cleantech insights

Qnovo: Not your average battery startup

Josh Gould

In energy storage, most start ups either focus on building a better battery (see A123 Systems or Boston Power), or innovating on the materials themselves (see Nanosys).  Yet Newark, CA-based start up Qnovo is taking a different approach.

Instead of building batteries or creating new materials, Qnovo intends to help customers get the most out of batteries through electronics.  Though the company is a bit hesitant to discuss the product and technology in great detail, co-founder and CEO Nadim Maluf described the product as focusing solely on electronics.  It fits between the materials science approach to batteries (e.g., new/better materials) and the traditional electrical engineering approach, which focuses on the voltage source and power management.  In short, though Qnovo claims to understand the chemistry of a battery cell very well, it targets the electrochemistry using only electronic controls.  The result is battery operational improvements.

The market trends and needs Qnovo are addressing are almost as interesting as the company itself.  Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in the fast-growing mobile computing segment (think smart PDA, laptops, tablets).  But as the market for batteries is growing, it’s also changing.  Consumers increasingly demand longer battery life, but also want devices that are …


The IT Cleantech Debate Comes to Energy Efficiency

Josh Gould

Perhaps it’s because we’re located in Cleantech Group’s San Francisco office, but time and time again we hear comparisons between cleantech and IT.  Sometimes the comparisons make cleantech look good.  When drawing analogies between cleantech and IT we often hear about the size of the market opportunity, the many smart people dedicating their time and careers to the industry, and the investment dollars from nearby Sand Hill Road (and all across the world, for that matter) which are pouring into cleantech.

Yet we also hear people point out the many ways in which cleantech is different than IT.  These comparisons typically cast the industry in a more negative light.  We hear about how cleantech startups are less capital efficient than their IT counterparts, how sales cycles can be long and challenging, how the industry is regulated and reliant on policy decisions which may or may not be forthcoming.  Clearly there is some truth to these criticisms – though many of them tell parts, but not the whole, of the story.

Whatever one thinks of this never ending debate, there is one area where we can confidently draw a cleantech/ IT comparison: energy efficiency.  Let me count the ways.  First, …

Weekly cleantech investment highlights

Stephen Marcus

Each week our research team tracks cleantech transactions across the globe. This week we recorded 17 venture deals, 5 fund announcements, 9 M&As and 4 IPO related announcements. 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

At least $106 million was raised by 17 cleantech companies globally. The two largest deals were:

  • California-based SolFocus, a developer of optical concentrators that focus sunlight on arrays of small photovoltaic devices, raised $20 million out of a potential $50 million from unnamed equity-based financiers. In 2009, the company raised $77 million in a Series C round and it recently signed a contract to build a 300-megawatt-hour solar array in Bahra, Saudi Arabia.
  • Germany-based AZZURRO Semiconductors, developer of a technology for low-cost high-brightness LEDs and high-power electronics, raised €14.5 million ($19.4 million) from Cedrus Private Equity, IBG Innovationsfonds, Wellington Partners, Good Energies and Emerald Technology Ventures. The new funding will finance its first production site to be built in Dresden within the next two years.


Announcements were made by 4 funds looking to raise over $470 million. The top 2 were:

  • Sequoia Capital China registered

Weekly cleantech investment highlights

Stephen Marcus

Each week our research team tracks cleantech transactions across the globe. This week we recorded 21 venture deals, 2 fund announcements, 9 M&As and 1 IPO related announcement. 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

$73 million was raised by 21 companies globally, with a further 5 deals of undisclosed size. The two largest deals were:

  • California-based Cool Planet Biofuels raised $8 million from GE Energy Financial Services and North Bridge Venture Partners. The company extracts hydrocarbons from biomass for use as a biofuel, leaving the excess carbon as a biochar that can be used to fertilise soil.
  • China-based Shenzhen Yinghe Technology, a manufacturer of production lines for electric vehicle, laptop and cell phone batteries, raised RMB 50 million ($7.5 million) from local investor Fortune Venture Capital.


Announcements were made by 2 funds looking to raise over $1.7 billion. These were:

  • India-based venture capital investor Gujarat Venture Finance, plans to launch a Rs1,000 Cr ($221 million) infrastructure development fund called the Golden Gujarat Growth Fund Series-I. The fund will invest in SMEs and mid-corporate firms in the infrastructure, alternative energy

China and Building Energy Labels – We Didn’t Start the Fire

David Cheng

Earlier this week, a fire broke out in a Shanghai high-rise, tragically killing at least 53 people and injuring at least 90 others.  According to Xinhua, the official news agency, the fire was started by “unlicensed welders, multilayered sub-contracting and poor management.”  But what were these workers doing?  The renovations were intended to improve the building’s energy efficiency.

China’s rapid adoption of national building energy labels outpaces America’s hodgepodge mix of state and federal labels.  28% of the energy in China goes towards buildings today and that share is increasing.  If you factor that by 2020, China will add 20 billion square meters of new construction (the equivalent of 33,000 buildings the size of the Pentagon), building energy efficiency in China becomes even more crucial.  In the last five year plan (2006-2010), China had an audacious goal of reducing the energy intensity by 20% across all sectors.  It appears China is moving close to achieving this target and part of its success is due to the emergence of building and appliance codes.  Initiatives such as the Ten Key Projects and Top-1000 programs have done well.  China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) has also …

Cleantech Sales Cycles: Finding The Path Of Least Resistance

Greg Neichin
It is becoming a common refrain across many cleantech sectors to lament the slow speed of technology adoption by large, enterprise customers.  Companies developing new hardware and software for the smart grid must contend with the buying cycles of large, regulated utilities.  Those targeting innovation in the water sector face an uphill battle to get installed in facilities owned by municipalities.  Even those building next generation energy efficiency products for buildings or industrial facilities must tackle traditional, commercial procurement processes.  Sales cycles are long, pilots can last for months if not years, and decision-making can be by multiple committees.

