Investing in Innovation for the Common Good (2015)

An appreciation and sharing of Thomas F. Darden’s speech on low energy nuclear reaction at

The 19th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science
Padua, Italy
April 13, 2015


Foreword by William McDonough

During the recent 4th of July celebrations, I was reflecting upon the revolutionary creation of the Declaration of Independence from my home in Charlottesville, Virginia, a place which still bears the imprint of its most famous resident, one of the authors of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson.

Yes, one of the authors. The first draft of the Declaration was doubtless the inspired work of Mr. Jefferson, but he was not the sole creator of the document we celebrate this month. Jefferson was one of the “Committee of Five”—along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston—who brought the Declaration into being. Each was a fine writer and political thinker in his own right; working together, sharing ideas and drawing upon the works of their contemporaries, they wrote one of the world’s most profound meditations on liberty, equality, and human flourishing. Their clear statement of values and intentions framed a new commitment to the common good and changed the course of history.

My longstanding friend, Tom Darden, has given much of his professional life to creating opportunities for people to collaborate in the public interest. In 1985, he founded Cherokee Environmental Group, an investment company dedicated to science-based solutions to environmental problems. Cherokee has invested in more than 100 companies engaged in developing clean energy technologies and working to restore the health of the air, water, and soil all over the world, from India to Indonesia to rural China. Tom believes that “in order to address the world’s environmental problems, solutions must be ubiquitous—they cannot exist only in Europe and the United States.”  

To advance innovation and ubiquity, he is developing “ecosystems of collaboration, with great scientists working together to develop the many systems and technologies society will need to shift away from polluting fossil fuels.” His goal is to “bring non-polluting energy to those who need it most, especially in the developing world.”

Cultivating a scientific revolution, Tom is responding to a moment of necessity with boldness, clarity, and generosity. Like John Adams, he recognizes the power of organized human intelligence; he knows how to draw thinkers together and get things done. Like Benjamin Franklin, he is determined to “produce something for the common Benefit of Mankind.” Like Thomas Jefferson, he sees ideas as gifts, and is deeply committed to the belief that they should spread as freely as fire and air, “from one to another over the globe.”

Last spring, speaking at the 19th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, a gathering presenting new findings in low energy nuclear reaction research, Tom presented his vision for a future of scientific invention in the public interest. “It does not benefit any of us, nor does it benefit society, if we achieve success but lose our values,” he said. “Let’s encourage one another to put the needs of society and the needs of others first…We have the ability to give the world a healing gift.”

 And so, in honor of working with human values to create abiding value for society, here is Tom’s speech in its entirety. As you’ll see, it resonates with the founders’ recognition that liberty and equality empower one to invent and share ideas, and in so doing, continually enrich our common wealth of knowledge and enhance the public good. It’s a pleasure to share his thoughts with you.

Friends, Tom Darden….



Thomas F. Darden

The 19th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science
Padua, Italy
April 13, 2015

What an honor it is to be here today to address those of you who have done so much to change the way we address our energy needs and environmental problems, and to change science. I am the founder of Cherokee. I have been asked to tell you who we are and why we created Industrial Heat, as a funding source for LENR inventors.

Unlike many of you, I am not a scientist; I am an entrepreneur.  But we share the common bond of innovation.  Peter Drucker wrote that “Entrepreneurship . . . sees the major task in society . . . as doing something different, rather than doing better what is already being done.” Doing something better than that which is already being done is like making coal power plants more efficient.  You are working to make them unnecessary.

Thank God that some, like many of you, have the courage to disrupt.  In 1921, experts determined that the limits of flight had already been reached. In 1932, it was determined that nuclear fission was unlikely to be feasible.   And in the 1950’s, when I was born, it was widely believed that pollution was a necessary part of economic development.

Paradigm shifts do not come easily, especially in science.  It is not a smooth road.  As Thomas Kuhn observed in The Nature of Scientific Revolutions, they usually are born out of “the crises of our time . . . .”  If you are on the leading edge of a paradigm shift, you will be attacked by your peers and you will be attacked by the institutions of the status quo.

We feel called to upset two core business paradigms. First, the traditional ethos of environmentalism is that we should strive to “be less bad.”   But as America’s leading environmental philosopher, William McDonough, points out in his book, Cradle to Cradle, being less bad is not being good, it is still bad. . . just a little bit less so.  If you are driving your car toward a cliff, it does not help you to slow down.  You need to turn around and go in a different direction. We need solutions that do not create pollution in the first place, not marginal improvements that only reduce pollution.

