10 Cleantech Deals from Quiet Quercus

While Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures are flashy names in cleantech investing, there are plenty of low-key players making adroit moves in the cleantech sector. Few have amassed as large, or as diverse, a portfolio as David Gelbaum’s Quercus Trust.

Unlike any of the sound-bite-friendly cleantech investors you’ll find at many of the green conferences, Gelbaum is a quiet altruist who, following years as a hedge funder at Princeton/Newport Partners, has become a leading investor in cleantech with bets all across the sector. In December 2007, New Energy Finance reported that Gelbuam had a 20-company portfolio of clean energy stocks worth more than $400 million, most of which are small- and micro-cap clean energy stocks but increasingly Gelbaum is making venture funding deals.

Quercus has done at least 10 cleantech deals so far this year (Update: This list actually contains 9 investments from Quercus Trust. One is from a separate firm called Quercus Investment). Here’s a quick rundown on the stealthy Quercus Trust’s 2008 investments. (The funds mentioned below are the rounds that the companies raised, which in some cases included additional investors):

Sencera $3.6 Million – Thin-Film Solar:: The Charlotte, N.C.-based startup, founded in 2003, plans to use the funding to build a 1-megawatt PV manufacturing platform called “Viper,” which the company says can produce solar at less than $1 a watt. While Sencera has worked with CIGS technology in the past, it’s currently moving forward with thin-film amorphous silicon and microcrystalline silicon solar cells.

Hydro Green Energy – $2.6 Million – Hydrokinetic Power: The Houston-based startup wants to tap tidal and river power with barge-mounted turbines. Hydro Green holds permits for more than a dozen potential tidal power sites and will use the money to deploy its first commercially operational project on Minnesota’s Mississippi River in what it hopes will be late August.

Axion – $8 million – Energy Storage/Batteries: Axion, which makes carbon electrode assemblies for the lead-acid battery industry and lead-carbon batteries for energy storage, has an agreement with Quercus for a staged $18 million equity investment, of which $8 million has already been received.

Standard Renewable Energy – $15 million – Green Building: We covered this Houston-based startup’s funding a couple of weeks ago, noting that it added a new board member from fellow Quercus company GridPoint, indicating that perhaps Gelbuam is actively leveraging the management of his various investments to help his diverse portfolio.

Odyne – $7 million – Plug-In Hybrids:
This Hauppauge, N.Y.-based startup designs plug-in hybrid propulsion systems for trucks and buses. The idea is that a hybrid system could boost the fuel efficiency of large (20,000+ lbs.) vehicles in urban areas that vehicles that are constantly starting and stopping. This $7 million was made as a private placement.

GridPoint – $15 million – Smart Grids: This most recent round brings this Arlington, Va,-based startup’s funding to over $100 million. GridPoint is well-positioned amid a number of other smart grid startups that don’t have nearly as much capital.

WorldWater & Solar Technology – $35.64 million – Solar: This funding boosted Quercus’ ownership in the company to 24.1 percent from 19.7 percent in December. WorldWater says it will use the new infusion of capital to complete construction on its 50-megawatt production plant in Texas, as well as for R&D. This placement also earned Gelbaum a seat on WorldWater’s board.

Suniva – $50 million – Solar: Update: This investment was made by Quercus Investment, a firm that has no relation to or relationship with David Gelbaum’s Quercus Trust. The solar startup’s funding came in February. Founded in 2006, the company says it can produce thin solar cells with an efficiency level of more than 20 percent. Suniva is using the money to build a manufacturing plant near its Atlanta headquarters that is scheduled to start production in October. Update: This is not “thin-film solar” but the company is making thin “crystalline silicon solar cells.”

Colorep – $23.9 million – Sustainable Textiles: This environmentally friendly printing and dyeing startup is using some of the funds to finish paying off its acquisition of TransprintUSA. Colorep licenses its technologies for the the print and manufacture of fabrics, plastics, and coated metals using low-energy and low-water techniques. This placement make Quercus Colorep’s largest stakeholder.

BlueFire Ethanol – $15.5 million – Cellulosic Ethanal: Yet another startup in the cellulosic ethanol race, BlueFire, based in Irvine, Calif., wants to build refineries right alongside landfills and use organic waste as biofuel feedstock. It also has money from the DOE to build 17 million-gallon-per-year plant near a landfill in Southern California.