Imagine what you could do with a time machine. If only it were possible to go back in time to re-make choices armed with 20/20 hindsight. You could rethink that haircut, avoid that bad relationship, and stop after that fifth tequila shot. But most importantly, you could take advantage of the investment opportunities that would have been so great if only you had grabbed them when you had a chance.

How would your life be different if you had bought Microsoft in 1986 or started an internet company in 1995? Those opportunities don’t come along very often, and the reality for most of us is that we don’t recognize them until it is too late. Since there aren’t any time machines yet, a healthy dose of foresight and some common sense are required. But I am here to make things just a little easier. You see, I already know about the next great business opportunity, and I am about to share my secret with you.

It’s not rocket science. Start by looking at the industry that has created the greatest fortunes in history. It isn’t computers, or the internet, or any other tech industry. The greatest fortunes were built by energy, because energy makes all other things possible.

Take, for example, John D. Rockefeller. He went from modest produce merchant to the wealthiest man in the world in only a few short years because he had some vision and $4,000 to invest in an oil refinery. At its peak, his fortune was the modern-day equivalent of more than $215 billion, nearly four times the wealth of the current world’s richest person, Bill Gates. A quick peek at the Middle East proves that energy can still create fortunes, but you don’t have to be sitting on top of vast oil deposits to gain wealth from energy.

The world is changing, and it is happening much more rapidly than most people understand. China is becoming an economic powerhouse, and many other countries sometimes thought of as “third world” are developing rapidly. Meanwhile, the pace of new oil discoveries is slowing. Even the most optimistic projections indicate that a maximum point of world oil production will be reached within the next 15 years, and production has been essentially flat since 2004. If supply cannot expand to meet the
burgeoning worldwide demand, only one thing can happen – the price goes up.

What if there were other ways to fill that demand? What if you could build a factory, an innovative factory in the mold of Rockefeller’s circa 1860s oil refinery, capable of revolutionizing the energy world and making clean energy at competitive prices from a wide range of widely available material like coal, organic waste, and biomass? Now, what if I told you that there are already factories just like that operating throughout the world, factories where nanotechnology and catalyst technology is making the production processes much more efficient? What if it is possible to produce fuel using these technologies for costs significantly below the present wholesale price of gasoline? Well, it is possible, and every day scientists and engineers are learning how to do it even more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Pundits sometimes talk of a “Manhattan Project” to get America off of foreign energy, but we don’t need a Manhattan Project. That program was needed to create a technology from scratch. In this case the technology is ready. What we need is new companies and investors to put it to work.

Perhaps that would come easily with a trip in that trusty time machine. Instead of using it to go back in time, we could go forward. Then it would be obvious: when demand is growing and supply is shrinking, fill the demand. If there are profitable ways of doing it, seize the opportunity. Don’t be that guy who looks back with regret saying, “if only I had gotten in early,” because now that you have been warned, you are all out of excuses.

  • Jack Lawson

    I really expected this to be a piece on liberal emotions… like why we should get our rigs out of the Gulf and invest in conservation for future generations. Was happily surprised when I realized it was about being an innovative capitalist (not that I’m against conservation efforts… privately funded, of course)!