ERTH raising $2 million for wastewater treatment

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it: ERTH, a Longmont, Colo.-based startup that manages the development and sale of wastewater treatment and destruction technologies, is raising $2 million for its fifth close on its first round of funding from private investors. It has already successfully raked in half of that amount.

Green Vision Systems gets $5.4M for contaminant sensors

Following the Israeli trend of companies with a dual focus on the water and anti-terrorism markets, ten year old company Green Vision Systems has secured its first funding for remote contaminant sensors. Based on land or above, in satellites, Green Vision’s sensors can pick up dangerous impurities not only in water, but also in the air or on the ground. Where those impurities might come from could differ — dumping, inadvertent spills or terrorist attacks could all be culprits. While the company doesn’t appear to have gained traction so far, the market for sensing technology is likely to grow in coming years. Closer to home, San Francisco was recently promised $8 million for water monitoring technology by the EPA. And another Israeli firm, Checklight, just picked up a large order for its water sensors following its May earthquake. Globes reports that Green Vision has been given $10 million over the years by its founder, Danny Moshe. The new $5.4 million (EUR3.5 million) is from the Gabriel Lippmann Institute of Luxembourg.

The Ozone Man raises seed funding for air cleaning service

The Ozone Man Inc, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based start up, has raised $350,000. The company offers ultraviolet ozone generators, using the ozone to clean the air of pollution, odors and bacteria A customer can buy the Ozone Man Deep Cleaning service, starting from $395, after the air has been inspected by the Ozone Man technicians. The inspection and testing services start from $100. After cleaning, Ozone Man’s ultraviolet germicidal accessories are supposed to keep the air clean. One product is the Terminator, that is installed in the main air-duct.

Blacklight Power claims nearly-free energy from water — is this for real?

Blacklight Power, a company founded by a Harvard medical doctor called Randell Mills, says it can push hydrogen atoms into a state that most scientists deny exists. The company claims that energy this atomic push releases can create electricity for a single cent per kilowatt hour, less than any known process, including burning cheap, dirty coal. The company says it can do so with a non-polluting, self-perpetuating process that mostly feeds itself with common water.Breakthrough of the century, or glorified scientific scam? I’m not sure, but most companies with claims this big are produced in a crazed inventor’s basement — and stay there.Blacklight, by contrast, claims $60 million in funding, including about $10 million from electric utilities Conectiv and PacifiCorp, as well as amounts from unnamed hedge funds and members of its all-star board of directors, including Shelby Brewer, a Reagan-era US assistant secretary of nuclear energy, and Michael Jordan, CEO of Electronic Data Systems.Some history: Blacklight’s process was discovered in 1991 by Mills, who claimed that he’d found a way to produce a molecule called a hydrino, which is a theoretical form of the hydrogen atom in which the electron has entered a lower orbit — meaning the atom itself contains less energy. Mills decided that he could not only produce hydrinos, but also capture the energy released during the transition from hydrogen, using it to generate electricity. When the hydrino is created through a reaction between hydrogen and a catalyst, according to Mills, it lets go of more than enough energy to fuel electrolysis in common water, thus producing more hydrogen. The excess energy — the majority — would go to producing electricity. The only outside ingredients needed are a catalyst, to turn the hydrogen to hydrinos, and heat (which would also be generated once the reaction had started). And the hydrinos created by the process? They’re non-reactive and can be released to float up into space, as they’re lighter than helium. Or, even better, they can be processed into unique chemicals with a range of useful applications.

