cleantech insights

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 …


To Do China Right, Enjoy the Food: 12 Gems For Growing Your Business in China

Josh Seidenfeld

Last Friday, Cleantech Group, Silicon Valley Bank, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati convened an intimate group including investors (Dow Venture Capital, Keytone Ventures, Khosla Ventures, The Westly Group), corporate innovation leaders (ABB, Applied Materials, Siemens), and startups (Efficiency Exchange, Gridium, NexSteppe, Scoot Networks) for a Power Breakfast focused on strategies for working in China. A panel of investors, bankers, attorneys, and startup CEOs with deep experience working in China led the conversation, moderated by Cleantech Group’s CEO, Sheeraz Haji (see a couple interesting slides from Sheeraz’ presentation at the end of the post.)

We promised not to attribute quotes so participants would feel more comfortable speaking their minds, but here are a dozen highlights from the experts:

  1. Enjoy the food. Personal connections drive business in China. One panelist mused, “Once you start enjoying food with people you really start to get to know one another.”
  2. Wear the mandarin hat. One seasoned investor recalled how he was advised to make clear to Chinese counterparts “what’s in it for them.” But, he added, the euphemism “wear the mandarin hat” sounds better. The need to align partnerships

Energy innovation opens doors for the world’s 1.3B “energy-poor”

Josh Seidenfeld

InterSolar is on this week in San Francisco. While it’s been a rough year for the upstream folks, and the tradeshow floor may have a New-Year’s-Day-hangover feel about it (notable exception: the focus on the burgeoning energy storage field), some bright spots emerge. As I nurse my own hangover from last night’s Solar Battle of the Bands, I’m reflecting on a terrific side-event that featured some of the world’s most exciting energy innovators.

The Bay Area Energy Access Working Group (a name only an engineer could love) yesterday convened entrepreneurs blazing pathways out of energy poverty. The group, hosted by at Google’s San Francisco offices, shared new approaches to delivering energy services to some of the 1.3 billion energy-poor people across the globe. New financial tools, new communication technologies, and new business models drive energy innovation in the developing world just as they do in the rich world. The event’s three panels addressed these drivers.

Finance innovation might be the most important current development. Many of the technologies used to deliver life-altering energy services to off-grid, rural communities have long been established. Solar lanterns come to mind. Now, though, we require the money to deploy these technologies at scale. …

Cleantech’s Start-Up Nation: Come Join Us In Israel

Greg Neichin

(Want to skip to the punchline? If you are already sold on Israel’s energy and cleantech innovation potential and want to join us on this year’s Cleantech Tour of Israel in late October/early November, click here to let us know that you are interested and we’ll be in touch with more details)

When Richard Youngman and I led the Cleantech Group’s first official executive tour of Israel back in 2011, it felt as if we were still letting people in on a well-kept secret.  While much of the business world had read Start-Up Nation and was well versed in Israel’s overall technology prowess, the country’s cleantech ecosystem was still a bit off the radar.  Yes, the bi-annual WATEC show was a must on the calendar for all water technology investors, but few were familiar with the rich depth of companies in energy efficiency, energy storage, transportation, solar, smart grid, waste, biofuels, and more.

Fast forward to 2013 and the cat is very much out of the bag.  In 2012, we named Israel the #2 country in the world in our 2012 Global Cleantech Country Innovation Index (bested only by similarly small and scrappy Denmark).  Then last month at our

Reigniting Cleantech: Top 5 Reasons for a Post Bubble Party

Greg Neichin

(if you don’t make it to the end of this article and just want to know where the party is, it’s March 18th-20th in San Francisco, you can register here)

It is quite fashionable these days, especially amongst those in and around Silicon Valley, to talk about the demise of cleantech.  This discussion has always seemed silly to me.

There are only two groups fascinated by this dialogue: (a) US investors who were burned in deals that they likely should not have touched in the first place and (b) industry pundits & consultants with too much time on their hands.  Both of these groups are frustrated and vocal, so they create substantial noise, but far less signal.

As Khosla Venture’s Andrew Chung recently said, in a thoughtful piece by Katie Fehrenbacher covering the “cleantech is dead” meme, “venture is a highly cyclical business”.  You could say that again.  Andrew continued, “we expect sustainability investments to experience a renaissance as today’s breakthrough companies successfully commercialize and have massive impact on society’s infrastructure.”

