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Articles by Vinod Khosla

Khosla is a technology innovator and venture capitalist based in Silicon Valley.

Featured Article

Recently, there has been some blog chatter about my comments on the future of lithium ion batteries — my goal here is to clarify my stance.

I do believe that these batteries have been over-hyped in terms of technology available today. However, little focus was given to my statement that Khosla Ventures is backing the technology because the “lithium-ion markets are here today. We’re investing because there are great markets.”

So what kinds of technology are we investing in? I think the traditional approach to lithium ion battery making, such as A123, is going to be competing in an overheated, nearly-commoditized market and will probably not (I guess never say never!) get down the cost curve in the next 5 years. (Longer-term forecasts are futile because so-called experts can make anything they want up — we all know long term we will be on fusion power.)

A number of incremental improvements are underway, but they will at best offer a 2X improvement in price performance. A123 may be a best-in-class battery, but it lost out in the GM Volt race to the LGChem battery, which at the pack level delivers less than 50 KWhr/... Read more

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  • Not all biofuels are the same; we can do biofuel well or poorly

    To my surprise, recently I found myself the subject of an editorial by the Wall Street Journal which characterized me as a strong advocate of subsidies for food-based ethanol, and as a recipient of "federal dole" who ought to "take a vow of embarrassed silence."

    I have not advocated subsidies for food-based ethanol. In fact, I strongly believe any nascent technology that cannot exist without subsidies beyond an introductory period will not gain market penetration, and is not worth supporting.

    I do look forward to the WSJ's complaints about oil's subsidy bonanza, from tax breaks for drilling, loopholes that allow royalty-free or below-market offshore oil leases, manufacturing tax breaks, as well as roughly $7 billion in subsidies in the wake of the Katrina disaster. At a recent WSJ Conference, 75 percent of the erudite audience "voted" (rightly) that oil was more highly subsidized than ethanol.

    Were these not such serious matters, the WSJ editorial would be laughable. But there are serious issues at stake. Should we not look past our noses to the larger issues of dependence on oil? The alternative of biofuels raises serious questions deserving more depth than the entrenched, one sided views of the Wall Street Journal.

  • Wall Street Journal editorial mischaracterizes both my position and biofuels

    To my surprise, on Tuesday I found myself cited by the Wall Street Journal as a strong advocate of subsidies for food-based ethanol, and as a recipient of "federal dole" who ought to "take a vow of embarrassed silence." While I appreciate the Journal's foray into fiction writing (and I'd love to discuss my status on the dole with my accountant, who recently filed my taxes), I would like to clarify a few facts and offer a more rounded view of biofuels and ethanol in general.

    A few facts:

  • The most critical assumption on cellulosic biofuels: yields

    My most critical assumption with cellulosic biofuels is on land efficiency: tons of biomass per acre, and hence gallons of fuel produced per acre, and more accurately, miles driven per acre. I believe biomass yields per acre will multiply by two to four times from today's norms.

    The lack of genetic optimization and research on cultural practices, harvesting, storage, and transport with would-be energy crops -- miscanthus, sorghum, switchgrass, and others -- means that there is significant potential for improvement. The application of advanced breeding methods like genetic engineering and marker-assisted breeding, limiting water usage through drought resistant crops, and large-scale application of biotechnology (i.e., optimizing the process by which plants conduct photosynthesis, or reducing stress-based yield losses) will also contribute to increased yields with fewer inputs.

    More importantly, different energy crops are likely to be optimal for different climates -- jatropha makes sense on degraded Indian land, but not in the American Midwest. Rather than a single dominant energy crop, we are likely to see a variety of feedstocks that allow specialization to local conditions, mixes, and needs, while mitigating the risks.

  • Better agronomy for energy crops

    I believe improved crop practices are a vital aspect in meeting our cellulosic feedstock needs. There are a few areas that offer significant potential:

    1. crop rotation,
    2. the use of polyculture plantations,
    3. perennials as energy crops, and
    4. better agronomic practices.

    We address all four issues here. Though none of these have been extensively studied, early studies and knowledgeable speculation point to their likely utility. Further study of these techniques is urgently needed, especially the use of grasses or other biomass-optimized winter cover crops.

    Crop rotation

    I have proposed the usage of a 10 year x 10 year energy and row crop rotation. As row crops are grown in the usual corn/soy rotation, lands lose topsoil and get degraded, need increased fertilizer and water inputs, and decline in biodiversity. By growing no-till, deep-rooted perennial energy crops (like miscanthus or switchgrass -- see below) for ten years following a ten year row crop cycle, the carbon content of the soil and its biodiversity can be improved and the needs for inputs decreased. The land can then be returned to row crop cultivation after ten years of no-till energy crops.

    Currently unusable degraded lands may even be reclaimed for agriculture using these techniques over a few decades. A University of North Dakota study highlights some of the benefits for food crops. I expect similar or even greater benefits for food crop/energy crop long cycle rotations, especially in soil carbon content: