Friday, 26 June 2009

Clean Sweep 65

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

Cambridge solar tech start-up Enecsys has raised a £6m first round led by Wellington Partners. Denmark's BankInvest New Energy Solutions also joined the round.
A spin-out from the University of Cambridge, Enecsys is commercialising a micro-inverter for solar PV modules. By getting rid of components such as electrolytic capacitors which have a short expected lifespan, the company says its 'PVKey' inverters can match the 20-year-plus life of a basic PV module, with cost savings of up to 25%.
The deal comes just weeks after a rival micro-inverter developer, California-based Enphase Energy, raised a $22.5m third round.

Wellington Partners also joined Kleiner Perkins and Munich Venture Partners in an undisclosed round in German biomass gasification firm Agnion.
Agnion is commercialising a heatpipe reformer developed at the Technical University of Munich to produce syngas from wood pellets. The firm says the reformer, when coupled with a fuell cell in a small-scale CHP unit, can achieve electrical efficiency of up to 35%, comparable with that achieved in large installations.

London-based VC Frog Capital has doubled its stake in specialist waste recycler SiC Processing after buying out other shareholders.
Frog (then known as Foursome Investments) joined a Euro53.4m round in SiC in October 2007, led by Zouk Ventures. Merrill Lynch Corporate Principal Investments Group, CC Private Equity Partners and Masdar Clean Tech Fund also invested, alongside existing investors and the founding Heckmann family. Frog hasn't croaked on which shareholders it bought out, or what it paid.
SiC, based in Germany, operates an international network of silicon carbide slurry recycling plants for the solar and semiconductor wafer industries.

Dutch renewable energy developer Econcern, which raised a whopping Euro300m from institutional investors in May last year, has declared bankruptcy. Energy group Eneco has taken on the bulk of its wind, solar and biomass operations, while Orbeo takes over the OneCarbon offsetting division.
Econcern announced a major restructuring in April, blaming the credit crisis and recession.

A busy week for clean car developers. Norway's troubled Think raised NKr250m (c£23m) capital from new and existing investors. The firm, backed by a heavyweight array of VCs and corporate investors including DFJ, Rockport and GE, says it can now get closer to resuming production and start delivering vehicles this year.
California's Tesla Motors, which is collaborating with Think on batteries, meanwhile secured $465m low-interest loans from the US Department of Energy.
More modestly, electric tricycle developer Myers Motors raised $250,000 from JumpStart Inc for product and IP development.
And stealthy efficient auto company V-Vehicle revealed undisclosed backing from Kleiner Perkins and oil-tycoon-turned-renewables-evangelist T Boone Pickens. Details of the firm's tech are still elusive, but it'll be building a factory in Louisiana. See Greentech Media for more.

Khosla Ventures has quietly invested $12.5m in stealthy Alabama-based cellulosic ethanol company Cello Energy. Again, see Greentech for more.

Energy efficiency software provider Optimum Energy secured $4.5m in a deal led by Columbia Pacific Advisors. The Seattle-based firm says its software can improve the efficiency of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems by up to 60%.

In an interesting early-stage wind tech deal, Accio Energy raised undisclosed seed funding from the University of Michigan's Frankel Commercialization Fund. Accio says its turbine-free Aerovoltaic tech 'harvests energy by using the wind to move electrically charged particles against a voltage gradient', apparently using MEMS devices to create ionised water droplets which are pushed through pipes by the wind. The firm promises to release more details next year.

Fund news
UK ethical bank Triodos has launched a new venture fund aimed at 'small but growing green businesses in the UK'. The Triodos EIS Green Fund, operating under the government's Enterprise Initiative Scheme, will invest up to £2m in firms operating in renewables, energy efficiency, sustainability and waste recycling.
Triodos is also preparing to raise a second such fund.

Anglo-German cleantech specialist WHEB Ventures has launched a sister company to invest in listed equities. WHEB Asset Management will invest globally, and is targeting a £50m close for its first fund, the IM WHEN Sustainability Fund.

Further reading
Initial findings from a study of cleantech financing show a widening of the 'valley of death' - a dramatic name for the gap between early development-led VC financing, and commercialisation backed by private equity or project finance. In a study of investment data since 2004, New Energy Finance and the US-based Clean Energy Group found that the number of later-stage deals has declined, although average size has increased. The problem has been exacerbated by the ongoing credit crunch and general crisis, they say. For more details, see the NEF press release (pdf 116kb). The full study is due to complete in August.

The synthesis report (pdf 4.2mb) from March's climate change congress urges wider deployment of existing cleantech -
Although there is no “silver bullet” – no single renewable technology that can replace fossil fuels in their totality – a mix of technologies can allow different countries and regions to develop their own renewable energy combinations to meet their own needs. Technologies are already available that, in combination with changes on the demand side - reduced energy usage and improved energy efficiency – give the potential to achieve a 50% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2050 and, in some regions, to reduce emissions to virtually zero by that time. Reaching such goals, however, requires rapid, substantial build-up of production capacity through concerted investments; a stable policy framework; and research, development and demonstration to facilitate technology learning and reduce production costs.
Some technologies such as basic PV which are not appropriate for power generation in the developed world may still be important for developing countries, the report notes.

Are European renewables developers avoiding thin-film PV? GTM Research's Daniel Englander reckons so, thanks to the credit crunch and general risk aversion.

The Guardian reports on progress on the ambitious Desertec project to link Europe to concentrating solar installations in North Africa. A consortium of 20 German corporates are preparing to back the Euro400bn project.

Optimistic news on potential wind resources from a Harvard research team, as reported in New Scientist:
The team's model suggests that the top 10 carbon dioxide-emitting countries, except possibly Japan, could generate all of their current and projected electricity needs from onshore wind turbines that are already commercially available.
The full paper is available from PNAS.

Finally, remember Steorn, the Irish tech developer which claimed to have come up with a free energy device based on spinning magnets? The 'jury' of scientists and engineers recruited from the famous Economist ad have announced their conclusion -
The unanimous verdict of the Jury is that Steorn's attempts to demonstrate the claim have not shown the production of energy. The jury is therefore ceasing work.
Alas. Cheerily, the company remains unbowed.

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