Thursday, 26 July 2007

Clean Sweep 8

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

Germany's solar giant Q-Cells has taken a step deeper into the US market by increasing its stake in Californian PV cell producer Solaria. Q-Cells upped its stake from 12.39% to 33% in a $50m third round for Solaria, alongside existing Solaria investors Sigma Partners, NGEN and Moser Baer.
Q-Cells also sealed a supply agreement with Solaria for up to 1.35GW worth of cells over 10 years. Solaria's production tech promises to double or treble the efficiency of silicon use in PV cells - basically, they divide standard crystalline cells into thinner strips and package them in optical concentrators. Although the efficiency gains are a lower multiple than other techniques under development, Solaria's solution should be much easier to integrate into existing production lines.

At the smaller end, high-efficiency engine start-up LiquidPiston has secured $1.25m seed funding from Adams Capital Management and Northwater Capital. The MIT spin-out is developing a novel internal combustion engine, based on a patent-pending 'High Efficiency Hybrid Cycle' thermodynamic mechanism, which promises to have half the CO2 emissions of a comparable diesel engine.

In a deal I just missed last week, US biofuels group Gevo raised an undisclosed second round from Virgin Fuels and founding investor Khosla Ventures. The Gevo site is, as yet, rather skimpy on details of what it actually does, but the firm is known to have exclusively licensed technology from Caltech to produce butanol from biomass. Despite the lack of detail, the deal seems to have generated a lot more publicity than others, presumably because of the high profile backers.

A quiet week otherwise, especially given the riches announced last week. Everyone on holiday?

Further reading
EE Times reports on warnings from Dave Raval of Cambridge-based tech developer TTP that European VCs aren't putting enough into early stage cleantech:
British and European VCs need to do more now and capitalize on the low carbon industry's relative youth — or face being the last port of call for emerging technologies in just five years[...]
He said the reasons for this slip down the rankings are many: management teams not having done it before, long development times with large cash requirements and a propensity for European investments to be smaller versus the US and China. Also, the lack of understanding of the appropriate business models can lead to caution.

The Guardian reports on the National Trust's newly-stated mission to lead on climate change:
In what the conservation charity calls one of the most fundamental shifts in its 103-year history, the trust announced the intention to mobilise this vast public support "to drive conservation and quality of life agendas, and in particular to combat climate change".
From now on, said director-general Fiona Reynolds, the trust will advise people how to adapt their lifestyles to climate change and challenge government to be more ecologically aware.

This is potentially welcome news for cleantech companies targeting the consumer market - if the National Trust can give its seal of approval to domestic alt-energy systems, for example, it could help firms access a market that may currently be less amenable to such new-fangled ideas.

Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University's Program for the Human Environment argues that renewable energy sources will cause 'serious environmental harm' if deployed at a large scale. New Scientist takes a critical look at his argument. Ausubel, apparently, 'thinks he represents a silent majority of scientists concerned about renewables' - one might wonder whether this resembles the 'silent majority' invoked in other contentious areas which are generally neither a majority nor silent. Suitably heated discussion ensues. Meanwhile, back in the Guardian, physicist Jim Al-Khalili speaks up for nuclear power over renewables.

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