V.C.s soon learned that investing in unprovenHardenergy technologies was not as quickly lucrative as backing social networking and smartphone apps.

Many clean energy technologies require prolonged support to grow, Curt Carlson, a physicist and former president of SRI International, said, adding: “V.C.s hate that. They want to put in a slug of money and then have it scale itself, without having to put in a billion dollars.”

Ilan Gur, a materials scientist at Lawrence Berkeley and veteran of several clean energy start-ups, observed the experience of two Stanford graduate students with a new idea for more efficient solar technology.

At the time, Dr. Gur was working at the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E research agency as a program manager looking for new ways to commercialize clean energy technologies.

The powder resembled salt, but in fact, it is a breakthrough synthetic material known as a metal organic framework, or M.O.F.M.O.F.s eventually may transform fields from computing to energy and gas manufacturing.

Chemical-separation processes require a vast amount of energy, accounting for roughly 10 percent of all global energy consumption.

A lot of people are saying this is a big issue because we need an innovation pipeline for energy technologies,” he said.