Internal Combustion “Not a Great Product”

January 14th, 2008

I just stumbled across this great quote from VC Matt Trevithick at Venrock. It is part of an interesting interview on Earth2Tech in which (in part) Trevithick wonders aloud whether the VC model is going to work well in the alternative energy sector.

The quote about the internal combustion engine is brilliant, though. He must mean that in the same way that people talk about Microsoft products not being very good- it hasn’t stopped Microsoft from massive success, and internal combustion’s flaws haven’t stopped it from being about the most successful single product ever (not counting sliced bread).

For the record, I think Trevithick’s point was to compare the relative efficiencies of gasoline and electric motors with their fuel sources. Gasoline packs a huge amount of energy into its volume, but the engine doesn’t extract it very well and creates lots of waste. Electric motors are very efficient by comparison, but batteries are lousy.

The real gem in the interview, though, is where Trevithick starts to break down the alt-energy field into IT-based businesses like demand-response company EnerNOC that make easy VC investments and “pure energy” ideas like solar and biofuels that may not be good places for venture capitalists to play. I’ve wondered about this too. The latter category requires so much infrastructure development that it seems like a tough job for all but governments and corporate giants.

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  • christina

    Thanks for pointing to this, Jay. He voices a lot of the questions I’ve been thinking about when it comes to the VC model for clean tech. I think a lot of these bigger infrastructure plays are going to require a combination of funding mechanisms marrying folks who never would have played together before.