Sapphire Energy gets "open checkbook" from investors for algae-based gasoline

Another algal biofuel company has emerged from stealth mode, and this one has the biggest story yet, at least according to the estimation of its investors.Only a year old, Sapphire Energy is a San Diego startup that has lab-developed an algae that it says can create a substance akin to crude oil that can be processed by existing refineries, transported through existing infrastructure and burned without difficulty by today’s vehicles.Sapphire has raised over $50 million from three investors, including Arch Venture Partners, whose Kristina Burow helped co-found the company. Burow told me in an interview yesterday that Arch, along with Venrock and UK-based medical research charity The Wellcome Trust, has given Sapphire an “open checkbook” not based on the usual venture model of set rounds and valuations, from which the company can draw as much capital as necessary to commercialize the technology as rapidly as possible.The excitement of Sapphire’s investors and founders over its technology stems in part from the size of its plans. CEO Jason Pyle says that where other biofuels can only promise to replace a small fraction of the oil use in the United States, the algae that Sapphire is working on could replace all of it.How is that possible? Well, where fuels like ethanol and biodiesel rely on grown feedstocks — corn, sugar, switchgrass, trees — Sapphire’s algae requires no feedstock at all, just water and sunlight. Pyle claims that the requirement to grow without relying on a food crop was one of the company’s founding principles.The two other requirements, that the algae cultivation not take useful land or use fresh, potable water, should quell many environmental concerns. Instead, Sapphire plans to use non-potable water like agricultural runoff and salt water.One of the distinguishing factors of algae startups is that they tend to dream, and talk, rather large, and Sapphire is no exception. Like other companies, its algae has yet to be proven at commercial scales — a step that has foiled initial attempts by other companies, most famously Greenfuel Technologies, whose first large algae project grew so rapidly it choked itself out. But when I pointed that out to Pyle, both he and the two VCs I spoke to on a conference call (the other being Arch co-founder Robert Nelson) shrugged off the objection. “The ability to produce this organism and use it is well understood at scale … the attempts of biofuel companies do not represent the best attempts at scaling these systems,” Pyle said. And although Sapphire won’t reveal where or how it intends to initially cultivate its algae, Pyle says it is specially developed to fit a particular niche in the ecosystem, which will both keep it from escaping into the wild, and keep wild algae from invading and damaging production, a significant problem for many algae startups.However, despite the implicit criticism Sapphire has for its competitors, Pyle believes that there will be many winners in the algal biofuel space. “In a trillion dollar market, it’s hard to believe in a winner take all strategy,” he said.While algae currently accounts for an almost negligible amount of the fuel market, in any country, it may take less time to commercialize than other technologies. Sapphire plans to move forward next with pilot testing, going from production of 100 barrels of “green crude” per day, to 1,000, all the way up to 10,000 per day.If that model turns out to be the right one, the future of the biofuel industry looks fairly straightforward. Cultivation ponds drawing water from farms, waste-streams, tainted reservoirs, the ocean and other sources would be dotted thickly throughout the southern half of the United States, each producing three to four million gallons per year. To replace the entire crude oil usage of the country, it would take between two and three thousand of these ponds, according to my back-of-the-envelope calculations.That scenario is a long way off, though: Sapphire plans to have its first commercial production plant in about three years, after which it would require billions of dollars in project financing to build up production. And how quickly that project financing comes through will depend almost entirely on the price of the finished product versus the crude oil prices at the time.

SunEdison raises $161 million for solar services and installing

SunEdison, a solar services company based in Beltsville, Md., has taken $131 million in venture funding and $30 million in debt to finance its rapid expansion and ongoing projects, including some of the largest solar installations in the United States. In the booming market for solar installations, there is a profusion of different business models, serving markets from residential to business and military, and selling or leasing panels, or simply selling their electricity. SunEdison often handles the up-front costs of installation for its large corporate and institutional clients, so the hefty amount of this particular funding is encouraging, but not terribly surprising. Depending on how you count funding, it’s not even the largest to date. Recurrent Energy, a West Coast startup that has its own large projects, can tap into some $200 million from Morgan Stanley for its projects, although the money is not a direct investment in the company. Other companies have their own, smaller financing agreements to help fund their operations. SunEdison’s projects to date include a 16 megawatt solar farm near Charlotte, N.C., which may be the biggest solar photovoltaic deployment in the country when it’s completed. It won’t be the largest in North America, though — that distinction will probably be held by the 19 megawatt farm SunEdison is building in Ontario, Canada. The company also does work for Wal-Mart, Whole Foods Market, and a number of other large corporations. The bigger story here is SunEdison’s role as a facilitator. Projects taken on by SunEdison for other companies and utilities help create ecosystems of smaller companies where the installation is taking place, and pull in solar panels and other equipment from companies around the world. One example of another up-and-coming solar company benefiting from the projects is Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ: ESLR), a thin-film manufacturer that has agreed to sell $500 million worth of its panels to SunEdison by 2011. Both the $131 million venture financing and the $30 million in debt were provided by Greylock Partners, HSH Nordbank AG, Applied Ventures, Black River Commodity Clean Energy Investment Fund, MissionPoint Capital Partners, and Allco Renewable Energy Limited.

