Jan 022013
The eccentric PayPal billionaire doesn’t just invest in Silicon Valley tech companies.

He’s giving money for projects that do everything from get power from the weather to find ways to program human cells like computers.

Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel isn’t the kind of guy who invests in mindless smartphone apps that make lots of cash. He’s not anti-software by any means; he has sunk millions into accounting software company Xero. But Thiel also doles out cash to companies doing things that aren’t just world-changing–they seem insane (in a good way). Could we expect anything less from the guy that’sfunding a floating startup incubator for foreign entrepreneurs?

Thiel’s latest investment–a $300,000 bet– is in AVEtec, a startup from Canadian engineer Louis Michaud that wants to harness the energy created by tornados. Michaud doesn’t want to chase tornados a la Twister; he plans to generate man-made tornados that can be safely switched off if necessary.

Michaud’s design features warm air blown into a hollow cylinder, where it turns into a “controlled vortex” (aka a tornado) that’s supported by the temperature difference between the heated air in the cylinder and the atmosphere. No carbon emissions are produced, no energy storage is required, the device can produce 200 megawatts of electrical power (the same as a coal power plant) and power can potentially be produced at just three cents per kilowatt hour.

Now Michaud just needs to build the proof of concept–a project that will be helped along by Thiel’s cash. He’s working on a 131 foot-tall, 26-foot-in-diameter prototype at Lambton College in Ontario.

AVEtec is one of 12 startups that Thiel is funding through Breakout Labs, a program of the Thiel Foundation that the organization calls “a revolutionary, revolving funding model through which successful projects fund the next generation of daring scientific exploration.” Some of our other favorites are listed below.


An alligator purse that doesn’t require killing an animal. A burger that keeps cows intact. That’s the far-out dream of Modern Meadow, a startup that could have test tube leather ready for large-scale production in five years. To make leather, the startup biopsies a living animal, isolates the necessary cells, multiplies them in a bioreactor, centrifuges them into spheres of thousands of cells, layers and fuses cell aggregates, matures the cells in a bioreactor, and harvests the skin tissue. All for your guilt-free leather accessory.

“At this point, the goal is to create products that are both biomimetic–very, very similar to real leather–and also to look at ways that we can improve upon it and make products that are superior to traditional leather,” CEO Andras Forgacs told Co.Exist in an interview earlier this year. Down the line, Modern Meadow will move into test tube meat. Why buy a cow when you can get the meat from a lab?



Read more . . .
via FastCoExist – Ariel Schwartz

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