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Vinod Khosla, smartest guy in Silicon Valley!

July 22, 2008

Vinod Khosla is pouring his own millions into science experiments to counter global warming -- and to prove he's the smartest guy in the Valley.

Making cement without also making carbon dioxide seems impossible; the basic chemistry of the process releases the gas. But maybe that's not really true, Stanford University scientist Brent Contstantz began thinking last year.

Of course, it was only a theory, he told himself, but the market for cement is so large -- about $13 billion annually in the United States alone -- and the pressure to reduce its effect on the environment so strong that he sent a 12- line email to venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.

"I have an idea for a new sustainable cement," Contstantz wrote. "I'm sure you are already aware that for every ton of [standard] Portland cement produced, approximately one ton of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. My cement wouldn't do that; in fact, it would remove a ton of carbon dioxide from the environment for every ton of cement produced."

Khosla, who knew Contstantz only casually -- the two hadn't been in touch for 20 years -- was on vacation. But after a discussion that lasted only an hour, he told the scientist, "I don't care about the rest of the business plan. You don't need to estimate costs. You don't need to do a cash flow. You don't need to do a presentation. Just hire five people, set up a lab, and go."

Contstantz was astonished. "What we're up to," he warned, "takes balls." "Well, you've got the money now," was the response. "Get busy."

Text: Richard Shaffer,

Image: Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. | Photograph, courtesy:

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