World Bank will raise $5.5 billion cleantech funding with the U.S., Britain and Japan

Not content to let VCs and private investors have all the fun, the World Bank, U.S., Britain and Japan have announced they will raise at least $5.5 billion for two climate change funds — a cleantech fund, which will begin with $5 billion, and one for research and development, with $500 million. The cleantech fund, which will be supported by 40 developing and industrialized countries, will help poor countries gain access to clean technologies.

ZinkoTek gets $2M for recyclable toys

ZinkoTek, a San Francisco-based startup that makes environmentally friendly toys for children, has taken a first round of funding. The company’s building blocks, which operate via the same basic concepts as Legos but are much larger, are made from the same recyclable foam that is used for other products like Crocs shoes, according to VentureWire, which first reported the funding. The $2 million funding was an angel round, provided by private investors.

Craton Equity Partners wraps up $191.5M cleantech fund

Los Angeles, Calif.-based Craton Equity Partners announced on Wednesday that it had finalized the third and final closing of its $191.5 million cleantech fund. The firm plans on investing in small, undercapitalized companies with robust emerging growth prospects; the sectors it will target include: renewable energy, alternative fuels, green building, water remediation and solid waste reduction and conversion technologies.

Water monitoring technology gets $8M boost in San Francisco, with more funds to come

Water shortages have recently captured headlines here and abroad. Yet despite the enormous challenges and opportunities with managing and monitoring drinking water, it’s an area that doesn’t attract a great deal of venture investment. In the last quarter of 2007, water and waste water investment was only $22.7 million, which was double the previous year’s total of $11.8 million, according to the Cleantech Investor Forum.

While Washington dawdles over emissions trading, Bay Area passes nation's first carbon tax

In a first for the nation, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District yesterday voted in a carbon tax applying to nine counties in Northern California. Large businesses will now pay 4.4 cents for every ton of carbon emitted, generating about $1 million a year to be plowed back into environmental studies. We first mentioned the local carbon tax in February, when local government began considering the measure. It appears the board had a taste for trail-blazing, passing the rule by a 15-1 vote. As in other areas where California has stepped out to lead the way — including vehicle emissions and solar subsidies — the move will likely be closely watched by other states and municipalities. The scale of the tax is modest at best, with the largest emitters, large local refineries, paying no more than $200,000 a year, a tiny portion of their earnings. That doesn’t mean the move isn’t meaningful, though. Given the quickly changing political climate around emissions, other areas could decide to move ahead with their own taxes, especially if they think they can get away with adding another tax without scaring off businesses. Contrast the tax to national-level bills like Lieberman-Warner, which proposes to institute a carbon trading scheme in which permits are bought and sold on an open market. While that particular bill, along with similar efforts, holds the potential to sharply curtail emissions in the future, political progress is likely to be slow, especially in the Bush Administration. Publicly elected officials are rarely fast to pass any bill that could be accused of harming the economy, and that accusation is present in spades for carbon trading, which conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation has said has “extraordinary perils for the American economy.” Could a grassroots movement toward emissions taxing overcome trading? It’s unlikely, but possible. Arguments abound for both sides, but carbon trading has a significant head start in the rest of the world, and in the United States fledgling companies like APX are building the framework for trading. Emissions taxing would need strong support from government at a higher level, which so far, it hasn’t gotten. Finally, there’s the chance that local industry groups could sue the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports. If they’re successful, carbon taxing in the Bay Area could turn out to be nothing more than a blip on history’s radar.

