Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Innovative Technologies – Calera:

Energy, Environment, Food and Healthcare are slowly becoming the defining challenges of our generation. Our present population is 6.8 bn and it was half this size when my dad went to college, now I am in college!!! UN projects 9 bn population in 20 years with more than 60 % of them in urban areas. All this will push our basic resources - energy, food, shelter, and healthcare. With status quo energy and food prices will reach disproportionate heights and will have a significant impact in our society and environment. But with technology and free market, may be it can be solved.

So this is the first in a multi-part blog on technologies and companies which can radically change our world. The first one is on Calera.


Calera is a company which wants to convert all the carbon dioxide emitted by thermal (coal- or gas-fired) power plants into cement or bricks. Further more they also want to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into cement. Too good to be true, isn’t it?

The technology in principle is very simple. It is just chemistry, specifically Catalysis. CaCO and MgCO3 (Calcium and Magesium Carbonate) is the biggest ingredient in the manufacture cement. So what Calera proposes to do is that, it plans to combine CO2 with seawater or any kind of hard (salt) water and produce lime stone in the presence of a catalyst (the catalyst is ofcourse a secret!). The salt water provides calcium and magnesium ions and this water get sprayed in carbon dioxide to naturally get converted into calcium and magnesium carbonate. This could be then used in a variety of ways. Either spray-dry into cement or use it as precursor material along with concrete aggregates for building walls or roads.

A pilot plant is up and running in Santa Cruz, California. The technology is in the developmental stage but the science behind it is very promising. It can potentially convert all (less profitable) thermal power plants into (highly profitable) cement factories and in the process also eliminate carbon emission.

P.S - Carbon Sequestration or the idea of storing carbon dioxide is not new but to make it as cement or brick and use it as a product is very innovative. Most of the proposed carbon sequestration technologies involve liquefying carbon dioxide and store it in depleted oil / natural gas wells.

Further Reading:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

College days

Hi Guys,

Thought everyone should read this. I realised this only late in Amrita and more so after coming here. I still have couple of years of college left, so trying to make full use of it. (via karthik)


...are we stuck in High School?

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their interest in marketing and exceptional promise (that's what I was told... I think they came because they had heard that Maury Rubin would make a great lunch!).

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman professed to agree with me, but then explained, "But those companies don't interview on campus."

Those companies don't interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent $100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an MBA, but...

The second occurred today at Yale. As I drove through the amazingly beautiful campus, I passed the center for Asian Studies. It reminded me of my days as an undergrad (at a lesser school, natch), browsing through the catalog, realizing I could learn whatever I wanted. That not only could I take classes but I could start a business, organize a protest movement, live in a garret off campus, whatever. It was a tremendous gift, this ability to choose.

Yet most of my classmates refused to choose. Instead, they treated college like an extension of high school. They took the most mainstream courses, did the minimum amount they needed to get an A, tried not to get into "trouble" with the professor or face the uncertainty of the unknowable. They were the ones who spent six hours a day in the library, reading their textbooks.

The best part of college is that you could become whatever you wanted to become, but most people just do what they think they must.

Is this a metaphor? Sure. But it's a worthwhile one. You have more freedom at work than you think (hey, you're reading this on company time!) but most people do nothing with that freedom but try to get an A.

Do you work with people who are still in high school? Job seekers only willing to interview with the folks who come on campus? Executives who are trying to make their boss happy above all else? It's pretty clear that the thing that's wrong with this system is high school, not the rest of the world.

Cut class. Take a seminar on french literature. Interview off campus. Safe is risky.