KiOR on 60 Minutes

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“Suddenly Cleantech was a dirty word.”So states a recent episode of 60 Minutes, highlighting the efforts of businessman Vinod Khosla. Khosla’s interview takes viewers right into Columbus, Mississippi, to view the KiOR biofuels plant. Khosla has poured millions of dollars into the project, which converts woodchips into “clean green gasoline.” In response to correspondent Lesley Stahl’s question if this is too good to be true, Khosla says, “There is no downside.”

“Suddenly Cleantech was a dirty word.”

So states a recent episode of 60 Minutes, highlighting the efforts of businessman Vinod Khosla. Khosla’s interview takes viewers right into Columbus, Mississippi, to view the KiOR biofuels plant. Khosla has poured millions of dollars into the project, which converts woodchips into “clean green gasoline.” In response to correspondent Lesley Stahl’s question if this is too good to be true, Khosla says, “There is no downside.”

60 Minutes begs to differ by explaining:

“Well there is: first off, his clean green gasoline costs much more than what you pay at the pump.  And despite hundreds of millions of dollars invested – including 165 million of Khosla’s own money, KiOR is still in the red, and the manufacturing is so complex, it is riddled with delays.”

While Khosla understands the presence of great risk to clean energy investment, part of the problem is that government has also poured billions of dollars into risky Cleantech projects with taxpayer dollars over the past years.

Critic and chemical engineer Robert Rapier stated: “The federal government has allocated a total of $150 billion to Cleantech – through loans, grants and tax breaks with little to show for it.”

Energy Department scientist Steven Koonin would not say that Cleantech is dead but, “There are parts of it that I would say are on life support right now.”

The natural gas boom is a big player.

“But Cleantech was dealt a hammer blow by this: plentiful, inexpensive and relatively clean domestic natural gas. So by 2012, the moneymen of Silicon Valley were dropping energy from their portfolios and soon struggling and bankrupt Cleantech companies were on the auction block at firesale prices. And guess who snatched them up?  China! …. “

While it’s one thing for investors to put their own money into a risky venture like this, should Cleantech be a destination for taxpayer dollars? Were taxpayer dollars intended to end up in projects that were just shipped off to other countries? It doesn’t sound like a clean way to handle the public’s money.

>>Source: CBS News. “The Cleantech Crash.” 60 Minutes. 5 Jan. 2014.

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