Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What It Takes: Building a Materials Science Company for the 21st Century

Advanced Material Sciences research is one of the reasons I'm optimistic that this secular bear market will be a bit shorter than the '66-'82 bear. See posts below for some ideas that are close to commercialization.
A very smart post from Greentech:
As materials science companies chart new territory in the fields of clean energy and greentech, the rules of innovation are being rewritten.

Part 1: Product Development

For much of our recent economic history, information technology has dominated our thinking about innovation, progress and prosperity. With good reason: the IT revolution changed the world in powerful and profound ways that we're just beginning to understand and process.

But now, there's a new growth agent emerging - materials science - and it's different from its digital predecessor. As materials science and the companies it has spawned chart new territory in the fields of clean energy and green technology, the rules of innovation are being rewritten. And now this fast-growing field has the chance of fundamentally changing our economic and environmental outlook.

As this fresh catalyst takes hold, it's interesting to ask what type of company best fosters 21st century materials science breakthroughs. In addition, as a frame of reference, how do the new and emerging materials science companies compare with the powerhouse information technology companies that so clearly helped mold and shape our views on what it means to bring a product to market?

Nature's Role in the Process

In information technology, virtually any product development challenge can be overcome with more time, more money, or both. Eventually, the problem will be solved. By comparison, product development in a science company is far less predictable. The laws of nature can – and often do – get in the way of tidy, systematic forward progress.

The result is that the product developer in a materials science company is denied the typical tradeoffs of most IT development efforts. You can't remove features to hit a deadline; you can't simply add resources to force a product release into shipping earlier than expected; the relationship between resources and outcomes is not at all linear; you can't always predict the date a given set of product features will be ready for customer consumption.

The Challenge of Managing a Product Timeline

As a result, the biggest challenge with materials science is managing the product timeline so that the vagaries of science-based development efforts are properly accounted for in the plan. Workstreams, tasks and subtasks must all be defined enough to build a probabilistic assumption set around the completion times. Be ready for a task to take an unexpectedly long time to complete while others may finish early; in other words, plan for the reality that you'll "win some and lose some." Scientific research and development is far more entropic than software development....MORE

Some material science posts:
Solar: Peak Gallium? Indium?

...You know how this ends up?
We'll figure something out. That is really the only claim to fame of Homo Sapiens, singular and collectively.

But, it's a pretty good one.
DOE places bets on 'transformative' energy tech
We prefer the word disruptive vs. transformative. If any of the wilder ideas pan out, they will seriously "disrupt" existing businesses....
Batteries: Who Got the Loot?
Solar: To make solar cells more efficient, sprinkle them with silver
Talk about a speculator's twofer!
Grid: New Power Line De-icing System Developed
"Can R&D Save General Electric?" and "GE's Risky Energy Research" (GE)
At Stanford, nanotubes + ink + paper = instant battery
Carbon nanotubes may cheaply harvest sunlight
Betting on a Metal-Air Battery Breakthrough
This kind of thing is why we use the term "Disruptive" technology rather than "Transformative" technology....
Q&A: Mark Little, Head of GE Global Research- "GE is pushing the smart grid and thin-film solar, but don't expect new kinds of nuclear reactors. "
And many more that I can't remember offhand.