Smart grid investments come hot and heavy — SmartSynch gets another $20M for talkative electrical meters

Two days ago it was Optimal Technologies with $25 million toward software for electrical grids; today, it’s SmartSynch with $20 million for wirelessly communicating meters. I haven’t gone back and done an official count, but with well over half a dozen large fundings in the past few months, the efficiency-focused smart grid space looks to have emerged as the hot cleantech venture space du jour. “Smart grid” is a catch-all term for a number of technologies that aim at measuring and controlling the process of sending electricity from generation plants to homes and businesses. The former area is SmartSynch’s specialty. The company’s meters are capable of hooking up to networks via any of several wireless standards like WiFi, CDMA or ZigBee to divulge the data they collect. Fundings may be flooding in right now, but SmartSynch is no newbie. Founded in 2000, the company has taken $80 million to date. It has also deployed about 125,000 meters, and grew 125 percent last year. Meters have turned out to be a particularly bright area to innovate in, because they’re advantageous to several constituencies. The advantage comes in giving more information to both customers and utilities. Instead of seeing electricity usage as one big block on a bill received once a month, customers can see usage on an almost moment-to-moment basis. Following the old adage “knowledge is power”, that information gives both parties the ability to plan out usage based on when electricity is most available, saving utilities power and both sides money. SmartSynch’s chief technology officer, Henry Jones, says his firm’s communication technology, which is installed in meters made by Elster, General Electric and Itron, has brought in about $15 billion in additional revenues for utilities so far. That’s good news for the company, because it’s the utilities that buy and install the meters. Their customers include some rather large ones, including Socal Edison, Florida Power & Light, and Canada’s Hydro One. Other firms, including Silver Spring Networks, have fairly similar technology and strategies. However, Jones claims that’s not a problem: Each firm has its own approach to communicating data, he says, and each approach is useful for different applications, leaving a wide market chunk for each competitor. But that’s not much use to any new startups who might want to muscle in on the action. After all, several of these firms have years of lead time. So what are the next big opportunities? Jones thinks the next step is getting meters to report not just back to the utility, but also directly into the home or business they’re installed in; he says SmartSynch is preparing to release several meters that do just that.

Ecore raises $29M from Element Partners for rubber recycling business

Ecore International, a recycler of scrap tire rubber based in Lancaster, Penn., has gotten a $29 million investment round from Element Partners to help grow an already large business. Ecore has already been around for 18 years and has several distinct business divisions focusing on sales of recycled materials for specific products like flooring and synthetic grass. The company, previously called Dodge-Regupol, employs about 240 people.

Biofuel battle: WSJ hits Khosla, Khosla hits back

Here’s the danger in becoming a well-known venture capitalist: You may well become the locus for heated debates over cleantech and environmentalism, even when you’re not expecting it. That’s what happened to Vinod Khosla yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal lashed out with a short hit piece on his policies titled “Khosla’s Conspiracy”.The motivator was a lengthy interview in last week’s San Francisco Chronicle, in which Khosla, asked whether biofuels are driving up food prices, agreed that they are but said the much greater problem is the price of oil used for transportation. He also suggested that a PR campaign has been organized to smear biofuels. That’s where the WSJ took offense:

Clean Wave Ventures starts $100M cleantech fund, focuses on Midwest

They may not receive as much attention as flashy Silicon Valley types, but Midwestern VCs would like you to know that, yes, they too are serious about investing in cleantech. The latest to join the fray are Rick Kieser and Scott Prince, whose Cincinnati, Ohio-based Clean Wave Ventures is in the midst of raising $100 million for its first cleantech fund.

Principle Power takes $2.3M for clean energy development

Principle Power, a San Francisco company with offices in Seattle, has raised a $2.3 million seed funding made up of convertible debt to build and operate clean energy assets. The company issued a release on the news a week ago, which was recently discovered by VentureWire. The company says the round was oversubscribed by more than 50 percent, with eight Keiretsu Forum investors joining. The funds will go toward efforts in offshore wind, solar and hydro.

