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Cleantech’s Creative, Data Renaissance

Greg Neichin

Fred Wilson and Chris Dixon are two guys at the top of my reading list every morning.  Both primarily inhabit the internet software and services world and so it gets me particularly excited when I see threads of their thinking that are relevant to the cleantech world.  Fred wrote this week on the evolution of internet innovation towards creativity:

“The digital technology revolution was, from the day the transistor was invented in the late 40s until the early part of last decade, largely about engineering. It is still very much about engineering but I’ve been thinking for a while now that as this revolution matures, it is becoming more and more about creativity and less about engineering… You could call it the difference between the front end and the back end. You could call it the difference between the lower layers of the stack and the upper layers.”

Chris picked up on a similar theme when he wrote on instrumenting the offline world:

“In the last decade there have been major advances in storing, analyzing, and acting upon extremely large data sets.  Data sets that were previously left dormant are now being put to constructive use. But the vast majority

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Weekly cleantech investment highlights

Stephen Marcus

Each week our research team tracks cleantech transactions across the globe. This week we recorded 17 venture deals, four fund announcements, six M&As and seven IPO related announcements, including two listings in China. Below are some of the highlights. Cleantech Group subscribers can see the full roundup of all the deals here.

VC, private company and corporate investments

Over $180 million was raised by 17 companies globally. The two largest deals were:

  • Shanghai-based Nobao Renewable Energy, a developer of ground source heat pump systems for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and hot water, reportedly received a $100 million investment from U.S.-based Silverlake.
  • California-based MBA Polymers, recyclers of engineering plastics, raised $25 million in an equity funding round led by Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures and Balderton Capital. The round also included participation from previous investors LESS, Honeywell Capital Management, Citi’s Sustainable Development Investments and Aloe Private Equity and new investors Artemis Investment Management and Keating Investments.

Funds

Announcements were made by four funds looking to raise over $840 million. Highlights included:

  • Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) is raising $650 million for a new fund called KPCB XI4. Half of the fund will target IT and the rest will be split

Doing More with Internal Combustion – VanDyne Superturbo

Debjit Mukerji

Internal combustion engines (ICEs) are likely to be featured in one form or another – as a standalone powerplant or in a hybrid arrangement – in more than 95% of global automotive applications over the next decade.  Fort Collins, CO-based VanDyne SuperTurbo, a 2009 spinout of Woodward Governor (Nasdaq: WGOV), is addressing new opportunities in the ICE space by designing and developing components for heavy duty engine manufacturers as well as the global automotive market.  The technology goal is to meet ever-stringent emissions targets – as exemplified by the evolution of the U.S. CAFE standards – without compromising performance. 

The company’s lead product, the VanDyne SuperTurbocharger, is designed to increase fuel efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and increase horsepower. The SuperTurbocharger mates a turbocharger (which harnesses exhaust gas energy to compress incoming air, packing more molecules into the combustion space – “boost”) with a transmission system.  This creates a hybrid engine, effectively a piston engine working together with a turbine engine.  The device synergistically combines the technology benefits of turbochargers with superchargers (which require input power to provide boost) and turbocompounders (which convert exhaust energy to shaft work).  By implementing exhaust gas reuse and allowing engine downsizing, the company claims …

All Eyez on California

David Cheng

A few weeks ago, I attended a hearing on Proposition 23 in Sacramento.  At the hearing, I gave a brief testimony on the impact of AB 32 on California clean technology venture capital investments.  Much of the testimony derived from a report I recently authored on California Clean Energy Policies (particularly AB 32) and comparative state-by-state analyses.

As someone who is both personally and professionally committed to clean technology development in California and the United States, I believe Proposition 23 represents a significant misstep for not just California’s economy, but the US economy on the whole.  California has been a leader in environmental legislation since the inception of the Air Resource Board (ARB) in 1967 and we remain the only state with the ability to develop its own emission regulations, which are typically tougher than the federal standards.  With this leadership position, if I can borrow a phrase from famous California artist Tupac Shakur, this November, All Eyez on California.

Hit ‘Em Up

Prop 23 was introduced by Assemblymember Dan Logue but has been famously funded by interests external to California, most notably by Valero, Tesoro, and the Koch Industries.   The Yes on 23 Campaign has called …

See you in Los Angeles

Mia Javier

Last week, I spent some time in Europe with a few of our clients in London and Berlin to provide some updates on our current research and advisory work in water. While I was there, I spoke at a water event in Berlin and realized how bringing visibility to the lack of innovation in this very important sector is critical to the broader cleantech agenda.

Unlike the smart grid or renewables, venture capital dollars have struggled to organize around water innovation. Understandably so — water is a complex, highly fragmented market and it is increasingly important for stakeholders to discuss needs and solutions to market barriers for innovative water technologies. Our water focus event in Los Angeles next, I’m pleased to say, is convening some of the industry’s key stakeholders to discussion water innovation through the lens of corporate water efficiency needs.

Featured Keynotes:

- Jeff Fulgham, Chief Sustainability Officer and Ecomagination Leader, GE Power & Water

- Sally Gutierrez, Director of the National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) for the US EPA

- John Picard, one of the preeminent environmental consultants in North America and a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council

- Michael Kavanaugh, Ph.D., VP

LED Thermal Management & Nuventix: More Than Hot Air

David Cheng

Austin, TX based Nuventix has taken the guesswork out of which LED maker will dominate the market; it will partner with all of them.  Nuventix develops a unique fanless cooling solution, called SynJet, for the LED and electronics market.  To date, the company has deployed across hundreds of commercial and retail installations with a wide variety of lighting companies, including Philips, Osram, GE, CREE, and Bridgelux.

