Thursday, 16 August 2007

Clean Sweep 11

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

No UK or European deals reported this week, as far as I've seen. A sign of declining VC interest, a retreat from the recent storms in the debt and public markets, or just the height of the holiday season? I'd guess mostly the latter.

Things were a little busier across the pond, with Texan thin-film solar company HelioVolt closing a $77m second round. Investors included Abu Dhabi's Masdar Clean Tech Fund (following their investment in US water purification firm HaloSource a couple of weeks ago); Paladin Capital Group, New Enterprise Associates, Morgan Stanley and Sunton United Energy from the US; and Spain's SolĂșcar Energias.
HelioVolt's thin-film solar cells use Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS), a relatively well-established rival to silicon. The company faces stiff competition from other VC-backed firms with closely related tech, notably Nanosolar and Miasole.

Back with silicon, electronic substrate manufacturer Silicon Genesis raised $23m from half a dozen investors in its first round since 2001. The Californian firm says the solar panel market provides an "especially large and interesting opportunity" for its layer transfer process which reduces the cost of producing high-efficiency silicon-based cells.

Also in sunny California, another interesting lighting investment - "daylighting system" developer Solatube closed a mezzanine debt from Praesidian Capital with a reported value of $6m. Solatube's systems reduce lighting costs by using optics to bring daylight into dark spaces, and are credited under the US LEED sustainable building programme.

Sacramento fuel cell developer Jadoo meanwhile raised an undisclosed follow-on round from investors including Velocity Venture Capital. Jadoo, which raised an $11m second round in 2005, is already shipping commercial fuel cells based on its proton membrane exchange tech. The secrecy about the funding round might have something to do with the firm's current work with the US military's Special Operations Command.

In the emerging area of cellulosic ethanol, University of Massachusetts spin-out SunEthanol has raised an undisclosed (but reported to be sub-$5m) first round. Investors include NYSE-listed renewables group VeraSun, Battery Ventures, Long River Ventures and AST Capital.
SunEthanol has developed a proprietary microbial technique for producing ethanol from a range of biomass feedstocks, including wheat straw and wood pulp. It all promises to be a lot more sustainable and energy-efficient than the continuing subsidy-fed craze for corn ethanol.

Company news
As trailed in Clean Sweep 4, tech developer Nviro Cleantech has raised £7.5m in an AIM flotation. Nviro identifies promising cleantech at university spin-out or start-up level, and brings them to commercialisation. Key technologies in their current portfolio include a clean coal process being developed with a Chinese partner; a wood fibre reclamation system; and air purification and laser ignition technologies.

Scottish wave power stalwart Ocean Power Delivery (not to be confused with AIM-listed Ocean Power Technologies, as I confess I keep doing) has announced some hefty senior appointments. Phil Metcalf, formerly UK MD at controversial telecoms group Global Crossing, joins as CEO; Diana Dyer Bartlett joins as CFO from stockbroker Collins Stewart; and former Tory minister and director at AIM-listed Clipper Windpower Colin Moynihan joins as chairman.
Edinburgh-based OPD is backed by VCs including 3i, Norsk Hydro Technology Ventures and Carbon Trust. I suspect an IPO might not be too far off.

Further reading
Much angst following the Guardian's acquisition of a leaked government briefing on the best ways to dodge around the UK's renewables commitments (pdf here). The paper's Ashley Seager repeats his call for German-style support for renewables.

The Economist meanwhile takes a sceptical look at the green credentials of the recent US energy bill: When in doubt about energy policy, build more windmills...

Finally, a plug for EnviroDaq, the UK's top source for news and market information on the environmental industries. Beginning with their imminent August newsletter, I'll be providing a monthly round-up of UK cleantech venture activity to complement their excellent coverage of the listed sector.

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