VantagePoint Venture Partners adds former CIA director, analyst to cleantech team

Two new members have joined VantagePoint Venture Partners. Coming onto the cleantech investment team are R. James Woolsey, a new venture partner, and David Edwards, who will be a partner. Woolsey served as the Director of the CIA in the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1995, following a decade of government service in other roles. Subsequently, he held positions in private industry, and began advising VantagePoint in 2006. He has also served as a foreign policy advisor for John McCain during his current presidential bid. Edwards is a former equity research analyst at Morgan Stanley, where he focused on cleantech. He also previously worked as a partner for Charles River Ventures. Along with the two new partners, VantagePoint also announced that it had promoted Marc van den Berg to the position of managing director.

CamSemi raises $8M for energy-efficient semiconductors

Cambridge, UK-based CamSemi, a manufacturer of fabless semiconductors that help reduce the energy consumption of electronics, has added another $8 million to its growing cash pile. This extension to its third round of funding, led by BankInvest Group’s New Energy Solutions fund, takes the company’s total to $34 million.

Could a big geothermal energy play be next for Google.org?

Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, has taken a number of stakes in solar and wind startups over the past year, most recently joining a $115 million investment in solar thermal firm BrightSource Energy. It now seems to be focusing its attention on the bustling geothermal energy sector, with Google co-founder Sergey Brin recently expressing a strong interest in Ormat, a geothermal startup headquartered in Reno, Nevada.

Creative Citizen launches savings-conscious environmental how-to site

Creative Citizen is a new community site launching today that hopes to attract the same market that’s interested in environmentalist sites like Zerofootprint, while also reaching out to a broader demographic of people who wouldn’t ever use a carbon calculator in the course of daily life. Like the how-to sites that have been launching left and right recently, Creative Citizen plays host to content showing users how to accomplish certain tasks or projects. But unlike those sites, it’s focused on a single niche: “Solutions” that are beneficial to the environment, and sometimes to the user’s wallet. In all, the site focuses on five metrics for savings: Water, money, emissions, electricity, and waste (i.e. trash). As users agree to follow very solutions, the savings accrue on their profile to show their total savings. The solutions on Creative Citizen can be nearly anything, from carrying reusable grocery bags (saving 24 pounds of waste) to tuning your car’s engine (saving 3,234 pounds of CO2 and $380 dollars yearly). At the moment, there are quite a few already listed on the site, but they’re not all well thought-out or constructed; it’s hoping to grow a community that will add to the collection, and vote up the best ideas. The voting process is important for most how-to sites, because it weeds out submissions that might send new visitors packing. For example, one of the solutions I came across is saving water by simply peeing outside. But for most of us, potty training didn’t include trips onto the lawn, and the idea won’t be attractive. Eventually, an alternative like putting a brick in the toilet basin will probably rise to the top (although the lawn irrigators currently hold the upper hand). What seems far more interesting than quirky ideas like those, though, are the solutions that can save users significant amounts of money. Most people are well aware that using compact fluorescents wastes less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. On Creative Citizen, changing your light bulbs gets quantified: $111 in savings for each bulb over its lifetime, and 141 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That’s a lot more concrete than simply shaving some CO2 emissions, and may attract users who wouldn’t otherwise be interested. In fact, the money issue is where Creative Citizen really differs from carbon calculators and environmental movements, says founder Argam DerHartunian. Calculators often ask for actions like buying a more efficient car or washing machine, and movements want donations, but cash-strapped consumers aren’t likely to shell out, he says. “What’s needed is a business solution — something that’s sensible and understandable to people.” Of course, there’s nothing that guarantees the numbers you see on Creative Citizen are correct, or even complete (the CFL numbers, for instance, don’t show how much using the bulbs lowers CO2 emissions). For that, the site is hoping that its community will help fill it out. Users can edit entries, leave comments, and, as mentioned above, vote solutions up or down. Over time, the top solutions should also become fairly accurate. One feature that I thought the site could use was more views for solutions. At the moment, they can be listed by date, popularity or tags. But if Creative Citizen hopes to truly attract different constituencies, it’ll need views determined by characteristics like how much of a specific thing can be saved, so users can zero in on their personal concerns. Rural browsers challenged by oil prices might just be interested in saving money, for example, while drought-stricken southern Californians might want to see how to save water. DerHartunian and his co-founder, Scott Badenoch, say they have plans to add that ability in, as well as to widgetize the site so that it can be shared across social networks and other web pages. However, the immediate focus is just to get into the real world and build up a strong base of solutions. That’s probably the right approach, because what will distinguish Creative Citizen is its content. Ultimately, it wants to tap into the same audience as how-to sites like 5min, Howcast and Instructables, all of which gather community content and instructional materials. The more material there is, the more traffic the site will be able to build organically. However, if Creative Citizen wants to follow in the footsteps of those other sites, it will also need to add in video. Creative Citizen has so far survived off seed money raised from angel investors. Oddly enough, the founders say they’re not particularly interested in venture capital; instead, they’re looking for strategic partnerships from other companies who can also provide some funding. The company is based in Los Angeles. [Full disclosure: Argam DerHartunian has contributed to VentureBeat in the past.]

