Alternative energy companies keep coming: Zeachem, Catilin, Range Fuels, Sopogy

A host of new alternative energy companies have emerged and raised funding.

Here’s a roundup of the latest action, including news at Zeachem, a cellulosic ethanol company; Catilin, a biodiesel company, Range Fuels, another cellulosic company; Sopogy, a solar thermal company; and finally, a note on Greenvolts, a solar company, and a setback at Greenfuel, an algae-biofuel company.Zeachem — The company, of Menlo Park, Calif. has developed new way to create cellulosic ethanol, which is one of the more promising alternative fuels for reducing harmful greenhouse emissions. Its claim to fame is to process materials that are used for the cellulosic process in a way that reduces the amount of corn and other valuable sources needed for it. It is still in the lab, however each of the individual steps of the process have been adequately tested, so that the company will see a testing plant in 2008 and delivery to market in 2009, says Erik Straser, investor at Mohr Davidow. His firm led a $4 million investment into the company. Firelake Capital participated.

No company has reached full production phase. Iogen in Canada is furthest along; it is building a 40 million gallon plant. Next is Range Fuels, which we’ll get to below.

Zeachem claims it is more efficient, however, by combining two processes together that avoid any carbon being lost. (Other processes lose up to a third of the carbon in the conversion process.) The first step is to convert the sugars of biomass into a chemical intermediate called acetic acid. By taking the intermediate step, there’s no CO2 produced in the process — which saves greenhouse emissions being produced as a byproduct. It then takes the lignen left in the biomass, and uses gassification to covert it into hydrogen. This is combined with the acetic acid, and then converted into ethanol. Chief executive Dan Verser said he was “surprised but pleased” that no other company had come up with the idea. The process is patented. Wood chips other non-food sources of biomass can be used.

catalin.jpgCatilin — The Ames, Iowa company, is a biodiesel company that also uses a more efficient method, which avoids some of the toxic processes used by other biodiesel companies that require substantial cleanup. It has raised $3 million in a first round of funding, also led by venture firm Mohr Davidow.

It works on a broad range of feedstocks – from soybean oil to animal fats. The company is building a pilot production facility. It uses a nano-technology catalyst that essentially functions as a teabag, allowing undesirable products to be kept in the bag and avoiding them having to be washed out in a cleaning process, which wastes water. It is run by Larry Leinhart, a former “Entrepreneur in Residence” at Mohr Davidow. The company is a spin out of the Iowa State University, and needed an operator like Leinhart to run the business, said MDV’s Straser.

sopogy.jpgSopogy — The Honolulu solar thermal concentrator company had already raised $3 million in financing. The company has now just received $10 million more in a revenue bond from Hawaii’s governor to help construct a thermal plant there.

rangefuels.jpgRange Fuels — The Broomfield, Colo. company, says it has received a permit to construct the nation’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, in Georgia – with groundbreaking to happen this summer. It received a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. It will produce 100 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol — using wood waste from Georgia’s forests. A first phase will be completed next year with limited production.

http://venturebeat.com/2006/10/10/greenvolts-raises-250000-for-solar-concentration/

greenvolts.jpgGreenvolts — The San Francisco company recently raised $1.5 million from undisclosed investors (we did not previously cover), said Wednesday it will build a 2-megawatt solar electric power plant for PG&E based on its “concentrator” photovoltaic technology. The facility’s ultimate purpose will be to deliver power to customers during peak energy times, but at a lower cost to PG&E.

According to GreenVolts, its “photovoltaic system concentrates 625 suns of energy onto a highly efficient solar cell and can deliver energy at a competitive cost. The size and flexibility of the company’s system allow it to be placed nearer to the demand than other alternatives, helping utility companies avoid constructing costly transmission lines or having to upgrade existing power grids.” GreenVolts’ facility will be on a farm outside Tracy, Calif., and will be finished in 2009. (PG&E signed another, larger deal with Cleantech America, also based in San Francisco. As part of their agreement, Cleantech America will build a 5-megawatt solar plant near Fresno, Calif. The company said that when the facility is finished in 2009, it will be California’s largest solar plant.) GreenVolts also recently signed a deal with Spokane, Wash.-based utility company Avista to build a prototype power plant.

greenfuel.jpgGreenfuel — Unanticipated setbacks with GreenFuel Technologies, a bioreactor system company, has led to layoffs of half the Cambridge, Mass. company’s 50-person staff. Bob Buderi has the scoop at his new blog, Xconomy. The company seeks to use algae to convert carbon dioxide emissions into biofuel, but it turns out to be twice as expensive as expected. Bob Metcalfe has been appointed interim CEO, and he’s frantically raising some cash — to last six months, and from current investors.

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