The Sixty Million Dollar Decision


Jeffrey Van Middlebrook, a polymath inventor in Silicon Valley, in 2006 figured out a way to sequester gas from waste combustion that, if brought to an industrial scale, could be worth a fortune.

Middlebrook invented the system in his workshop, and called it the broad-spectrum fractional sequestration combustion gas liquefier. After making it work on a small scale, he went shopping for funding domestically. Neither the government nor private enterprise was willing to offer the kind of money needed to bring the invention from the workshop to an industrial scale.

Then in 2011, China came knocking. On two occasions Middlebrook met with Communist Party delegations: from Hubei Province in San Jose in 2011, and Jiangsu in San Francisco, February 2012.

Affiliated with a university in China and backed by the Communist Party’s deep coffers, they offered him and a business partner $60 million in research and development funding. He would have had a laboratory at a university in China, with the scientists, engineers, and equipment needed to bring the invention to an industrial scale. It was early 2012, and negotiations began smoothly.

By May 2012 Middlebrook’s Chinese partner, an MIT-educated scientist who led the negotiations with the Chinese delegations, was arranging for them to travel over in September.

The Chinese were deeply interested in Middlebrook’s invention because of its potential application in advancing clean coal technology. China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, and the pollution resulting from burning it to generate electricity is enormous. Around half a million people in China die prematurely each year from air pollution-related illnesses, and the burning of coal contributes significantly to the black smog that chokes China’s cities.

Then Middlebrook began reading news in The Epoch Times that Chinese military hospitals have harvested the organs from tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience, predominantly practitioners of Falun Gong, a peaceful spiritual discipline. He read about mindbending torture and unyielding state-led persecution. And he balked.

“When I started reading that I became extremely morally conflicted,” Middlebrook said. “On the one hand, here’s China potentially dangling $60 million over my head. That’s very seductive. It’s very difficult to get R&D funding for new technologies. It’s a difficult process no matter the tech.”

Middlebrook continued: “Here’s a foreign government holding money under our noses, and then I start reading about horrific things in China. I thought: ‘I can’t do this. I can’t take this money. I can’t go to China. No matter how much my technology means, no matter how much they are going to invest, I cannot take China’s money.’”




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