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Clean Energy Entrepreneur: Craig Husa

Dreams of exploring outer space turned into exploring clean energy technology solutions.

Clean Energy
Craig Husa holding a supercritical carbon dioxide turbine wheel in front of enough forest biomass waste to power thousands of homes.
Online exclusive

Clean Energy Entrepreneur: Craig Husa

Dreams of exploring outer space turned into exploring clean energy technology solutions.

Clean energy — collected from resources that are naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat — once was considered a niche industry with only a handful of experimental companies leading the environmental crusade. But times are changing.

Clean energy has, in fact, become much more than a buzz phrase. It’s big business. Last year, global investments in clean energy hit a record $329 billion, up 4% from 2014, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research division of financial news company Bloomberg LP. In the United States, investments in the clean energy market jumped to $56 billion in 2015, up 7.6% from 2014.

Craig Husa, CEO of Bremerton, Washington-based SuperCritical Technologies Inc., is among the many American clean energy entrepreneurs.

His latest project, SuperCritical Technologies, which Husa joined in 2014, builds entire portable power plants that can be used at the point of energy consumption.

Instead of generating power by traditional turbines that are driven by steam, the company’s patented power plants use supercritical carbon dioxide to drive its turbines. This results in energy that is cleaner, more efficient and requires far less equipment and space to produce and distribute. Carbon dioxide occurs as a gas in nature, but when squeezed to the right pressure and heated to the right temperature, carbon dioxide behaves like both a gas and liquid. In this state, it can spin electricity-generating turbines that are small enough to fit inside a 40-foot shipping container yet powerful enough to generate electricity for 3,500 homes. In addition to creating its compact, modular power plants — called PowerCubes — the company also offers electricity as a service.  “It’s kind of like a utility in a box,” says Husa.

Disruptive Clean Energy Technology

To date, the company’s revenues have been limited, but Husa sees boundless potential for the company. SuperCritical Technologies has been involved in several supercritical carbon dioxide consulting projects, including a recent research project for the Institute for Advanced Engineering in South Korea. “We’ve got great technology that disrupts the massive clean energy market,” he says.

But Husa didn’t set out to save the planet one tiny power plant at a time. His original goal was to become an astronaut. “I’ve always been fascinated by technology and the idea of exploration,” he says.

Like many childhood dreams, however, joining the ranks at NASA didn’t pan out. Instead, Husa received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1979 and spent three years on a submarine after graduating from the academy.

“I often was asked if I felt I’d wasted my time under water,” he says. “But life is about collecting experiences, and those years provided me phenomenal experiences.”

Once he was out of the Navy, Husa realized those experiences didn’t exactly prepare him for a career in business.

“I was pretty clueless about the business side of the world, so I went to Harvard to earn my Master of Business Administration to help broaden my business horizons,” he says.

That cluelessness didn’t last long.

By 2001, Husa had built and sold his first company — CourtLink®, an online docket and document research tool. 

He went on to sell three more companies, including 3TIER Inc., which provides project feasibility, asset management and forecasting services to companies operating in the renewable energy market. In 2013, he sold the business to Vaisala, a Finnish environmental and industrial measurement company.

Now, Husa focuses his efforts on helping technology- or science-enabled companies grow.

“I love building worthwhile companies and entities,” he says. “People have wanted me to sell their companies, but I don’t just sell them, I build them. I want to be proud and passionate about what we’re building. If you’re not passionate about it, you should be doing something else.”

And it takes a certain kind of employee, a certain kind of investor to weather the challenges that come with a startup, Husa says.

Business Model, Not Technology, Key to Success

“I want smart, innovative people, but I also need to have people who are excited and passionate about what we’re doing,” he says.

While innovation is definitely key, companies often get too wrapped up in having the very best technology. If consumers don’t understand what that technology is going to do for them, they won’t buy it, Husa says. “Second-rate technology with an excellent business model is more likely to get you to your end goal,” he says. “You simply have to have the business model.”

The companies today that have impressive business models, according to Husa, include Starbucks and Apple, neither of which reinvented the proverbial wheel within their industry.

“Starbucks didn’t try to create a better coffee. It came up with a good coffee that was consistent and then built a model around it,” he says. “Apple didn’t invent the smartphone. It made it more user-friendly.”

SuperCritical Technologies isn’t the first company to use carbon dioxide as an energy-conversion source — the first patent for using supercritical carbon dioxide in a power cycle was in 1948 — but it is the first to offer carbon dioxide-powered turbines that fit in a compact space and are easily portable. And Husa is optimistic that the business model can bring clean energy to all parts of the world.

“My goal is to change the world for the positive,” he says. “I want to have the biggest impact I can, and I think SuperCritical Technologies can provide the vehicle to make a difference.”