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Cleantech Bucks the Downturn: Thank Algae, Solar Thermal

The most recent quarterly cleantech investing numbers are out from the Cleantech Group, and they contain some upbeat news: Investing in saving the Earth doesn’t stop when the economy drops — at least it hasn’t so far. According to the Cleantech Group, the second quarter of this year was a “record” quarter for cleantech venture investing, with $2 billion going to 96 companies. That’s a nearly 60 percent increase from the same period a year ago and higher than the last record quarter — $1.8 billion from the third quarter of 2007.

The numbers are also notable in that overall venture investing has started to slow down, at least in the first quarter of this year. Yes, the first quarter tends to be cyclical, but venture investing overall in that quarter dropped 8.5 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2007, and was also down from the same quarter a year earlier. And not a single venture-backed company went public in the second quarter of this year, according to the National Venture Capital Association. Though whether that was partly cleantech’s fault is the subject of much debate.

So what drove growth in the second quarter? Solar thermal technology and second-generation biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and algae-based biodiesel.

Solar thermal companies, like these 11 that are building big power plants in the desert, brought in $278 million in venture capital in the second quarter. That brings their year-to-date total to $543 million.

Algae-to-fuel companies (there’s also a lot of those, see these 15) raised $84 million for the quarter, including a $50 million round for Sapphire Energy, which the report says is “the single largest round ever raised by an algae company.” Cellulosic ethanol companies like Range Fuels, EdeniQ, Mascoma, and Gevo raised $136 million for the quarter (see these 11 companies building next-gen cellulosic ethanol plants).

The report also has our favorite list, which lays out the top VC cleantech investors and where their money is going:

  1. Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers: 5 investments, Segway, Lehigh Technologies, Amyris Biotechnologies, Verdiem, Jiangxi Tianren Ecological Industry Co.
  2. Foundation Capital: 4 investments, Control4, Silver Spring Networks, eMeter, SunRun
  3. Quercus Trust: 4 investments, Firefly, Standard Renewable Energy, Sencera, Hydro Green Energy
  4. Khosla Ventures: 4 investments, Amyris, Gevo, Firefly Energy, Range Fuels
  5. Draper Fisher Jurvetson: 3 investments, Brightsource Energy, EdeniQ, GreenFuel Technologies

5 Responses to “Cleantech Bucks the Downturn: Thank Algae, Solar Thermal”

  1. Re. the production of algal fuel and poverty relieving:

    Can one remain as ignorant!

    Africa is classed as 3rd world. This goes for South Africa as well……….. it’s your choice but I live here for 59 years.

    I have seen good and ugly. I Drive 600 km through Zimbabwe from the SA border to Mozambique, 150km into Mozambique and back every month.

    So concerning the witnessing of poverty, especially in Zimbabwe I reckon I have a good idea what is up and except for Botswana and in SA, the whole Southern African region’s poverty level is not good. Actually appalling!

    Increasing basic food prices is not beneficial to the situation as well.

    There are very little dwellings in sub Saharan Africa without chickens; this is a basic protein source. Also goats are inexpensive and very popular. Then hogs and cattle to a lesser degree. All produce manure. African peasant farmers do not apply this to any crop fields ……….. It can be used as organic fertilizer for algal fuel. Water for this is not in short supply it’s that the water is far off from some but those close to water, and that is hundreds of thousands of households can do algae cultivation on small scale and substitute incomes. These people mostly double crop, maize/corn and sorghum and as far as incomes are concerned run on dry for the next six months if they can not gather some wild fruits during the rainy months and this does not occur everywhere or cultivate greens next to rivers. Again if they do not retain enough corn for the harder months staple food has to be bought.

    Malawi has recently subsidized fertilizer for peasant farmers to the amount of 50% of what staple food imports amounted to and is just about independent from maize imports. This principle can apply for algae as well.

    The fuel bills of countries in this region are just about insurmountable. Should every feasible household culture a targetable amount of dry algae per annum it is going to have a massive impact on national fuel bills, provide additional income and much animal feed.
    In Mozambique 93 unleaded gasoline is US$ 6,30 and transportation diesel US$ 5,98 per US gallon and rising. In South Africa it is not much different.

    Communal open pond systems could be implemented and run by a number of households and under the supervision of the local area/tribal chiefs and deputy chiefs which would increase the production 10 or 20 fold compared to individual attempts.

    The temperatures in many of these regions are perfect for such like operations and large scale operations will profit satisfactorily. The temperatures must be good if locals can produce winter vegetables!

    This region can supply themselves to abundance with fuel.

    For export purposes, there are good deep water ports with adjacent land that abounds for algae farms. Here very large commercial refineries can be operated with abounding success.

    If the USA with it’s totally unforgiving winter climate can be self sufficient on 39 000 square km of production land, it is unthinkable that there must still be a dependency on fossil fuels in any case, moreover, forcefully being compelled to support communist regimes that coin it from the coffers of peace makers and -keepers.

    Algae produces flourishingly, can double in twenty four hours and cultured properly, produce twenty to fifty thousand US gallons per hectare per year.

    African oil palm requires twelve years to mature and if you are lucky you’ll get 4500 Litres per hectare.

    Jatropha matures in seven years, has a fat fuss about it and gives embarrassing yields compared to algae.

    In order to discourage wild fires, which annually in any case destroy half of the rural land in Mozambique; natural field grass can be harvested and bought from locals at a central station/s, crude oil processed from biomass as well, at a mini plant on site and bulk oil taken to a central refining point. (Google Earth Mozambique August to October annually for wild fire verification)

    Let’s take a lesson from Sweden and other’s books with their giant steps towards bio self-sufficiency now.
    In future many other get to algae as well!

    Oil from any thing edible is not going to last. Its bubble is already inflated to the maximum. No agricultural subsidies are in place in South Africa. Methanol from corn is not profitable here or anywhere else without heavy subsidies! It would never have been as well!

    Apply the methanol-from-corn subsidies to green diesel or for that matter any fuel from algae including aviation kerosene and send the Arabs marching within a very short space of time.
    Also is there a huge campaign in agricultural lobbies against algal fuel. The reason for this is that these individuals realize what enormous potential exists in algae………

    No fuel from edibles is allowed in Africa!

    That’s the way all should be!

    At least one matter sub-Saharan African Governments got right!

    One must have your head read in any case if you could produce 20 or 80 times more algal oil on a given area and you still continue producing 50 or 150 US gallons per Acre/Ha whatever from grain!

    If its not practical one should not invest any energy to even contemplate upon any matter but algae is the saviour of our planet, our economies, will force fair fossil prices upon the present coiners, empower the extremely poor, avert major global conflicts, get the Russians, Venezuela and other off their heels and back onto their backsides, bring some sort of peace back to earth and save the planet.

    It is the greatest thing that could have happened to the righteous, any present fossil oil fat cat that is worth any salt must be trembling!

    Some time someone must take charge!

    I live in the RSA and will soon do algal fuel in Mozambique on land at 18°21″ 00″,50 S and 33°21’17,00 E which I am on. Prevailing ambient temperatures are +6 to 38°C, at an altitude of 500m.
    Frost is a very rare occasion in Mozambique

    Go for green!!

    Take care!

    Anton Human in South Africa.

    Microwave Towers Africa
    Tel/Fax: +27 13 245 1276
    E-mail: [email protected]