cleantech insights

Storage: Week in Review

Alon Gavrielov

The last couple of weeks were full  of energy storage activity: Leyden Energy and Aquion Energy both raised new rounds from VC’s, A123 Systems announced that it will provide a storage system for a wind installation in China, and Zinc Air reached an agreement to supply an advanced energy storage system to Juhl Wind.  For more news and information, please read below:

M&A/ Partnerships/Investments:

Lithium-ion battery start-up Leyden Energy raised $20 million in venture capital funding to help expand their production capabilities.

Zinc Air reaches agreement with Juhl Wind for the installation of a 1MW advanced Zinc Redox flow battery storage system developed by Zinc Air.

Canon Investment Holdings closes investment (initiated in September 2010) in advanced battery company Altair Nanotechnologies.

Contour Energy Systems Announces Distribution Agreement With INEC for Spain and Portugal

Aquion Energy, a developer of sodium-ion batteries, has raised $20m from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Foundation Capital.


On power and influence in Cleantech

Josh Gould

File this under simple, but underappreciated: power and influence are not synonyms.  They describe seperate, though sometimes closely related, phenomena.  Distinguishing between each requires self-awareness.  Successful people like Bing Gordon of Electronic Arts fame, who recently discussed the issue here, tend to be keenly aware of how much of each characteristic they have, and how best to conserve or deploy it.  Being successful in cleantech is no exception.

Let’s define the terms first.  Power is the ability to command someone to do something.  At its best power can enable or provide the legitimacy for people to achieve great things.  At its worst, power can be destructive and coercive (think of dictators or autocrats or, better yet,  Office Space).   In a corporate setting, a classic appeal to power is when a manager “pulls rank” or mandates that an employee do something simply because “I am the boss.”  Of course pulling rank is also a sign that the employee has little respect for, or is not influenced by, the manager.

Influence, on the other hand, is the ability to affect others, regardless of whether that ability is derived from formal authority or not.  Not surprisingly, the most influential often lack …

Data & Cleantech: Fewer Adjectives, More Verbs

Josh Gould

As the many attendees of our recent Cleantech Forum know, the buzz around cleantech for quite some time has been about the convergence of cleantech and data.  All kinds of people – myself included – have described (using adjectives) all the ways in which this will be the next major cleantech wave.  But I wanted to use this post to drop some of the adjectives, and focus on the verbs (the doing).

At our forum, I hosted three panel discussions – each of which touched on specific actions in integrating data into cleantech:

1. Intelligent Buildings

“Version 1.0″ of the intelligent building was about swapping out old, inefficient light fixtures and HVAC systems for newer, more efficient ones.  Certainly 1.0 still has a long ways to go but lighting controls and software companies like Lumenergi, efficiency consulting and implementation firms like Ecos, and traditional HVAC companies like Trane are all increasingly shifting their focus to managing and optimizing data around energy building use, rather than just providing more efficient devices.  

2. Financing Energy Efficiency

Traditional energy efficiency financing is based on the ESCO model.  While certainly a profitable business for companies like Johnson Controls, this model has …

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 …

What do Big Oil and EV batteries have in common?

Guest Analyst: Neal Dikeman

For those of you interested in the sector under the sector in electric vehicles–the guts of lithium-ion battery technology–the week just got more interesting than an overpriced, over hyped Tesla IPO.

Check out a very quiet un-announcement in A123′s SEC filings noting a multi-year supply deal with ConocoPhillips’ Cpreme, the emerging leader in anode materials for Li-On batteries.  The technology is a processing technology to make high performance graphite based powders out of plain old petroleum coke materials, that has the potential to be very low cost at scale.  A123 has announced supply deals in the past with Navistar, Fisker, Eaton, Think, the Chevrolet Volt and a number of others.

For those interested in the guts of the Cpreme technology, a good summary is here.  And a quick search of the patents includes: 7,618,678, 7,597,999, 7,323,120.

It wasn’t too long ago when the only other contender for Tier 1 battery supplier in the US, Johnson Controls-Saft, was announcing their Cleantech Innovation Award win and DOE award with a Cpreme logo quietly slipped into the presentation, though likewise no announcements were ever made.  Johnson-Controls-Saft had announced lithium ion supply wins with Ford, Mercedes, and BMW.  Maybe …

2010 Global Cleantech 100: in search of elusive exits and the brightest newborns

Richard Youngman

A year is a long time in politics, the old adage goes. The same might be said of cleantech too.

It is over a half year, since in our “ten predictions for 2010”, we anticipated a rise in investor exits in 2010. Our assertion in November 2009 was that growth and venture capital investment activity would be buoyed by attractive valuations and the return of the exit. We wrote, “exits in the form of IPOs (A123Systems went public in September, and there are over two dozen IPOs now in the queue) and a growing number of trade sales to corporate buyers will encourage investors in private companies to believe they can generate returns.”

It is nearly a year since, in partnership with the Guardian, we published the first Global Cleantech 100, a list of the 100 private cleantech companies most likely to make the most significant market impact over the next 5 to10 years – according to the world’s cleantech community.

If ever there was a list of cleantech companies where one would have expected exit action over the last months, it would have been this. However, the relative small amount of exit turnover on the list is well-aligned …