Vinod Khosla is a prolific investor. He must work like a machine. I admire that. Khosla Ventures, the early stage VC investment firm he founded has been a star in the area of clean-tech. They have invested in many different technologies, and in some cases up and down the value chain of critical industry segments.
But given some of my interests, the news of Vinod investing in combustion engine related companies certainly caught my eye. My first reaction was wow! Given that he has dissed hybrid vehicles in the past as mere ‘toys’, I am very interested in knowing what combustion engines/power-trains is he betting on?
And I am happy to see he is investing in diesel hybrids and advances in traditional combustion. To me, this is a good example of him using what he calls his ‘Chindia test‘, i.e. for a technology innovation to be material to solving this world’s major problems, it should have the potential to be successful and profitable in countries like China and India. I fully agree. Combustion engines will still be used in huge quantities (even if hybrids become more common) in most parts of the world, including western Europe and the US, and anything that can be done to reduce the emissions and improve fuel economy would be very beneficial to climate change.
Here’s a good synopsis of his recent investments from Venture Beat:
Well-known Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla has never been shy expressing his opinion. Khosla once dissed plug-in hybrid vehicles — supported by environmentalists because of their partial reliance on batteries versus oil — as “nice toys …not material to climate change.”
Coming from Khosla, who has been among the most prolific investors in green technologies, the comments raised some eyebrows. However, the tune has since changed, because Kholsa has backed a select kind of hybrid vehicle after all (see our post).
Still, Khosla (pictured here) is clearly betting that combustion engines will stick around. The latest evidence is Khosla Ventures’ increased investment in Transonic Combustion, a company that says it will have a 100 mile per gallon sports car on the road by the end of this year.
Transonic focuses on a single part of an engine, the fuel injection system, to give a big boost to efficiency. Although secretive about details, the company says it can achieve extremely high compression ratios within engines and reduce the amount of energy lost to waste heat.
The proof of the unlikely-sounding boost to 100mpg is slated to be a lightweight demonstration stock car that Transonic plans to put out for a spin sometime in the third quarter. That probably means normal cars would get a somewhat lower fuel efficiency, using the same engine. However, anything over 50mpg would be an incredible gain.
For perspective, consider that in the 20 years between 1980 and 2000, the average passenger car went from 15mpg to only 22mpg. The Toyota Prius, a hybrid combustion / electric, only gets about 50mpg.
Although the size of Khosla’s latest investment was not disclosed, it does make the firm Transonic’s largest shareholder. For more on another recent Khosla Ventures investment in transportation, see this post on EcoMotors, a maker of hybrid diesel engines.