Second, let’s challenge the assumption of scarcity, at least with respect to energy.  But sadly, due to society’s ineffectiveness to date, the world struggles with energy scarcity in some regions. Why do we burn coal, which unlocks only a tiny fraction of the true energy inside?  When we do this, we release most of the mass of the coal into the air as stack emissions.  We scatter this mass around the planet.  Carbon and heavy metals can be highly beneficial — they are not necessarily pollutants — but they are if they are in the wrong place.  CO2 in the air is a pollutant; carbon in a tree is not.  Heavy metals can be highly beneficial unless they are in the wrong place, like farmland in China or in our oceans.  We need an entirely new paradigm.  This hopeful vision was the genesis of our work at Industrial Heat.

When I entered school, the United States was in an environmental crisis. Most people have forgotten this, or perhaps never knew about it, but when I was young, periodically rivers flowing through industrial cities would burst into flame due to pollution, and sometimes in our worst-polluted cities, people drove with their headlights on during the daytime due to air pollution.  Our pollution was as bad as it now is in China in some cities.  This was America when I was beginning to think about my place in the world.

I was worried when I saw that photo, the first photo of our living planet from space.  Many of you will remember that — we had never seen the earth, which is ironic because we live on it.  We could see that it was a living planet. I felt compelled to do something about it.  At university, I wrote my masters thesis on acid rain from coal plants. My first job was at Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul, where I worked on pollution from burning coal for heating and cooking. I saw pollution throughout East Asia.

I returned and went to Yale, to become an environmental lawyer. But in the U.S. at least, some people think practicing law can be somewhat boring, and I fell into that category.  Thankfully, Bain and Company hired me to work in steel plants on energy efficiency. In 1984, I converted brick plants from burning fossil fuels to burning biomass that was being dumped in landfills, where it turned into methane gas.  We became mostly carbon neutral, except for our electricity use, and I obsessed on finding ways that we could make carbon free electricity.  I never was successful.

In 1985, we discovered soil pollution at one of our brick plant sites, from decades of petroleum use. We found professors at Virginia Polytechnic University, which is not very far away, who worked with soil bacteria, and we began to grow bacteria which would clean up pollution in the soil.  I funded their business, Biosystems Technology, and we created Cherokee Environmental Group to clean up pollution in the eastern United States.  Eventually, we remediated 15 million tons of polluted dirt, which would be enough to cover an 18-hole golf course by 400 feet, or 130 meters.

We began to buy contaminated property to clean up. We have raised over $2 billion dollars for this, buying and remediating land.  We have owned over 550 properties in the U.S., Canada and Europe, including a refinery site not too far from here, in Trieste.  Some people think Cherokee is a real estate company because it has owned a lot of property, but our property work is driven by our pollution focus.

I saw that we could affect pollution by working with the smart scientists at Virginia Tech. We do not have the capacity internally for scientific innovation — we are business people and not scientists — but we realized we could find scientists who had ideas.  So, we kept doing this, with other professors at other universities.  Between 1985 and the present, we have started or invested in over 100 venture, technology or startup companies. Many of these address water or air pollution, or energy grid management.  Almost none of these were built on our own ideas.
My primary goal is to reduce pollution, so for years we have been going abroad to transfer technology, because that is where most of the pollution is. I go to China regularly, to advise officials and business leaders on methods and processes for addressing pollution.  They have declared 19% of their land too contaminated for farming.  This is mostly due to air pollution dropping contaminants on the land.  Obviously this is a huge social issue.  I began to do this in the former Soviet Union in the 1990’s, and we have also explored similar paths in the Middle East, India and Indonesia. In order to address the world’s environmental problems, solutions must be ubiquitous—they cannot exist only in Europe and the United States.

In the early part of this decade, Cherokee had entered a relatively quiet and stable part of its history. The next generation of leaders was being prepared to carry our values and processes forward, and our existing projects were operating smoothly. My children were in their 20’s and 30’s and I was spending time with my wife, for the first time in 35 years.  I had rebuilt my experimental airplane and was installing a parachute in it, looking forward to using it more.

