Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Clean Sweep 32

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

3i Infrastructure, a specialist investment vehicle backed by the private equity giant, has confirmed a possible takeover bid for UK renewables group Novera Energy. 3i is considering a 90p/share offer for the listed group, valuing it at £112m.
Novera is developing a portfolio of windfarms, landfill gas generators waste gasification facilities and sludge treatment plants across the UK. The buyout bid from a relatively risk-averse infrastructure specialist is further evidence of the mainstreaming of such technologies - even if its financial attractions are helped by regulatory requirements and subsidies in some areas.

Israeli PV developer Pythagoras Solar has secured a $10m first round from Israel Cleantech Ventures, Pitango Venture Capital and Evergreen Venture Partners. The company, launched out of local tech incubator Precede Technologies, claims to be developing the next generation of PV panels. Details remain sketchy, but the company has said it is using 'stationary low concentration geometry' (the name would suggest a geometric focus, I suppose) and is combining 'software models, optic and system design, semiconductor processes, materials science and mass manufacturing techniques'.

Still in solar, US utility-scale developer Ausra secured $30m venture debt and is negotiating an add-on round of $15m from its existing investors. Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers supplied a $43m second round last September.
California-based Ausra opened the US's first manufacturing plant for solar thermal panels in December, and plans to build the country's largest (175MW) solar thermal installation. The company also announced plans to float by 2010.

The slightly hyped Tesla Motors closed a $40m bridge financing round led by Valor Equity Partners and chairman Elon Musk, and announced plans for a $75-100m fifth round later this year. Silicon Valley's favourite electric car developer has moved into production of its first model, the sporty Roadster, and is prepping its next (Earth2Tech is running a sweepstake on the name for this new sedan - I've suggested the Prestige.)
Less glamorous rival Miles Electric Vehicles meanwhile secured $15m from Angeleno Group, an LA-based energy specialist investor. The California company is developing its first highway-speed model.
And Britain's own Lotus Engineering (OK, it's owned by Malaysia's Proton, but it's still based in Norfolk) has launched a new R&D group focused on electric and hybrid vehicles. Lotus is already working with ZAP, another Californian electric car developer.

And staying in California, a start-up called Climos has reportedly secured $4m from as-yet-unidentified investors. Climos intends to help cut atmospheric carbon dioxide by pumping iron into the ocean to stimulate growth of CO2-absorbing plankton, for which it hopes to claim tradable carbon credits.
It's a controversial idea, to say the least - this New Scientist feature from last December weighed the pros and cons and came down on the sceptical side. The rival company featured in that article, Planktos, abandoned its field tests earlier this month, blaming a "highly effective disinformation campaign waged by anti-offset crusaders" for its failure to raise funds.

Friday, 22 February 2008

'The Hot Topic' review

Given some of the headlines surrounding the publication of The Hot Topic last month ('Science chief: greens hurting climate fight') and the cantankerous reputation of co-author David King, it's almost a disappointment that the book itself is so resolutely unsensational. It's only disappointing if you're looking for ideological fistfights, though - instead, it's a level-headed overview of the scientific case for emissions-related climate change, the potential environmental and economic consequences of that change, and the political and technological solutions which could (if we get our collective act together) help us avoid the worst of it.

Jointly written by science journalist Gabrielle Walker and David King, the UK's chief scientific advisor from 2000-2007, The Hot Topic is neatly divided into three parts: The problem; Technological solutions; and Political solutions. There's also a sadly still-necessary appendix on 'Climate myths, half-truths and misconceptions' (as the authors bluntly note, anyone intent on denying the reality of the problem either has 'a vested interest in ignoring the scientific arguments or they are fools').

It's the second part that's most relevant to this site - the technological solutions. Walker and King draw on Pacula and Socolow's wedge strategy to show the potential value of clean technologies. This analysis breaks down the daunting emissions cuts needed to stabilise the atmosphere at 450ppm of CO2 equivalent into a series of less intimidating (if still challenging) goals: doubling the fuel efficiency of two billion cars; cutting building emissions by a quarter; building two million 1MW wind turbines; increasing the global area of solar panels by a factor of 700; etc. Many of these are, of course, the precise areas addressed by cleantech companies - and as the authors note, none require major technological breakthroughs.

The book goes on to introduce some of the current technologies that can help improve efficiency in buildings, industry, agriculture and waste management. The chapter on transport sounds a sensible caution on biofuels, while looking at the options for cleaning up cars and planes. The final chapter in the technological section focuses on power generation, putting the case for solar (photovoltaic and heating), wind and, more controversially, nuclear fission. The chapter also considers the potential of carbon capture and storage, and nuclear fusion - both promising but somewhat more challenging.

If you've been following the various scientific, political and technological debates around climate change over the past few years, there's not much in The Hot Topic that will be new to you. But as an introduction to the issues, particularly from a UK perspective, it's a valuable and well-reference addition to the literature - not as satisfying a read as, say, Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, but a solid and ultimately upbeat overview of what's going on. Anyone involved in the cleantech industries should find it a useful resource, and a reminder as to what the business is all about.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Clean Sweep 31

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

Dorset-based waste treatment group New Earth Solutions has landed £4m pre-IPO funding from clean utilities specialist Impax.
New Earth uses a range of composting methods to treat biodegradeable municipal waste, with one 50,000t/a facility in Dorset and another under construction in Kent. The funding supports the development of a further six plants, before the company's planned IPO in 2009. Last year, New Earth secured a £50m finance package from Norddeutsche Landesbank.