Developed initially by Professor Ari Glezer and colleagues at Georgia Tech, the technology behind SynJet is based on a simple concept of an oscillating diaphragm to move air for cooling a heated surface.   A SynJet module consists of a diaphragm mounted within a cavity that has one or more orifices. An electromagnetic actuator causes the diaphragm to oscillate, pulling surrounding air into the cavity and then expelling it in a directed, turbulent fashion.  The rapid cycling of air into and out of the cavity creates pulsating air-jets that can be directed to the precise locations where cooling is needed.  Because the air flow from SynJets is pulsating and turbulent, it efficiently mixes with ambient air and provides 50% better thermal management effectiveness over comparable sized fans and with quieter operation and higher …

Agriculture investment is (literally) going up

Stephen Marcus

We are now post-New York Forum and many of the analysts at the Cleantech Group are back in the office and busy reviewing the cleantech investment activity for the 3Q 2010 Investment Monitor report which is to be released in a few weeks time.

As the agriculture analyst, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the $26 million acquisition of TerraSphere, a vertical farming company that designs and builds modules in order to grow a variety of crops in a controlled, indoor environment.

It certainly is an interesting way to farm, Crops are grown indoors, under rigorously controlled conditions, and in multiple stories of high-rise buildings in urban areas. Advanced greenhouse technologies, such as aeroponics (dangling plants in air that is infused with water vapor and nutrients, eliminating the need for soil) and hydroponics (holding plants in place so their roots lie in soilless troughs while water and dissolved nutrients are circulated over them,) are required.

This farming technique offers, in theory, four benefits over current agricultural practices:

  • Yield increases – estimates say that because indoor vertical farms can engineer multiple growing seasons a year, a 30 storey, 5 acre building could potentially produce 2,400 acres worth of food a

Guest Analysis: Meet the Rodney Dangerfield of Cleantech

Guest Analyst: David Gold

Wind turbines stand tall and mesmerize with their motion. Solar cells bask in the sparkling sun.  Meanwhile, hidden down in the dark dirty underworld, a compelling technology sits quietly and gets no respect.  Once installed it largely goes unseen and, it seems, it’s equally invisible in the world of clean technology press, venture funding and government R&D funding.  Yet this technology provides some of the most intriguing economic returns available for reducing a building’s net energy consumption and I would welcome the right opportunity to fund an exciting business in this category.

What is this Rodney Dangerfield of cleantech?  Geothermal heat pumps, also referred to as ground source heat pumps or geoexchange.  Anyone who has gone down a hundred feet or so in a cave on a hot day probably noticed how nice and cool it was down there.  That is because in most geology, a zone of nearly constant 55-degree Fahrenheit temperature exists 50-200 feet below the ground we walk on.  Even at shallower depths the temperature hovers within a much narrower range than on the surface. Geoexchange is technology that uses the constant temperature and huge heat sink that the earth represents to generate heat in the wintertime …

Is 5 the magic number for LEDs?

Emma Ritch

Lighting is responsible for about 7% of the carbon emitted by the U.S., and yet nearly all the lighting in buildings comes from technologies that are 5% to 30% efficient, leaving vast room for improvement. Consider for a moment how that compares to other energy users in a building—the energy conversion efficiency of heating is typically 70%, while electric motors are 85% to 95%.

That’s why there’s so much interest in LEDs, which are just a fraction of installed lighting sources today but expected to make up 80% of the general illumination market by 2020. Today LEDs are 20% to 30% energy efficient, but that’s improving at a rapid pace. There are also design and control advantages to LEDs that increase the overall efficiency of the system. However, the upfront cost is still much higher than traditional lighting technologies, and many manufacturer claims about the longevity of LEDs have yet to be seen in real-world applications.

But the buzz about LEDs is only getting stronger. Much like Moore’s Law for integrated circuits, Haitz’s Law says that process optimization is cutting the cost per lumen of LEDs by a factor of 10 every 10 years while the amount of light …

Another win for lighting controls as Redwood closes $15M round

Emma Ritch

Fremont, Calif.-based startup Redwood Systems revealed today it closed a $15 million Series B round for its LED lighting control system, coming on the heels of a $12.7 million Series B for Lumenergi, a lighting controls startup based in nearby Newark, California.

The two companies are illustrative of a fast-growing sub-sector within lighting that’s gaining investor support and market adoption. Lighting controls companies secured 16% of VC investment within lighting from 2005 to 2010, but that’s jumped to 21% in 2009 and 2010 to-date.

Source: Cleantech Group analysis

Why all the interest? Lighting is considered the low-hanging fruit for energy efficiency retrofits, as illumination accounts for  44% of electricity in U.S. office buildings and a quarter of the energy in residential buildings–roughly the same energy consumed by cooling. Lighting controls–including software, sensors, drivers, fixtures, and intelligent ballasts–can maximize energy efficiency of multiple lighting sources, with some vendors claiming up to 75% reduction in energy use due to controls technology.

Redwood offers a unique lighting control system that combines power and control of LEDs over the same low-voltage data cable for office buildings and data centers. While adoption of LEDs is projected to increase to about 80% of the …