EoPlex Technologies piles on another $4M for advanced cell phone antennas

Redwood City, Calif.-based EoPlex Technologies, an advanced materials firm that builds small devices to generate and manage energy for various manufacturing components, has tacked on another $4 million to its third funding round — bringing the total to $12 million. ATA Ventures once again led the extra financing and was backed by fellow VCs Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Labrador Ventures and Draper Richards.

Iberdrola commits $8B investment to U.S. cleantech sector

Spanish utility and renewable heavyweight Iberdrola has revealed that it will invest a hefty $8 billion in the American cleantech sector over the next 3 years. Though it plans on focusing most of its investment activities in the U.S.’s burgeoning wind sector, it also hopes to gain a foothold in the country’s other clean energy markets.

World's first standard hybrid yacht launches — but may be more style than substance

On a fast cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, Austrian boat manufacturer Frauscher just launched the world’s first luxury motor yacht with a hybrid engine, developed together with Austrian engine manufacturer Steyr Motors. Hybrid cars have already established themselves as the modern fuel-efficient alternative to petrol cars. But on a warm day, many people will leave their car behind for a much less efficient vessel on the water: Most boats today are powered by dirty diesel engines. Pure electric boats have been around since the late 19th century, but will rarely go faster than 5 or 6 knots (about 10 km/h). Frauscher and Steyr combined the two to offer high speed with a claim to environmental friendliness. I went for a test ride to see how it works. The Frauscher hybrid has a traditional diesel engine connected to an electric engine. The combustion engine can be started with the electric motor, so there’s no need for a conventional starter motor. With the electric start, the boat will also save every seventh liter of fuel that a normal combustion engine burns during cold starts, according to Steyr. The boat can drive “zero emission” on the electric engine in speeds up to 5 knots, with several lead-acid batteries supplying the energy. But with a turn of the key, the boat switches to diesel drive mode. At low speeds (the boat reaches 38 knots maximum), the electric engine works in the same way as a starter engine and boosts the diesel engine to create faster acceleration while lowering fuel consumption, although it wasn’t clear how much diesel is saved by the “boost”. The batteries are recharged whenever the diesel engine is being used. It takes about an hour for the batteries to recharge completely.Frauscher is a family-owned company with a turnover of $15 million in 2007. Prices start at $150,000 for the 5.6 meter tall St. Tropez-style hybrid yacht, like the one displayed at St. Francis Yacht Club on Friday. The hybrid costs about $20,000 more than a traditional engine.

BioPower Systems draws inspiration from the sea to build ocean power technologies

In the high-stakes world of clean energy technologies — where even the slightest engineering tweak can mean the difference between market leader and also-ran — developing a system solely around biological designs might seem like an unusual strategy. Yet Sydney, Australia-based BioPower Systems, in seeking to prove the old dictum that you can’t improve on nature, has done just that: building two ocean power conversion systems modeled around a shark’s fin and a sea plant’s fronds.

