cleantech insights

As Goes LanzaTech, so Goes Cleantech

Greg Neichin

If you are in the cleantech sector and had not previously heard about Lanzatech, you likely have now.  The company raised a big, $55.8M round last week that has been widely applauded and covered.  Students of the company had seen this coming for awhile.  Lanzatech was the highest ranking company in the Asia Pacific region in our Cleantech 100 survey earning it “APAC Company of the Year” at our gala banquet last year.  It was featured as part of GTM’s Trendspotting post on the Top 12 Greentech Startups to Watch in 2012.   We’ve made Lanzatech our featured “Company of the Week” in i3 this week, but it may just turn out to be cleantech’s company of the year (and its only January!).  Here are the top reasons that I think Lanzatech exemplifies a number of key themes happening in cleantech:

1.) Cross-Border Financings – I have previously written about Chinese and Korean investors taking large stakes in Western cleantech companies.  Now we can add the Malaysians to that list.  The round was led by the Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund and included participation from Malaysian state oil company, Petronas.  With the US venture community still experiencing …


Cleanweb NYC Hackathon: Top 3 Unsung Winners

Greg Neichin

On the same weekend that the Giants broke the 49ers hearts, Sunil Paul playfully added some insult to injury in the bicoastal rivalry by declaring, “New York has stepped up with an event [cleanweb hackathon] that is, dare I say, bigger than San Francisco.”  And while, as a true bicoastal executive, I have no interest in stoking the cliché Silicon Valley v. Silicon Alley fire, we can safely say that New York represented this past weekend.

The New York cleanweb hackathon organizers, which included Sunil, Blake Burris of Dynamo Labs, Micah Kotch from NYC ACRE, Nicholas Eisenberger of Pure Energy Partners, Matt Solt of Civvic, and a number of others, put on a great show and took a big step forward in evangelizing the cleanweb movement.  Judging by the turnout, the “cleanweb”, the increasingly popular term for applying IT solutions to global resource constraint problems, is a hit amongst the East Coast digerati (even meriting an appearance by NYC’s trendminting venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who had previously cast off cleantech as an entirely separate form of VC).

There were a number of awards presented at the end of the event to standout teams (check …

Top 5 Cleantech Predictions For 2012: The Expanded International Version

Greg Neichin

It’s that time of the year when pundits and prognosticators begin to opine about what will happen in 2012.   Frankly, I don’t like this game.  In mid-2001, I worked for a technology “futurist” firm and wrote a piece predicting that CD-R/W music players would continue to dominate in the year ahead.  That was a couple months before the ipod came on the market and made me look like a fool.  Not that I mind looking like a fool, but I think I’ve shied away from these declarations ever since.

However, I was inspired this week by Rob Day (@cleantechvc) to throw my hat back into the ring.  Why? Because Rob actually went back and wrote a post critiquing the predictions he made from the previous year.  I found this remarkable precisely because most analysts write these odes with zero accountability.  As an investor, Rob actually has to bet on his predictions, so I enjoyed his self-critique.  I promise to do the same – someone hold me to it!

So without further adieu, here are my top 5, slightly irreverent, predictions for cleantech internationally in the year ahead. Why international? Because I’ve spent most of the last 6 …

Ford’s ‘Power of Choice’ Tour Stops in San Francisco – Is Detroit Leading Again?


I sold my car when I moved to San Francisco. I have my Zipcar membership, and as a sustainability nut am quite content riding public transportation in the city. But I know that, eventually, my dream job as a soccer dad will require that I once again own my own wheels.

Though Ford was not among the American auto makers to receive a bailout from the federal government during the height of the financial crisis, the company did find itself saddled with some of the negative stigma assigned en masse to American auto companies who have for some time been seen as latecomers to the cleantech table. For many American drivers in my generation, ‘buying American’ has seemed more of a patriotic decision – not one based on quality. I assumed I’d end up buying a Prius. After attending the San Francisco stop of Ford’s ‘Power of Choice’ tour yesterday, however, the company may have found its way back onto my short list.

Hosted by Dan Kapp, Director of Powertrain Research & Advanced Engineering at Ford, the session was attended by Ford dealerships, representatives of the City of San Francisco, and interested members of the media.

Ford certainly seems to …

A report from SDTC Cleantech Focus (or how Canada is going to take over the world)

Whitney Michael

If cleantech world domination was based on sheer passion and enthusiasm, I have no doubt Canada would be #1.  At last night’s kick-off reception for the SDTC Cleantech Focus in Toronto, I was reminded of the bar in Cheers – a place where everybody knows your name.  We at Cleantech Group specialize in helping cleantech stakeholders make new connections, but here the attendees are already old friends greeting each other with hugs and smiles.  It really underscored for me the collaborative spirit in which Canadians approach both their nation’s resource and climate change issues and the task of making Canada a cleantech superpower on the world stage.

In terms of cleantech VC investments since 2005, Canada is in a very respectable fourth place behind the US, China and the UK.  2011 is trending to the be the all-time high for cleantech venture investments in Canada with $381 million year-to-date.  That should overtake by year-end the previous all-time high of $385 million from 2007.  Ontario, where we are hosting this conference, is the most active province in cleantech VC investments with 48% of total dollars since 2005. (All data sourced from Cleantech Group’s i3 Platform.)

