cleantech insights

Obama, Wal-Mart, and the Changing Face of Cleantech

James Mwaura

obama walmart

When it was announced that President Barack Obama’s west coast swing would conclude in Mountain View, CA (home of Google, LinkedIn, and a variety of other tech starlets), the location of his speech took a lot of people by surprise – Wal-Mart. Despite being in the heart of Silicon Valley, 40 minutes away from the bustle of San Francisco, and a stone’s throw from Stanford University, Obama chose the Mountain View branch of a behemoth retailer which is far from representative of Silicon Valley and seems like an odd choice for a speech centered on energy efficiency.

Or was it? As it turns out, Wal-Mart is a great example of the huge role that large corporations are playing in the clean energy economy. The branch in Mountain View has replaced many of its in-store lighting fixtures with ultra-high efficiency LEDs, added two electric vehicle charging ports in its parking lot, and installed solar arrays on its roof. Wal-Mart, in fact, has more solar installed than any other company in the United States, and has 335 renewable energy projects in operation or development, generating over 24% of the electricity that its stores consume. Wal-Mart, like many other corporates, is quietly yet …


On Commercializing Biofuels & Biochemicals

Leo Zhang

Sime Darby

Over the past few years, the Biofuels & Biochemicals sector has experienced a prominent shift from a pure biofuels focus to a biochemicals-based commercialization strategy. We recognize such a shift as a necessary strategy repositioning based on a multitude of factors. For instance, as companies continue to optimize their scale-up efforts, biochemicals and bio-based materials may still incur a pricing premium over commodity-based fuel products. In addition, we have also observed increasing corporate interests in the biochemicals space as they are looking to incorporate more renewables into their product portfolios. Therefore, we are seeing active investments and partnerships by larger corporates into the biochemicals subsector.


Verdezyne is a prime example of this shift from fuels to chemicals. Having built a biotechnology platform, Verdezyne was initially set out to target the advanced biofuels market, but has since realigned its focus towards chemicals by selling its fuel-based intellectual property to DuPont, and instead focusing on renewable petrochemical replacements. Recently, the company has announced a $48 million investment round, led by Malaysian multination conglomerate, Sime Darby Berhad. Along with existing corporate investors from BP Ventures and DSM Venturing, the new funding will accelerate Verdezyne’s technology development.

In fact, many pure play biochemical …

This Deal Matters: Cool Planet Energy Systems Closes Series D Funding; Corporates Bet on Advanced Biofuel and Rising Activities in Asia

Leo Zhang

cool planetCool Planet Energy Systems, the Colorado-based developer of advanced drop-in fuels and biochar, announced a $50.7 million investment and the closing of the company’s $100 million Series D growth equity round. Cool Planet’s latest investors include Concord Energy Holdings, a Singapore-based crude oil trading company, which led the round with existing investor North Bridge Venture Partners. Other existing investors include BP Ventures, ConocoPhillips, Energy Technology Ventures, Exelon Capital Partners, General Electric, Google Ventures, NRG Energy, and Shea Ventures. The new investment, along with Cool Planet’s strategic corporate investors, will help to expedite the company’s 10 million gallon per year biofuel facility in Louisiana. The timing of this deal is significant in that it demonstrates corporate interests in bio-based drop-in fuels, especially given the ongoing commercialization struggle of another high-profile drop-in fuel company, KiOR, which private investor Vinod Khosla has recently committed an additional $25 million from his personal trust to continue supporting the company.

This deal also matters as it is the second deal of back-to-back investments into biofuel companies, following a $60 million growth equity round raised by LanzaTech just a week ago. Notably, we have observed increasing …

Sugar Water: The Next Big Feedstock?

Wendy Bao

Proterry Logo

Feedstock is a critical but costly step in the production of Biofuels & Biochemicals that has imposed as a bottleneck to the entire industry. According to Cleantech Group’s i3 Platform, we have seen increasing investment and partnership activities among multinational corporations with feedstock technology companies in order to develop cheaper sugars. For example, Dupont has invested in and partnered with NexSteppe to develop high biomass sorghum for downstream biofuels and biochemicals production. BASF and Waste Management have also made strategic investments to Renmatix to develop cellulosic sugars. Finally, Syngenta has formed an equity-based technology partnership with Agrivida towards the company’s technology on engineered crop. At Cleantech Group, we continue to see new innovating technologies that aim to solve this bottleneck issue from multiple angles.

Last week, Cleantech Group interviewed Ms. Kef Kasdin, CEO of Proterro, to learn more about the company’s technology innovations and the potential breakthroughs they might bring to the biofuel and biochemical industry.

Proterro, a New Jersey based producer of low-cost sugar feedstock for the biofuels and biochemicals industries, recently received a notice of allowance from the USPTO for a device patent that protects the company’s photobioreactor system. Proterro’s unique photosynthetic sugar-making organism, process, and …

This Deal Matters: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Invests $25 Million in Rennovia for Biochemical Development

Leo Zhang

RennoviaRennovia, the California-based developer of renewable catalyst and chemical technologies, announced last week that Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has committed to a $25 million equity investment to co-develop bio-based chemical products. Specifically, Rennovia will leverage ADM’s strength in manufacturing in order to reach commercial production of biochemicals utilizing Rennovia’s core processing technology.

