Where do we tackle the dirty-burning coal dilemma — in the power plant or in the ground? (Or how about neither and we just go with clean energy?) Luca Technologies is betting on the ground, and the Golden, Colo.-based startup that works with naturally-occurring microbes in coal beds to stimulate an increased production of methane has raised $20 million in a second round of funding. Mark Finkelstein, vice president of biosciences at Luca, confirmed the fundraising with us, which was first reported by PeHub and VentureWire.
Investors in the Series B round were Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers; Oxford BioScience Partners; and BASF Venture Capital. Finkelstein says the company, which was founded in 2001 by entrepreneurs in the oil industry, will use the funding in part to grow its staff beyond its current 35 employees. Luca raised a Series A round of $3 million last year and has been conducting a field trial in the Powder River Basin.
While clean-coal technologies are controversial, Finkelstein points out that stimulating more methane in coal beds can increase the life of the reserve by possibly decades and is more environmentally friendly than the gasification of coal in the power plant. Companies like GreatPoint Energy (which just raised over $100 million), meanwhile, are focusing on gasification in the plant. “The U.S. energy problem needs a multifold approach. Renewable energy is fine, but I don’t think it is the answer to all our problems,” Finkelstein told us.
Other startups are working on similar plans. Earlier this week, we chatted with the Dr. Ari Patrinos, president of Craig Venter’s bioenergy startup Synthetic Genomics, who said their company is working on tweaking the microbes in coal beds to stimulate more methane production as well. Synthetic Genomics is also working on developing synthetic microbes that could theoretically do that work much more efficiently.