Novel Polymer gets $9.7M for environmentally friendly plastics

Polymer plastics like nylon, Bakelite and PVC are some of the most common materials used in modern society, but making them is not an environmentally friendly procedure. Novel Polymer Solutions is a company that promises to make new polymers that are strong, low cost, and have few harmful chemicals in them. Novel Polymer’s materials include glues, paints and hard plastic materials. The company sells to the automotive, building, medical, paint and other industries. The $9.7 million funding was provided as GBP £5 million to the United Kingdom-based company, according to VentureWire. Environmental Technologies Fund and Advantage Growth Fund were the backers.

San Francisco solar project may pave the way for more municipal power plants

There has been plenty of noise lately about residential solar financing strategies, like SolarCity’s lease program and Sun Run’s power purchase agreements, in which a consumer agrees to buy power from solar panels on their roof without paying the hefty up-front cost for them. San Francisco may be entering into a similar deal next month for a 5-megawatt installation within the city limits, which would be the country’s third-largest completed project. The idea of small municipal power plants, built on unused land within cities and thus lowering transmission costs for the power, is quickly gaining popularity in the solar industry. Electricity utilities are also in favor of the idea, because it could save them from the need to build more costly power plants. However, cities and solar panel manufacturers face a challenge in getting projects going, because installations are expensive. San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission has nimbly avoided that problem by leaving the financing to Recurrent Energy, a solar services firm that essentially acts as a go-between, contracting out the installation of panels and arranging for funding from outside sources like Morgan Stanley. SFPUC, which provides power to city-owned buildings, will only need to sign a contract to buy energy at a fixed, incrementally increasing rate for the next 25 years. The plan should work well. Cities shy away from projects that require a lot of capital up-front, but the SFPUC is only agreeing to buy electricity it will need anyway. The city’s board of supervisors still needs to approve the project next month, but without any need for immediate funds, opposition should be minimal. For Recurrent, the plan also looks like a winner. Because the costs for electricity are determined beforehand, the company can project a repayment schedule for the panels. The actual financing, as noted above, comes from outside sources, with Recurrent just taking a cut of profits. And local solar installers will also benefit from the work, which is expected to be completed in July 2009. For San Francisco, there are also fringe benefits. The city will benefit from the positive publicity of having a major solar project within its borders. Other cities in the state will likely begin looking more seriously at projects for their own electricity needs. Recurrent’s CEO, Arno Harris, says it won’t be a problem if more customers come knocking; the outsourced setup of his company is “really built to scale,” he told me today. “We’re at an interesting turning point in the history of solar. We’ve seen a lot of districts kicking the tires — there’s going to be a ton of interest from other cities,” he said. The majority of the panels will be installed on the empty roof of the covered Sunset Reservoir in the western portion of the city (seen at right), with a about 250 kilowatts going into a separate installation at Pier 96. The final board vote is scheduled for June 23rd, with construction beginning afterward if approved.

FloDesign gets $200K from MIT competition for better wind turbines

Wind power turbines have looked pretty much the same for decades, and the basic design concept has stuck for centuries. That’s something FloDesign wants to change, with a turbine design that takes its cues from jet engine design. Like some other recent, different designs, FloDesign says its upgraded turbine outperforms the commonly accepted type, generating two to three times more power and causing less noise and avian death. Exciting as that sounds, some problems may remain, not least the greater amount of materials a jet-inspired turbine would seem likely to need. However, FloDesign has also made claims in that area, telling Massachusetts High Tech last month that it can “produce 50 percent more power than a three-blade turbine, at half the size and 30 percent less cost.” (Also see that article for pictures of the beast.) The business plan contest FloDesign won, the MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship competition, is fairly prestigious, so we won’t make any bets against the company. It raked in a $200,000 prize pot. The Boston, Mass. company also previously took $500,000 in funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

