Will clean-tech IPOs be the next big thing?

With Thursday's successful IPO of A123 Systems (AONE) -- this lithium battery maker for electric cars saw its stock rise 50.4 percent on its first day of trading -- many clean-tech companies are now considering public offerings. Evidently, it does not take a profit to justify an IPO because A123 is a big money loser. It takes a forecast of a rapidly growing market likely to get big fast.

And if that's what it takes, there are probably dozens of private companies offering some form of clean technology that are going to become household names to investors in the months ahead. As I posted, A123's market for lithium batteries in cars is forecast to grow from $39 million this year to $22 billion in 2015. That sounds like a stretch -- but it helped A123 end the day with a market value of $1.9 billion, despite losing $40 million in the first half of this year.

So which companies could be next? According to Reuters, here are six: solar manufacturer Solyndra, biofuel company Codexis, smart grid network company Silver Spring Networks, electric carmaker Tesla Motors, solar thermal company BrightSource Energy, and lithium-ion battery maker Ener1 Inc.

Is there a way for the small investor to participate? If one of these upcoming IPOs passes each of three tests, you may want to bite. The tests? 1. The company must compete in a large, fast-growing and profitable industry; 2. The company must have a competitive advantage that lets it win new business and keep customers; and 3. The company must earn enough of a profit to justify an equity investment.

A123 does not pass these tests so I would avoid it. Nevertheless, while it's too early to conclude that green can earn a profit, it sure has put alot of green in the pockets of A123's investors.

And many other clean-tech companies are charged up about putting some of that green into theirs.

Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor and author of eight books including, You Can't Order Change. Follow him on Twitter. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.

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