Having experience as an operating experience in both the telecom equipment and enterprise software world, I can readily sympathize with the pain.  I try to discuss the nature of this slow adoption cycle as much as I can with cleantech entrepreneurs and look for parallels from other industries.  Ben Horowitz, a successful entrepreneur and now an active venture capitalist in the software and internet services world, had an insightful piece last week, via TechCrunch, on the nature of enterprise sales that is directly applicable to the cleantech sector as well.  Ben writes of three major hurdles:

  • Big Companies Don’t Have

Putting the green in leafy greens

Stephen Marcus

The sustainability issues of today’s food production are well chronicled – large quantities of chemicals and water are used as inputs for growing plants in an increasingly unpredictable climate which are then transported across the globe for consumption. Tackling these environmental challenges, while simultaneously expanding food production to feed more mouths, is the Holy Grail to solving many environmental, social and humanitarian problems.

A start-up confronting all of the above head on is New York-based AeroFarms. AeroFarms is developing an aeroponic growing system that can grow leafy greens indoors with minimal water and without chemicals, sun or soil by growing them indoors in modular, vertically stackable systems designed to be located in old or vacant buildings in urban areas. The result is pesticide-free, fresh, clean greens grown in locations where they are needed.

AeroFarms uses a patent pending LED technology to light plants from above; it also has the benefit of obviating the need for pesticides as the LEDs can target certain wavelengths to disrupt insect breeding. Below the plants, an aeroponic mist is used to provide roots with nutrients, hydration and oxygen. The company also uses a patent pending cloth medium to convey plants from one end of …

Weekly cleantech investment highlights

Stephen Marcus

Each week our research team tracks cleantech transactions across the globe. This week we recorded 17 venture deals, 16 fund announcements, 12 M&As and 5 IPO related announcements. 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 $130 million was raised by 17 companies globally. The two largest deals were:

  • California-based Champlin Wind Power, a developer of large scale wind farms, secured an investment of up to $50 million from venture capital investor Good Energies. The company, now known as Champlin-GEI Wind Holdings, will use the new funds to develop between 100 MW and 500 MW of wind projects in the Western U.S.
  • Finland-based electric vehicle engineering company Valmet Automotive raised €20 million ($27.8 million) from state-owned Finnish Industry Investment and private equity investor Pontos Group in exchange for a 34% shareholding. Engineering group Metso, Valmet’s parent company, will continue to be the majority shareholder. Valmet is an engineering and manufacturing partner for the electric cars THINK City, Golf Car Garia and the Fisker Karma.


Announcements were made by 16 funds looking to raise nearly $5 billion. Highlights included:

  • The Shanghai

Overcoming the barriers to renewable energy

Kate McArdle

Coming off the heels of Cleantech Forum New York, where I got the chance to interact with a lot of exciting cleantech startups, I’m always looking for more ways to help entrepreneurs get the resources they need to enter the cleantech market. Building a successful company takes more than just developing a novel technology or service, and getting all the pieces in place can present a lot of challenges. From getting startups into our Innovation Pipeline to partnering with organizations like the Cleantech Open, Cleantech Group is committed to accelerating cleantech innovation from startup to sustainable business. That’s why I’m excited to announce an upcoming webinar, hosted by our partner Autodesk, that will focus on overcoming the barriers to renewable energy.

Renewable energy technology providers face a high barrier to entry into established energy industries. As a result, many start-ups and corporate R&D efforts get caught between the desire to innovate and the need to generate a healthy ROI. Autodesk’s Seth Hindman will discuss these issues and explain how Autodesk can help you address them, during Autodesk’s first free Clean Tech Webinar, focusing on Renwable Energy.

Renewable Energy: Overcoming the Barriers
Presented by Seth A. Hindman, Autodesk …

Energy Efficiency: A New Model for Real Estate Investors Emerges

David Cheng

In this week’s Energy Efficiency Research Note (clients only), I provide brief commentary on the recent partnership between Good Energies and TIAA-CREF on a new vehicle called the Green Building Technology Partnership.

Energy efficiency in commercial buildings is ripe for investment.  Lawrence Berkeley National Labs most recently conducted its survey in June 2010 and found that the ESCO market was projected to be $7.1 to $7.2 billion in 2011.  The research note touches briefly on the market size for 2020 and the financing vehicles that may drive adoption in the commercial and industrial market.

Cleantech Group views a Good Energies and TIAA-CREF partnership as the beginning of more partnerships between venture capital and real estate institutional investors. These partnerships address one of two chasms in energy efficiency—technology, or more specifically, technology risk. The other chasm, financing, is also be covered briefly in this research note.

It remains to be seen if technology or financing will be the chicken or egg that becomes the initial and/or primary driver of wide-scale energy efficiency adoption across commercial, industrial, and residential buildings.…