GreenFuel not giving up, with another $13.9M for algae farms

It seems like a good idea, at first: Pipe carbon dioxide emissions from power plants or industrial processes through water containing algae, and the algae will absorb the CO2 for its own growth, in turn being harvested to make biodiesel. But like most good ideas, the implementation has proven more than a little tricky. GreenFuel Technologies is a startup we’ve covered followed as it moved from high-flying newcomer, to apparent failure, back to spotlight darling. The “apparent failure” part began with problems in scaling. GreenFuel’s plan appears to work fine on a small scale, but when it tried to do a commercial-size project last year, the algae over-performed to the point of killing itself off, doubling costs and leading to layoffs of 50 people. Instead of letting the company crumble, one of its investors, Polaris Venture Partners, sent in general partner Bob Metcalfe for emergency resuscitation. The move appears to have worked — a $5.5 bridge loan kept the company afloat until two months ago, when we were able to report a $92 million project financing for the company to build a bioreactor in Europe. Now $13.9 million more has been provided in an extension to its second round of financing, for further development. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean blue skies ahead. In fact, a full $6.3 million of that amount will go toward retiring debt — likely the same bridge the company took to survive. The $7.6 million remaining isn’t much, especially considering that part is going toward construction of a project the company has not yet announced. The big question is what will happen in Europe. The company is likely moving at a frantic pace to re-prove the technology and get a third round of funding, not to mention staving off competitors with the same idea (but more opportunities left to screw up). The round was provided entirely be existing investors, with Access Private Equity leading, alongside Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Polaris. The company is based in Cambridge, Mass.

Genomatica has plans to turn the chemical industry green

The chemicals business has gone through massive shifts in the past, and it’s high time for another one, according to Christopher Gann, the CEO of Genomatica, who recently left a cushy position at industry giant Dow Chemical for the startup. Chemical manufacturing is perched atop the much larger fossil fuel market, thus suffering from the same high prices the rest of the world does — but, says Gann, it can be weaned off hydrocarbons. Shifting away from oil and gas is one of the most common stories in cleantech, with numerous companies claiming that they can make transportation fuels from renewable sources like corn, sugar and grasses. By contrast, chemical manufacturing has received relatively little attention, despite the fact that most chemical manufacturing is also based on crude oil and natural gas, going through stepped processes to reach the desired end product. Part of the reason is that there are tens of thousands of products to deal with, though some, like polyethylene, account for billions in sales yearly. However, Genomatica claims to have the scientific chops to simplify the problem, and produce the needed compounds on demand, and has raised $20.4 million in a second round, according to VentureWire. The company was started by a team of biotech researchers from the University of California at San Diego, who started out working with E. Coli genes. Several years ago, they realized that their expertise could be more profitably applied to organisms for other industrial uses. Similar to startups like Amyris, LS9 and Synthetic Genomics, they decided to begin custom-making organisms to produce specific substances. However, their combination of lab experience and modeling ability provided other opportunities, and the group decided to move in on the chemical industry. To create specific chemicals, the team identifies pathways in organisms with computational modeling techniques, then tests their theories out in the lab. The combination of modeling ability and lab technology in a single company is rare, says Gann, and provides a significant advantage. Genomatica is currently testing out organisms for several chemicals, with plans to move on to pilot plants to prove the processes. However, after the pilot tests, the company again diverges from biofuels startups. It has no plans to make its own full-scale plants, instead adding what Gann calls “bolt-on” facilities to existing, multi-billion dollar plants owned by larger companies. The feedstocks Genomatica can use vary widely. Syngas byproducts from biofuel manufacture can be used, as well as carbon dioxide, the culprit behind global warming. And the company can make use of “a very broad array of plant matter,” says Gann, exceeding the reach of biofuel makers, who need plants that are highly cost-effective. Cleanup after the processes should also be simpler, only requiring cleanup of the fermentation matter and dead cells. Genomatica isn’t entirely alone in its plans. Novomer wants to revolutionize plastics manufacturing, although it will rely on chemistry, rather than biological processes. Another startup, Segetis, appears to plan on using biological feedstocks, but again, will use chemical processes; the company was backed last year by Khosla Ventures. Of those companies, Genomatica has raised the most funding to date, about $24 million including its first funding. The backers in this round were led by Mohr Davidow Ventures, with participation from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Alloy Ventures. The company is based in San Diego, Calif.