Updated. Google Ventures has made its first biofuels investment. On Thursday afternoon, the venture arm of the search giant announced it has invested in a startup called CoolPlanetBioFuels, which makes what the company calls “negative carbon fuels.” CoolPlanetBiofuels has also raised funding from another group of well-known strategic investors recently: Energy Technology Ventures, which is made up of GE, NRG Energy and ConocoPhillips.
Out of all Google Venture’s investments, biofuels seem like the farthest from the company’s core business. Yes, you could probably run backup power diesel generators for data centers with CoolPlanetBioFuel’s biofuel, but the technology isn’t as applicable to the Internet and computing as, say, Transphorm’s energy-efficient power electronics, a startup Google Ventures recently backed. But Google Ventures has maintained it’s looking for financial returns like other venture investors, and not only participating in strategic backing.
Google’s biofuel investment is its latest bet in the auto space; Google Ventures has also invested in neighbor-to-neighbor car sharing startup RelayRides, and Next Autoworks (a struggling company looking to make energy-efficient cars, previously called V Vehicle). RelayRides CEO Shelby Clark will be speaking at our Green:Net event on April 21 in San Francisco.
CoolPlanetBioFuels now has four of the most famous strategic backers in cleantech. It has developed a technology which aims to take non-food biomass (plant waste, energy crops, etc.) and turn it into a drop-in replacement for gas and diesel. The company calls its tech a “biomass fractionator.”
It sounds similar to what KiOR is doing, using a catalyst to carbonize biomass (called its Biomass Catalytic Cracking Process), which was originally developed to help the oil industry break down heavy crude oil into more easily refined products for the oil industry.
Update: Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures, emailed us more on how biofuels could be used strategically for Google.
As a company, Google Inc [sic] is interested in reducing all aspects of its environmental footprint. As a firm, Google Ventures is interested in contributing to this effort both on Google’s behalf and for the benefit of positive global impact. While petroleum does not constitute a large percentage of Google’s emission profile, we are enthusiastic about supporting technologies that can help us economically reduce our carbon footprint while simultaneously contributing to our domestic energy security. Google Ventures considers a host of factors before making an investment, in the case of CoolPlanet Biofuels [sic], we are enthusiastic to leverage our efforts in the energy space as well as resources at Google, Inc. to help the company scale and ultimately have an impactful difference on the world.