One day, I received a random call about cold fusion. I did not give it credence because I remembered in detail the disclosure about Pons and Fleishman from years before, and I believed the subject was dead. But thirty days later, I received an unrelated inquiry from a different group, so we began to do some research.  Then after another 30 days, I received a call from yet another group.  We had invested in 100 startup companies, and I had never gotten an inquiry about fusion or LENR; then three in thirty day intervals.  We funded two of these groups, and then later, as many of you know, we licensed Andrea Rossi’s technology. Since then, we have made grants to university groups doing research in this space, and we continue to fund additional teams.

We envision an ecosystem of collaboration with great scientists who work together to develop the many systems and technologies society will need to shift away from polluting fossil fuels.  Our goal is to bring non-polluting energy to those who need it most, especially in the developing world.  We also do not believe there is only one solution, we believe there are many solutions to these problems.

To implement this vision, we determined that a business-based approach would be the most effective strategy.  We did look at many others.  I know that some of you have felt that businesses are or have been adversarial to your work.  I understand that.  But recall that commerce has long proven to be the primary engine of change, in every technical endeavor.  We engage with large companies, and we will need them to achieve ubiquity for your ideas.  We want to work in a collaborative way with many more countries and companies, and we want to help others do that.

We started Industrial Heat because we believed LENR technology was worth pursuing, even if we turn out to be unsuccessful ultimately.  We were willing to invest time and resources to see if this might be an area of useful research in our quest to eliminate pollution. At the time, we were not especially optimistic, but the global benefits were compelling.

We have had some success, and we are expanding our work. We are collaborating with and investing alongside fellow researchers and developers. Scientists compete to be the first, but then count on open sharing of what has been discovered to advance the process. They want to be able to share their work in an environment where WHY they do what they do truly matters. They want to know that their work will be funded; that their ideas will be merit-tested and advanced as merited; and that they will be rewarded fairly.

We’re privileged to be creating that kind of environment at Industrial Heat, and believe that we may be, at last, on the verge of a new paradigm shift: one that would create a new opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship to advance the cause of abundance in the face of scarcity and the continuing calls to simply “be less bad.”

When I look around this room, I am filled with two strong sentiments, one warm and positive, the other cold and sad. You have given your lives to your research, notwithstanding great challenges, and you have made a great difference to the world.   Thank you for your years of hard work and progress.  Every day I think of you and I am inspired.

At the same time, I would like to say how truly sorry I am that society has attacked you for the last three decades. The treatment of Fleishman and Pons, and the treatment of many of you, by mainstream institutions and the media will go down in history as one more example of scientific infanticide, where entrenched interests kill off their divergent progeny. This seems to be a dark component of human nature — I note the irony that we are in Padova, Galileo’s home.

But notwithstanding this long suffering, you have remained faithful to your work. Thank you for your intense focus and contributions.   ‎In the face of challenges, we must carry on with good faith, good will, good intentions and honesty, driven by the better angels of our nature, not impaired or constrained by the behavior of others.

We also need not be constrained by our own minds: ironically, one expert who claimed that flight had achieved its limits in 1921 was Orville Wright, and the one who declared fission not to be likely — that was Albert Einstein.  We must keep our minds open always.

Your time has come. The frenzy of fear gripping China and India, regarding air pollution, and also water and land pollution, have created enormous demand for new ideas, less constrained by the past. Second, the increasing reports of success by many of you have continued to offset the presumptions of skeptics.

But it does not benefit any of us, nor does it benefit society, if we achieve success but lose our values. Let’s encourage one another to put the needs of society and the needs of others first as we contemplate how to achieve ubiquity. We have the ability to give the world a healing gift. Many also will have the opportunity to benefit from that. I am a businessman and I believe business is usually the most effective means for achieving social or environmental reform. But we must always think first about the needs of others, the needs of society and the needs of our planet.  I do not want success if it comes at someone else’s detriment. My goal is to give your science a way to get out broadly and equitably to the world, and to see you receive the honor and rewards from your efforts.

Indeed, provocative as it may sound, we’ve reached a tipping point.  The potential is so great, and the signs of promise are now so significant.  This is our simple manifesto: to pass on a world that is better than the one we received.  Abundant, non-polluting energy, widely available, would make the greatest contribution to this goal.  That’s a manifesto pledge for us to keep: it’s a promise to you, to those who went before you, and to our children, and to their children’s children.


“Investing in Innovation for the Common Good” Copyright © 2015 William McDonough.

Speech by Thomas F. Darden Copyright © 2015 Thomas F. Darden.