Co-produced by Cleantech Group and Sustainable

Guest Analysis: Obama Cleantech Stimulus: Bad Policy, Bad Politics and Bad for Cleantech

Guest Analyst: David Gold

The Solyndra debacle is no surprise to this cleantech venture capitalist. The inherent conflict between trying to get money out of the U.S. Treasury as quickly as possible to stimulate the economy and, at the same time, have government agencies that are ill-suited at making business decisions do just that was nothing other than a recipe for disaster.

Anytime a government program is giving money to the private sector with the intent of getting the money back, the program is doomed to failure.  Bureaucracies, politics and the lack of a profit motive simply don’t allow government to succeed in business.   Anyone who was surprised that politics played a role in the loan decision for Solyndra (and almost certainly other awardees) is very naïve.

Even if, by some miracle, the government could make good business decisions void of political influence, such programs are still doomed to failure because the public and media won’t allow for even one loan or investment to fail. In venture capital we make investments that don’t succeed and we fail often.  Yet, we are still successful on the whole.  Our successes more than compensate for our failures.  The government has no ability to operate this way.  Even if a program like the DOE …

Seven ways the US military is embracing cleantech

Whitney Michael

Great piece today from Earth2Tech on seven ways the US military is “investing and proselytizing the value of clean power, biofuels and energy efficiency products and services for job creation, energy security and (insert your favorite cliché here).”

It makes sense.  According to this post, the Defense Department accounts for 80% of the energy used by the federal government.  As huge employers, users of fuel and energy, and stakeholders in cutting-edge technologies, the armed forces have a lot to gain (and save) by conserving energy and reducing fuel consumption.

We’ve just confirmed Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Navy, Energy, to headline a panel on the Government’s Role in Cleantech at the Global Cleantech 100 Summit in October.

He’ll speak to the Navy’s biofuel, energy storage and renewable energy initiatives.  Tom will be joined on the panel by Keith Curtis, Senior Energy Advisor from the US Department of Commerce.

We’re going to announce the 2011 Global Cleantech 100 list at this event and bring together cleantech’s thought leaders to discuss the companies and market forces that will drive the global clean economy forward.  Seats are still available and early registration discounts are in place through September 16.  …

Continuing the East Coast – West Coast battle: Boston’s Cleantech Cluster takes on Silicon Valley

Amanda Faulkner

When it comes to cleantech startups, it can feel like Silicon Valley is the center of universe. The area boasts successful startups like Solyndra, Coda Automotive and Bloom Energy as well as established giants like Google and Cisco. Indeed, in 2010, 59% of cleantech VC investments in North America went to California-based companies.

Yet Massachusetts is also emerging as a cleantech center, attracting 8% of North American cleantech VC dollars in 2010, the second largest amount after California. As a proud Bostonian myself, I’m thrilled to see companies like A123, Boston-Power and Zipcar coming out of the area.

Today’s re-emergence of Boston as a cleantech cluster comes after its dramatic decline in high-tech thirty years ago. In “Regional Advantage”, AnnaLee Saxenian analyzed the growth and dominance of Silicon Valley over the Boston tech hub in the 1990’s. Both areas had large research universities (MIT and Stanford), generous government support for tech research and plenty of VC. But Silicon Valley’s open, collaborative culture and acceptance of failure dominated over Boston’s vertically integrated and secretive business culture.

So what has changed in the business culture of Boston since the 1990s? Boston still has the constant stream …

Beacon Power’s Flywheels Boost NY Grid


The end of June saw Beacon Power’s flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, NY reach its full operational capacity of 20 MW, and the company held an inauguration ceremony at the site just last week.  The Stephentown plant is the largest operating advanced energy storage facility in North America (traditional storage such as PSH and CAES are not included in the advanced category) and the first large-scale, grid-connected flywheel energy storage operation in the world.

Beacon’s flywheels consist of a substantial carbon-fiber composite rim, supported by a metal hub and shaft attached to an electric motor/generator.  This rotor assembly is stacked vertically with the massive rim at the top and levitated magnetically within a vacuum chamber to minimize friction.

When charging, the flywheel acts as a load, drawing electricity from the grid to rotate the rim at speeds reaching 16,000 rpm.  This spinning mass holds rotational energy that can then be harvested at a moment’s notice using the same electric motor/generator unit to feed power back onto the grid.

Such quick-responding, high capacity storage assets are useful for grid operators in providing frequency regulation services; following a variable load and balancing it more closely and efficiently with generating capacity than …

The Lonely Turbine of Seward, AK


A recent vacation took me to Seward, Alaska, a fishing and tourist town on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. Pulling into this windy coastal town in a rental car, I was distracted by a lonely 121 ft tall, 100 kW wind turbine standing idle in a lot in the city’s commercial park; an area otherwise dominated by garages housing dilapidated boats and men wielding belt sanders.

I wasn’t in the driver’s seat, so we survived the sighting. But I was driven to find answers. Why just one? And why is it not spinning?

After tracking down answers the old fashioned way (on foot and by asking locals instead of Google), I was able to glean that the turbine was a collaboration between AVTEC, an Alaksan vocational college, and Northern Power Systems (link to I3 Platform content requires subscription), a wind turbine manufacturer and solutions company that happens to be based in my home state of Vermont. AVTEC is launching a new program of study for up and coming wind power technicians and erected the turbine in late 2010 both to supply power for three out of four of its Seward-based buildings and to provide an onsite case study …