record books for the longest trip taken by an autonomous vehicle on land or sea.
Enough of the fields of turbines! The Windstrument offers a different vision of what wind power can be in urban areas.
Amyris’s breakthroughs in bioengineering—and its plans to make biofuels from Brazilian sugarcane—promised to transform how the world’s businesses produce energy, cosmetics, and medicine. Then reality (and Wall Street) got in the way.
You read that right: Algae. You might have thought it was just for biofuels (or just for floating in the ocean), but algae-based oils are the food additive of the future. And they’re delicious.
What happens when a recycling plan is too successful? Sweden does such a good job recycling and turning its waste to energy that it has started importing trash from its neighbors.
The tide is turning for marine power plants, especially in Scotland, which is serving as a test-bed for all sorts of underwater turbines and other crazy solutions to generate power from the waves and tides.
Desalination is usually a hugely expensive and environmentally costly process, but this simple clay still just needs a little sunlight to render brackish water clean and delicious.
The company has let the public in on the surprisingly beautiful rooms that power your email and searches—and create huge amounts of emissions that you don’t normally associate with the clean-seeming cloud.
You don’t want to think about the various poisons floating around your house. Get some plants to use as a gigantic filter, and you won’t have to.
More 2012 roundups: