Monday, 16 June 2008

Clean Sweep 39

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

Power semiconductor firm Evince Technology has raised £500k seed funding from a syndicate of early-stage and cleantech specialists.
Based in Sedgefield, County Durham, Evince is developing non-silicon high-voltage devices for renewable power applications. Technical details are scanty, but according to investor Imperial Innovations, the firm has developed a device with the potential to dramatically improve the performance of sustainable energy sources such as wind turbines and fuel cells by enabling the direct connection of power electronic systems to the main electricity grid.
Imperial Innovations invested £150k in the round, alongside a £175k investment from the Low Carbon Seed Fund (run jointly by Imperial Innovations, the Carbon Trust and the Shell Foundation), and £175k from regional VC NorthStar Equity Investors.

Another recent UK deal is tangentially cleantech - Close Ventures has invested £1.35m in energy performance surveyor Vibrant Energy Surveys. The London-based firm advises on domestic energy efficiency and issues energy performance certificates which, as from this October, are required for all property transactions.

Update to a previously discussed story - private equity groups 3i Infrastructure and Terra Firma (via portfolio group Infinis) have both withdrawn their rival takeover bids for renewables group Novera Energy. For more detail, see Novera's statement (pdf).

Dutch battery firm Epyon has raised an undisclosed investment from SET Venture Partners and Chrysalix Energy. The firm is a spin-out from the Delft University of Technology, and is developing Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles which can be charged in minutes rather than hours.

A couple of algal biofuel deals over the pond: Sapphire Energy raised $50m from ARCH Venture Partners and others. The San Diego firm says it is producing 91-octane gasoline (petrol) that meets ASTM standards.
And Californian biodiesel operator Aurora Biofuels raised a $20m second round from existing investors led by Oak Investment Partners. The firm is developing algae as a source of bio-oil feedstock, which can be converted by transesterification into biodiesel.
Crop-based biodiesel producer Innovation Fuels meanwhile raised $10.5m equity from Credit Suisse, RNK Capital and Lyrical Partners. The New York firm is looking to drive consolidation by buying up existing biodiesel plants.

In an interesting solar deal, FTL Solar has raised what it calls the first phase of a planned $50m round, from Terra Firma Capital Group, the Josh Mailman Foundation, and individual investors. The New York company is developing what it calls PowerMods - tents and other flexible structures with integrated thin-film solar panels, for business, military and disaster-relief use.
Thin-film cadmium telluride developer PrimeStar Solar has raised an undisclosed round from GE Energy. The deal makes GE the majority shareholder in the Colorado company, and follows a minority investment in September 2007.
And in a solar-related deal from down under, BT Imaging raised a A$3m first round led by Allen & Buckeridge Venture Capital. The Sydney-based firm produces inspection tools for photovoltaic manufacturers.

Fund news
A new name on the block - Amplio Partners, which is seeking to raise Euro50m for its first fund. The London-based VC is focusing on early-stage renewable energy companies which have a product but need investment to achieve commercial scale. The fund is headed by Riccardo Segat, and is basically a spin-out from Obsidian Investments.

As ever, bigger numbers in the US. RockPort Capital Partners has closed its third cleantech fund at $453m. Recent investments from RockPort include high-efficiency engine developer Achates Power, mobile fuel cell firm Lilliputian Systems, and electric car group Think Global.

Further reading
The Crown Estate has announced the third round of its offshore windfarm programme - the royal property group, which owns the seabed around Britain, is looking to install a further 25GW worth of turbines by 2020. Around 8GW are currently in development under the first two rounds.
The estate is preparing to accept bids for offshore developments in designated zones, and will co-invest up to half the planning and infrastructure costs. More details here.

The Guardian reports from the Intersolar 2008 conference in Munich, and finds growing confidence about 'grid parity', that magic moment when PV-produced energy can compete with traditional sources on cost:
Jerry Stokes, head of Suntech Europe, thinks grid parity in Germany can be reached within five years. In California and Italy, where there is lots of sun and high electricity prices, he said grid parity for PV systems had already been achieved.

Some interesting comments on the UK cleantech scene from a visiting US VC - Jim Matheson of Flagship Ventures blogs on Xconomy as he travels on a UKTI jolly:
Overall there are some good projects, and there is a strong awareness around the importance of IP. That said, I do note that U.K. entrepreneurs don’t seem to think "as big" as in the U.S., and their fundraising aspirations are subsequently also smaller. I cannot tell which is cause and which is effect. That is, if VCs pushed harder to deploy more funds, would entrepreneurs get conditioned to believe they could raise more money and go for bigger prizes, or vice versa? In any case, there is a definite dearth of early stage venture capital here.
More here, here and here.
On the same blog, Mark Modzelewski takes a sceptical view at the whole cleantech VC arena.

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