Call it sustainability investments, energy tech, resource tech, cleantech, or greentech.  Call it whatever else you want to call it, just don’t call it

A Thirsty Tourist in Thailand


I spent Thanksgiving week traveling through Thailand.  It was my first trip there, and hopefully not my last – the country is amazing!  I love the people, the culture, the food, the views….and the free bottled water?  Yes, you read that correctly – free bottled water.  In Thailand, it is standard to receive 2-3 complimentary bottles of water in your hotel room, despite assurance from the government that the tap water is safe to drink.  As most tourists do, I erred on the side of “better safe than sorry”, and took the bottled water.  Though I must admit, I was somewhat ashamed to do so.

Isn’t the tap water in Thailand subject to WHO guidelines for drinking water quality, which would ensure that I am protected from harmful contaminants?  Doesn’t the organization pride itself on “producing international norms on water quality and human health in the form of guidelines that are used as the basis for regulation and standard setting, in developing and developed countries world-wide”?  Indeed it does, but I overlooked the difference between a guideline and a requirement – an extremely important distinction.  Guidelines are mere recommendations or targets that help ensure the quality of …

Video: Company of the Week is Aqwise

Whitney Michael

Analyst Troy Ault explains why we chose Aqwise to be the company of the week:…

Something Has to ‘Give’ in European cleantech M&A

Richard Youngman

This week, one year ago, it was announced that ABB had acquired Epyon, a developer of fast-charging technology for electric vehicles.  Following on from BASF’s acquisition of Inge, Alinda’s acquisition of and  Samsung’s of Liquavista, the M&A wave of venture-backed European cleantech companies we’d all been waiting for seemed to be happening. A year on – we are still waiting. It proved a false dawn, but surely, actually, some kind of a postponed dawn.

We have spent some weeks, with Richard Cave-Bigley as our project lead, analysing the state of the market and discussing this stand-off between potential buyers and sellers with many corporate representatives (in both M&A and venturing teams), venture firms, Limited Partners, and other market agents (such as lawyers, brokers and corporate finance advisors).

Here are some of our key impressions, detailed in a fuller research report we have released to our i3 subscribers today:

Something has to give soon (the title of the report). Many cleantech venture funds, with 2005-2007 vintages are in their divestment periods, with many more following on close behind. Such fund managers are trying to strike a delicate balance. On the one hand, they wish to time exits …

The Quarter That Was: Outsourced Reflection

Greg Neichin

Given the pace at which the business world moves these days, there is often not enough time for thoughtful reflection.  It can be all too easy to get lost in last week’s meetings and next week’s deadlines and to completely miss the forest for the trees.  With the amount of information that we all try to consume on a daily basis, it is easy to mistake a headline for a trend, hyperbole for fact.

Luckily, that’s where we come in.  Consider us your “Outsourced Reflection”.  Every quarter, for the past 7 years, we have published a comprehensive quarterly manifesto – Cleantech Group’s Quarterly Investment Monitor.  Frankly, I think that this exercise is more important than ever.  As we wrote in opening this edition:

2012 has started on a similar note [to the end of 2011] with a rising number of cleantech companies funded despite a continuing public and media fascination with the sector’s high profile failures. In responding to erroneous press accounts of his own death, noted American author Mark Twain once wrote, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The same could be said of cleantech.

If all you read in the last three months was news of …

A Smarter City is Not Enough: Better Brains, Better Hearts

Greg Neichin

Most of us are well aware of the problem.  The world’s population is moving faster than ever into urban areas – 75% of the world’s people will be crammed into cities by 2050.  Many cities are already bursting at the seams and in the decades ahead we will face increasing resource shortages as we struggle to keep up with the basic power, water, waste, and transportation demands of these emerging mega-cities.   These are challenges on a truly epic scale.

Not to worry you say, there’s an app for that!

As they have in industry after industry, information technologists are rushing to the rescue heralding the age of the smart city. There are glowing editorials devoted to the promise of “Big Data” and how, with enough computing power (fueled by renewable energy of course!) we’ll be able to analytically crunch our way out of these problems.

New York City has received praise from the digerati for the city’s BigApps contest where public data is being made available for curious and motivated web developers.  Last week, the good people at the TED Prize announced that this year’s $100K award will be split up amongst the 10 best, individual ideas for empowering …