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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.…

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Playbook for Successful Corporate Partnerships

Amanda Faulkner

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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.

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  • 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.

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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 …

Big Bets on Energy Storage so far in Q1

TroyAult

Just over a month into the first quarter, it’s becoming clear venture investors are renewing their bets on energy storage in 2014.

Within the first week of January, we’d learned of Aquion Energy‘s second, $20 million closing of its $55 million Series D round and of Amprius‘ $30 million Series C round.

Aquion Energy

Aquion Energy’s Series D, opened in April 2013, saw new investors including Bill Gates, Yung’s Enterprise, Tao Invest, Bright Capital, and Gentry Venture Partners join previous investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Foundation Capital, and Advanced Technology Ventures to help the company pursue commercial deployment of its sodium-ion battery technology in 2014. The company’s technology is reportedly already addressing an off-grid application in conjunction with a solar array for lighting and air conditioning, with a planned grid-tied deployment for demand-side energy management for a commercial customer.

AmpriusAmprius’ high-energy and high-capacity lithium-ion batteries, based on the use of silicon nanowire anodes, will initially target consumer electronics applications and could be scaled for use in electric vehicles. SAIF Partners led the company’s Series C round and was joined by all the company’s previous investors, which include Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, …

Harvesting Innovation: The Changing Face of African Agriculture

Brett Richardson

Africa is in the midst of an agricultural revolution, with innovation driving new avenues for increased crop yields, better resource and capital operating efficiencies, and general farm management knowledge. Africa is home to almost 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land, or about 60% of  the world’s total. This contrasts the fact that 1/3rd of sub-Saharan Africans are undernourished, with population expected to grow to 1.2 billion people by 2050. The cleantech world is driving the changing scope of African agriculture with an influx of new companies offering innovative solutions which will alleviate stresses to the current system and support farmers.

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Both local and international startups are addressing some of the most basic challenges of agricultural production in Africa. 20%, or 4 billion dollars of grain harvest, is lost every year and 35-50% of fruit and vegetables spoil from crop and storage pests. UK based companies Plant Health Care and Exosect are targeting this inefficiency with pilot projects in Africa using their proprietary crop protection technologies. Plant Health Care provides natural pesticides which leaves no residual impact on the environment and helps to activate certain defensive and growth responses. Exosect also makes bio-control pesticides that can be applied to …

Consolidating Trends in Downstream Solar

Marie Watanabe

Last week, Vivint Solar, a Utah-based developer of residential solar PV systems, acquired Solmetric, a CA-based manufacturer of PV installation tools and software products, for $12 million. The merger will enable Vivint Solar to offer Solmetric’s flagship products such as SunEye, PV Designer, and PV Analyzer to its customers. The newly added services would help facilitate the pre-installation site assessment and the CAD process, allowing Vivint Solar to provide more comprehensive solutions to savvy solar customers. One of the top competitors, SolarCity, also made a significant move earlier this year when it acquired Common Assets, a CA-based developer of crowd-funding systems. The company offers a web-based investment platform that allows individuals and organizations to invest in solar projects and is expected to attract more individuals and smaller organizations interested in financing solar assets.

 

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In another example to increase market share in solar, Proinso, a Spanish supplier of solar panels and system components, has partnered with OXIS Energy, a UK-based developer of Lithium-ion batteries, to create a new solar energy storage system. The company expects to focus on the grid-connected storage market and plans to roll out the new product this year. These mergers …

No Scarcity of Companies Tackling the Water Shortage

Amanda Faulkner

California Governor Jerry Brown recently declared a drought emergency in California and asked residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce water consumption by 20 percent. While residential water usage is an extremely important part of the equation, agriculture is the largest user of water, using around 80 percent of the water from ground and surface sources. Given this challenge, what companies are helping farmers reduce their water use, both in California and around the world? Here are a few taking on this task:

  • AquaSpy is a California-based developer of agricultural technology to improve crop yield through monitoring soil moisture and improving root health. Through sensors and data, the company is allowing farmers to only water plants when they need it.
  • Driptech is a California and India-based developer of micro-irrigation sytstems for small plot farmers in developing countries. Although the company does not target farms in California, it does provide low-cost irrigation systems to farmers in other drought-prone areas around the world.
  • mOasis is a California-based developer of soil amendment product designed to increase crop yields and reduce the need for fertilizer and water. The company’s hydrogel forms a tight bond with water and nutrients, allowing them to be used by plants

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

Natalie Volpe

 

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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.

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Local Motion: Exploring Decentralization at Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014

M Paschich

On March 11-13, Cleantech Group is hosting the largest and longest running Cleantech forum in the world, Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014. This annual gathering of the global cleantech innovation community offers a comprehensive development program along with exclusive opportunities to network and make deals happen. In the lead up to the Forum, we’re chatting with leaders across the resource innovation space to discuss the changes decentralization is causing across different markets, end-users, enterprises, technologies, and business models.

 

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John Stanfield, CEO, Local Motion

 

Can you describe the problems Local Motion solves for its clients?

Local Motion was founded to help vehicle fleets get rid of the keys. Our clients have a huge problem with the most basic of questions: where is the key?

We solve that problem by installing a piece of hardware into the vehicle that allows the user to access the vehicle with something they already have in their pocket. You don’t need to know where the keys are, nor do you need to keep and manage keys anymore, when access to mobility is granted by the thing you bring with you to work every day… your ID badge.

From the managers side, we give …

Searching for Borders in the Cleanweb

Marie Watanabe

It seems that everyone is talking about Cleanweb these days. Nest, which manufactures thermostats and smoke detectors but is at its core a bet on Cleanweb “Internet-of-Things” connectivity, was acquired by Google for $3.2B this month, and investors are likely all the more keen on Cleanweb models that could catch the eye of large tech giants. In 2013 alone, hundreds of Cleanweb companies including Uber and LiquidSpace raised millions of dollars.

Amidst all the excitement surrounding Cleanweb, one question remains – What exactly defines Cleanweb?

Cleantech Group recently had an internal discussion on how we define “Cleanweb”. In the report, Sparking the Cleanweb, led by Cleantech Group and Pure Energy Partners, the term Cleanweb is loosely defined as “web or IT-based solutions that optimize resource use and accelerate the clean economy”. The paper identifies four main Cleanweb segments: Catalyzing Cleantech, Resource Cloud, Big Data, and New Frontiers.

Catalyzing Cleantech includes companies like Mosaic and Clean Power Finance which create and facilitate distribution channels for clean technologies and solutions. Resource Cloud includes companies such as Sidecar that offer a shared pool of resources to the user. Many Energy Efficiency companies including Opower and Honest Buildings are leading Big …