Whitfield Solar has secured a £1m interim round from existing investor Carbon Trust and new investor Kilsby. Whitfield is a spin-out from the University of Reading, developing low-cost solar concentrators. The new money goes towards completing product development and launching a demonstration site in Spain.

UK biomass power group Prenergy (aka Global Wood Holding) has sold a one-third stake to Italian private equity group Clessidra Capital Partners for an unspecified sum. Prenergy is building what promises to be the world's largest woodchip-fuelled power plant on the site of a former steel factory in Port Talbot, Wales.

Specialist investor Low Carbon Accelerator has announced a $4m investment in energy-efficient lighting developer LUMEnergi. The staged investment includes $1.6m now, with the remainder on certain performance milestones. US investor Noventi is contributing a further $3.5m.
US-based LUMEnergi produces dimming electronic ballast systems which reduce the energy consumption of fluorescent lights during the brightest times of day.

Two big rounds for German thin-film solar developers. Odersun raised a $40m second round and $21m of grant funding to build its second factory. Virgin Green Fund led the international VC syndicate. The firm makes CIS cells and modules for utility and building-integrated applications.
Ersol meanwhile raised Euro48m from US investor Ventizz. Ersol specialises in solar cells and PV modules using recycled silicon. The new funding goes to developing its thin-film arm.

More solar action in the States. High-efficiency silicon developer Suniva closed a $50m second round led by returning investor New Enterprise Associates.
Solar-concentrating group Infinia also raised a $50m second round for the commercial launch of its heat-to-electricity tech based on Stirling engines. GLG Partners led the round. Infinia raised an initial $9.5m in June last year.
And CoolEarth Solar closed a $21m first round. The California firm is developing inflatable mirrors for solar concentrators - let's hope the company's value isn't similarly inflated.

In Israel, stealthy start-up EnStorage raised $2m from Greylock
Partners, Canaan Partners and Siemens Venture Capital for its fuel cell energy-storage tech, aimed at smooting supply from solar and wind generation. And Advanced Desalination Technologies (the clue's in the name) raised $4m from local cleantech specialist AquAgro Fund. Tip of the hat to the Cleantech Israel blog.

Further reading
Continuing worries, via Reuters, that the rush to invest in cleantech may be building towards boom and bust. Nick Smith of Allianz Global Investors points at over-valued Chinese solar stocks.
Richard W on the Library House blog also wonders if cleantech can sustain its growth.

Britain third worst in EU for use of renewable energy, according to the Guardian's report on a leaked DBERR document. Only Malta and Luxembourg are worse in terms of percentage of energy sourced from renewables.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Clean Sweep 30

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

Next-gen solar cell developer QuantaSol has received £320k follow-on funding from specialist investor Low Carbon Accelerator. LCA participated in the firm's £1.35m seed round in June 2007.
QuantaSol, a spin-out from Imperial College London, is developing thin-film photovoltaic cells for use in concentrating solar modules. The Surrey-based firm used its initial funding to develop prototypes of its high-efficiency gallium-arsenide cells, and will use this new investment to continue product development.

Waste water treatment start-up Microbial Solutions Ltd (nowt at website as yet) has raised a £1.2m round led by Oxford Capital Partners. Existing investors H2O Venture Partners and Rainbow Seed Fund also increased their funding.
Oxford-based Microbial Solutions was spun out from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, part of the National Environment Research Council (NERC), in September 2007. The firm uses patent-protected bacteria to clean waste fluids from the metalworking industries, so that they can be safely disposed of in sewers on-site.

Hazardous waste specialist Envirotreat has secured £1.7m and a new chief executive. E-Synergy led the round with a £1m investment, while Pre-X invested £350k and Catapult Venture Managers £325k.
Based near Dudley, Envirotreat has so far supplied its proprietary soil, waste and groundwater remediation services to over 60 sites nationwide. Duncan Martin, formerly a director at Veolia Environmental Services, joins as CEO to drive the next stage of growth.

London-based utilities investor EcoFin led a $105m fundraising for Israeli solar thermal developer Solel. Solel has over 20 years experience in solar thermal and is currently constructing 150MW worth of plant in Spain, and has signed up for a 553MW project in California.

Busy times over in California. Renewable energy systems provider Fat Spaniel closed its second round at $18m (shy of the $20mm target announced in November). Ignition Partners led the round. The firm provides software and hardware that helps renewable energy suppliers monitor efficiency and count their carbon-saving credits.
Enphase Energy, which is developing micro-inverter based solar energy management systems, raised a $6.5m round led by Third Point Ventures.
Wind turbine developer Marquiss Wind Power secured a $1.3m first round led by Velocity Venture Capital. Marquiss is commercialising its patent-protected ducted wind turbines for rooftop use.
Stealthy diesel engine developer Achates Power has reportedly raised undisclosed funding from investors including Sequoia Capital, RockPort Capital, Interwest Partners, and Madrone Capital Partners. The San Diego firm says it is developing a fuel-efficient clean diesel engine combining "proven designs with modern technology and breakthrough innovations".
And in energy-efficient lighting, Luxim raised an extra $21m from DAG Ventures and others including Sequoia; while stealthy solid-state startup SJS Technology raised $2.5m from cleantech stalwart Khosla Ventures.