The Top 10 Clean Tech Stories Of 2012

The year saw plenty of ups and downs for tech that doesn’t use any polluting fuel, but there are glimmers of hope, especially in the developing world, where technology may leapfrog our dirty tech and step right into a cleaner future.


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.

1. A $5 Light For The Developing World With An Ingenious Fuel: Gravity

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.

2. This Surfboard-Sized Robot Just Propelled Itself Across The Ocean


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.

3. Finally, A More Exciting Design For Wind Power

Enough of the fields of turbines! The Windstrument offers a different vision of what wind power can be in urban areas.

4. The Rise And Fall Of The Company That Was Going To Have Us All Using Biofuels

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.


5. Inside The Solazyme Kitchen, Where Algae Ice Cream Tastes Good

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.

6. Sweden Needs More Trash, Because It Has Turned All It’s Got Into Energy

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.

7. 8 Crazy Ocean Power Plants That Make Energy From The Sea


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.

8. An Extra Cheap Way To Get Salt Out Of Water Could Help Make The World Less Thirsty

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.

9. This Is What Google’s Secretive Data Centers Look Like

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.


10. Filter Your Air With This Amazing Hanging Contraption, Powered By Plants

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:


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more