The Enablers: 3 Unsung Energy Technologies

By Alexis C. Madrigal

Welcome back for another round of energy entrepreneurs. I want you to meet Lynn Jurich, co-founder of SunRun, CEO Siva Sivaram of Twin Creeks Technologies, and Alex Tkachenko, President of Siluria. They're the latest interviewees in our series on The Energy Puzzle. I think of this series as our opportunity to show you technologies that aren't necessarily making headlines like Tesla or Solyndra, but are part of how innovation is changing the energy system. 


Take Siva Sivaram's Twin Creeks Technologies. They've come up with a machine that allows them to cut very, very thin silicon wafers. Rather than becoming one of the many solar manufacturers (who have to compete against very cheap Chinese panels), Twin Creeks decided to use its technology to make equipment that it can sell to those would-be competitors. They're part of an emerging supply chain that's helping make each and every piece of solar electricity get cheaper. 
The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal in conversation with industry entrepreneurs shaping our future. See full coverage
On the exact other end, you'll find Lynn Jurich's SunRun (video at top), which takes money from lenders and uses it buy solar panels that it leases to homeowners. They sell solar-as-a-service, which reduces the high upfront costs that have long plagues the industry. It's not a technology innovation, but it's transforming the way that solar is done in this country. 

And lest you think that we were too focused on renewables, we have Alex Tkachenko, a former biochemist who is now at the helm of Siluria. That company's technology is fascinating in that it radically reduces the cost of transforming natural gas (which we're awash in right now!) into ethylene, the most widely used organic compound in the world. It's used in plastics and other chemicals. Normally ethylene is produced by "cracking" oil, but Siluria's technology allows them to build the compound from natural gas. They see it as a gamechanger as the easy-to-reach oil gets pumped out of the ground, and a possible route for all the natural gas that the extractive industries have discovered through fracking and other advanced recovery techniques. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/the-enablers-3-unsung-energy-technologies/263417/