Given the recent hurdles in scale-up production across multiple companies in the Biofuels & Biochemicals sector, this deal represents a crucial stage for Rennovia as the company aims to prove its technology and achieve commercialization. This deal is also significant since it further resonates with the growing popularity of biochemicals, as the products have much higher margins compared to commodity-based fuels. As a result of this deal, we expect to see additional updates from the two companies throughout their commercialization journey. Stayed tuned via Cleantech Group’s i3 platform for the latest updates on corporate investments and partnerships in the cleantech space.…

Playbook for Successful Corporate Partnerships

Amanda Faulkner


Corporates, with access to capital, markets and tech know-how, are obvious partners to help startups succeed. Yet despite the recognized importance of partnerships, actually finding a partner and nurturing a successful partnership can be challenging. On February 12, we hosted a webinar to discuss this topic and get feedback from top investors and corporates in the field. Stephan Dolezalek from VantagePoint Capital Partners, Gil Demeter from Qualcomm Ventures, and Bharat Ramakrishnan from Applied Materials talked about their own experiences and advice for startups looking to partner with corporates. Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar:

Have an internal champion – The biggest point that Stephan, Gil, and Bharat made was that individual champions at the corporate are key to making partnerships happen. Those champions will pitch your company, debate any doubters, and be your defender throughout the process. He or she will be personally and professionally invested in the partnership and push to make the partnership successful.

Diversify and strengthen your personal relationships – Not only do you need a champion; you need a variety of people within the corporate with interest in making the partnership work. Personnel change fairly frequently; diversity of relationships ensures …

Corporate Partnerships in Drop-in Biofuels

Leo Zhang

Two weeks ago, we posted a blog post that looked at investments in electric vehicles vs. drop-in fuels which showed a comparable amount of dollars having been invested into these two technology areas. As evidenced by the current market, investment into electric vehicles has led to significant progress as Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, and other electric vehicles continue to flood the showroom. Similarly, we are also seeing major partnerships from key corporate stakeholders with the goal of a wider adoption of drop-in biofuels.

Audi gb2

  • Global Bioenergies, the France-based developer of renewable drop-in fuels, has partnered with German-based manufacturer Audi for a two-year collaboration on the development of high performance biofuels for gasoline engines.
  • Boeing, the U.S.-based aerospace and defense corporation, partnered with Etihad Airways to create an aviation biofuel industry; Etihad Airways also conducted a demonstration flight using renewable aviation biofuel.

boeing etihad

Although much debate has been raised on the disadvantages of alcohol-based biofuels, the industry continues to evolve with new technologies and products that address these concerns. As an example, Global Bioenergies is developing a renewable drop-in fuel that is 100% compatible with existing gasoline engines. As a result, automobile manufacturers such as Audi can benefit from this …

This Deal Matters: European Utility, E.ON, makes strides towards a smarter grid with investment in AutoGrid

Natalie Volpe



German utility giant, E.ON, announced on Wednesday it would lead a $12.75 million investment round in Silicon Valley based start-up, AutoGrid. AutoGrid provides smart grid analytics to the utility industry through a software-enabled energy management system. The company has already solidified strategic partnerships with Silver Spring Networks and U.S. utilities in California, Oklahoma and Texas to deploy its Demand Response Optimization and Management System (DROMS).

E.ON’s recent investment in the smart grid start-up will help the utility reposition themselves in the increasingly competitive landscape of European utilities. AutoGrid will leverage its big data analytics to manage intermittent power flows brought on by renewable energy. With more and more renewable energy entering the grid, E.ON is challenged with ensuring the stability of the grid while providing a smooth transition to cleaner fuels. Earlier this summer, E.ON invested $120 million in fuel cell manufacturer, Bloom Energy. These most recent investments, along with other strategic bets on start-ups including FirstFuel, will help E.ON thrive in a deregulated and distributed energy market, and are examples of the progressive thinking utilities have evolved in adapting to a changing energy landscape.


Corp. & VCs on Liquid Fuels Vehicles vs. Electric Vehicles

Leo Zhang

It is widely agreed upon that our existing transportation infrastructure needs an overhaul in order to reduce the current level of vehicle emissions. Nevertheless, there has been much debate on the future source of renewable energy for the transportation sector. Will all cars of the future be electric? Or will we see a series of bio-refineries being built across the globe to produce renewable fuels that can be used by existing vehicles? Depending on who you talk to, you may hear a completely different answer. Therefore, let’s examine the hard data, the Corporate and VC investments tracked by the i3 Platform in the Transportation sector:

i3 transport graph

The immediate trend we notice is the significant spike in investments in Electric Vehicles and Drop-in Fuels in 2010. Several reasons contributed to the spike, including multiple mega-round investments into infrastructure-related projects, such as the development of charging stations and the construction of large-scale bio-refineries. Nevertheless, based on this data, we have seen that the Corporate and VC community has made a comparable amount of investments into both energy types (when we combine investments in liquid fuel vehicles and drop-in fuels). Since this first wave of investments, the electric vehicles sector has definitely received relatively …

Gnest: $3.2 Billion!

Sheeraz Haji

Woa!!! Monday’s announcement of Google’s acquisition of Nest represents not only a key inflection point for cleantech, but also speaks volumes on the increasing importance of customers. The $3.2 billion deal marks a significant milestone for the home automation company; one that many believed the cleantech market couldn’t produce.

Here at Cleantech Group, we believe that the cleantech market is essential, massive, vibrant, and desired. Based on data tracked in i3 (such as investment round amounts and participating investors), insider-sourced information reported publicly about various investor returns, and standard venture-round ownership stakes, it looks like Google’s acquisition of Nest represents a 24x multiple on paid-in capital. Our i3 business is about collecting the best data possible and helping corporate teams and venture investors connect with innovation: the fact that a member of the highest level of management at Nest owns and contributes content to Nest’s i3 profile has been truly motivating to my team working day and night on the i3 platform.


So what can we learn from Nest? Our upcoming Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014 will discuss just that. Last year, Nest keynoted at the Forum (and went on to win North American Company of the Year at …