Thursday, 19 July 2007

Clean Sweep 7

A round-up of recent news in clean technology and cleantech investment.

Environmental Technologies Fund has made its first investment from its Euro150m pot, backing speciality metals group Metalysis in a £13m round. Defence tech group Qinetiq also broke the ice on its own new tech fund, joining existing investors 3i, Seven Spires, Chord Capital and Cambridge Capital Group.
Rotherham-based Metalysis is commercialising a patented electrolytic method for producing speciality metals (including tantalum, titanium and high grade alloys) from metal salts in a more financially and environmentally cost effective process. The firm is working with industrial partners including Rolls-Royce and BHP Billiton.

Think Global (aka TH!NK, gratingly) has completed a $60m private placement. Following a $25m round earlier this year, the firm plans to start production of its battery-powered cars this autumn. The round brings US cleantech big shots DFJ Element and RockPort Capital Partners on board, along with the UK's Hazel Capital and Norway's CG Holding. Existing investors including Canica, Capricorn Venture Partners, Wintergreen Advisers and a string of individual investors also joined in.
In May, Oslo-based Think announced it would be buying batteries from the much-favoured Tesla Motors, backed by DFJ and a who's who of US investors. In contrast to Tesla's racy designs, Think is going squarely for the city runaround market.

French waste-to-energy company Naskeo has secured Euro2.6m from Oddo Asset Management and XAnge Private Equity. Naskeo sets selected bacteria munching on food and pharmaceutical waste (anaerobic digestion, to use the technical term), to produce a burnable biogas of methane and carbon dioxide.

In another interesting early-stage deal, Germany's Clean Mobile has raised Euro650k from state-backed High-Tech Gründerfonds. The company has developed a pat-pending fuel cell drive system for electric bicycles and rickshaws.

In the US, industrial waste gasification business Ze-Gen has closed a $4.5m first round from Flagship Ventures and VantagePoint Venture Partners. It's a small first step - the company faces substantial project finance demands as it approaches commercialisation.

Another couple of thin-film solar developers have secured funding. California's SoloPower landed a $30m second round led by new investor Convexa Capital, while Ohio's MWOE Solar (NB - it's another of those annoying browser-resizing websites) raised a $7m first round from Emerald Technology Ventures and NGP Energy Technology Partners. A busy space to be in, with a host of companies trying to differentiate themselves - SoloPower boasts of significant cost advantages for its CIGS fabrications, while MWOE has an exclusive licence on production tech developed at the University of Toledo.

Further reading
Another new cleantech blog, this one rather better resourced than most. Earth2Tech comes from the GigaOM family of tech news sites, with a core of full-time writers. According to their welcome post, green-focused web sites are getting about as trendy as celebutante DUIs. Which is nice.

Cleantech Network has released its first report on cleantech VC in China: the self-explanatory China Cleantech Venture Capital Investment Report: 2006-Q1 2007. The key numbers: $420m went to cleantech companies in China in 2006, up from $170m in 2005. The first quarter of this year saw another $154m, with $580m forecast for year-end. Energy generation took the bulk, with $439m total, including $403m for solar; water treatment took $90m. Eight businesses went public over the same period, including six venture-backed.
Further investment opportunities will rapidly grow as international pressure on climate change increases and CDM projects become more obviously attractive, the report concludes.

On a related note, the Economist reports that people in developing countries are more concerned with climate change than in the rich developed ones:
Only 22% of Britons thought climate change was one of the biggest issues the world faces, whereas 60% of Indians and 47% of Chinese did. And the countries with the largest proportions of people ranking climate change as the world’s most worrying issue were Mexico, Brazil and China. Attitudes in Europe in particular were marked by pessimism. In Britain, 5% of respondents thought people and organisations (and according to most, that means governments) were doing what was needed to combat climate change. The figures were similar in France and Germany. In China, an extraordinary 41% did—which may say more about the Chinese people’s faith in government than about effective action against climate change.

Are biofuels clean? Not if it's corn-based ethanol, according to a report from US thinktank Network for New Energy Choices:
Corn – now used to produce 95 percent of U.S. ethanol and the only commercially viable ethanol feedstock prepared to capitalize on refinery subsidies in the Farm Bill – is the least sustainable biofuel feedstock of all raw materials commonly used.

The Observer notes a worldwide shortage of wind turbines, thanks to a subsidy-backed surge in demand in the US and rising material costs (blame the Chinese, as usual). It'll take two or three years to catch up with current UK demand, predicts Gordon Edge of the British Wind Energy Association.

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