Australian geothermal project could show worldwide potential

While most of the investment community’s attention stateside remains squarely focused on solar, wind and biofuels, adventurous types in Australia have been dabbling in the nascent, and promising, field of hot fractured rock (HFR) geothermal energy. The pioneer in this sector has been Geodynamics, which is nearing completion of a 50 MW demonstration plant to extract energy from a fracture network 4,200 meters below ground.

SF Green brings Tesla, Ray Lane and others to San Francisco on May 12

VentureBeat is proud to announce a gathering for clean technology entrepreneurs next Monday, May 12. We’ve joined forces with SF Green, a San Francisco gathering founded by Steve Newcomb that aims to help shape the region’s cleantech and environmental future.The aim is to bring together some of the brightest local entrepreneurs and investors, as well as other interested parties — environmentalists, government representatives and regular citizens — in one place, helping to forge connections and spark new ideas, just as we did last week with our Digital Media launch party. Keynoting the next SF Green are Ray Lane, the managing partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who invested in Fisker Automotive, the new Think America partnership and the solar thermal startup Ausra; plus Tesla Motors’ VP of marketing Darryl Siry, and a Roadster or two. Both will join us for Q&A sessions at different times during the evening, with the chance for the crowd to ask a few questions of their own.

Marine power gets $7.5M boost from DOE

Tidal, current and wave energy technologies received a vote of confidence from the DOE, which has pledged up to $7.5 million in funding to support new projects. It plans on partnering with major U.S. research institutions and firms to develop new and innovative technologies that will more efficiently harness the ocean’s bountiful energy.

Big companies line up to invest in cellulosic — Mascoma is latest beneficiary, gets $81M

With oil past $120 a barrel and possibly headed to $200, cellulosic ethanol companies are looking like a smarter investment choice every day. Following the increase of Range Fuels’ second funding to $166 million, its competitor Mascoma has pulled the wraps off an $81 million funding of its own, with $10 million coming a major oil and gas producer, Marathon Oil Corporation. Range, Mascoma, Coskata and others are all racing to raise huge amounts in an attempt to bring the world’s first full-scale cellulosic plant online. The stakes are high: If the process proves to be cheap enough, investors will be eager to pour money into new plants. On the other hand, waiting to see if competitors fail won’t be particularly helpful — each company has its own proprietary process. Mascoma will begin production this year at a demonstration plant in Rome, New York, but is also planning facilities in Michigan and Tennessee. By comparison, its two largest competitors will build a single, big plant each, a bet that could presumably result in a more spectacular success, or failure. Backing each company is a network of high-profile investors, some of whom overlap. General Motors has investments in both Coskata and Mascoma. Morgan Stanley is with Range Fuels, which also counts Khosla Ventures as an investor — and Khosla has invested in Mascoma, as well. Taking venture fundings and government grants together, Range Fuels is the most heavily funded, Mascoma coming second with just over $200 million now, and Coskata third. It’s possibility none of the three emerge with a competitively priced product — something that also hinges on whether oil prices continue to climb, or fall back to somewhat saner levels. If all three find their methods too expensive, there is still a constellation of smaller cellulosic startups waiting for their own turn in the spotlight, like Zeachem.

Israel Cleantech Ventures raises $75M fund

Passing by its target of $60 million, new Israeli venture firm Israel Cleantech Ventures has raised $75 million for its official first fund from backers including Robeco and Piper Jaffray. Claiming to be Israel’s first cleantech-focused fund, the firm already has bets on some companies, and is planning on investments across most of the cleantech sectors. However, there are a few that are likely to receive more attention, due to the geographical location and political realities of the country. Several solar companies, including leading solar thermal firm Solel, have sprung up within Israel’s sun-drenched borders. Water is a strong market, with companies like Aqwise working on desalination technologies, and electric car-enabler Project Better Place also has a focus on the country, because of its small size. ICV already has investments in Aqwise and Better Place. The firm has three general partners and four more venture partners; a list is here. It’s based in Ramat Hasharon.

Firefly Energy raises $16M for powered-up lead acid batteries

The Peoria, Ill., startup capped off a $16 million third round of funding to continue developing and marketing its carbon and graphite foam-based battery technologies for commercial and military use. Khosla Ventures and Infield Capital, which signed on as new investors to lead the deal, were joined by Stark Capital, Caterpillar and other previous investors.

Lifestyle drink brand Adina for Life raises $6.6M

San Francisco-based organic and fair trade drink maker Adina for Life has raised $6.6 million in a second round of funding to leap into what one of its financiers calls a “perfect marketing storm”. The company makes juice drinks, coffee and tea, emphasizing sustainability and fairness to small farmers — providing for the aforementioned marketing storm. (Although it should probably be noted that plenty of large corporations, like Starbucks, are eager to dilute that marketing message with their own sizable presence.) Adina’s drinks are sold by outside vendors like cafes, gas stations and grocery stores, including at least one Bay Area Whole Foods. The $6.6 million funding was provided by Sherbrooke Capital, a Boston, Mass. firm. The Seraph Group also participated.

Segway ups third funding to $35M — have you bought yours yet?

Sidewalks used to be so much nicer, before the Segway Personal Transporter started hitting the streets. Remember being able to walk peacefully along, happy on the two legs God gave us? Then Dean Kamen brought us the Segway, and suddenly you couldn’t step outside without one whizzing by. Everyone and their neighbor bought one, making Kamen and his investors rich — Whoops, sorry, wrong future. In retrospect, it seems at least a little silly that the Segway got as much hype as it did back in late 2001 and 2002, to the point of top Kleiner Perkins VC John Doerr saying that Segway would be the fastest outfit in history to reach $1 billion in sales. Yet the firm has also survived thus far, and appears to be expanding the $10 million third round of funding we reported in January, according to a filing dug up by VentureWire. Segway’s blessing and curse is its oddball design. It’s packed with electronics and gyroscopes that keep the vehicle balanced and make rolling around at the pace of a running human effortless. Unfortunately, aside from being ridiculous looking, Segways are also expensive, a combination that has sent most potential consumers buyers packing to alternatives like Edge scooters. Nobody except the company knows how many have been bought for recreational use, but the fan club has long since disbanded, and in most places, just spotting one makes for a red-letter day. What has saved Segway, at least so far, is its business customers. Police departments and security love to use Segways for what were previously onerous foot patrols. Warehousing businesses and golf clubs have bought them for employee and visitor use. Google, predictably enough, offers them as a perk to employees. Other uses abound — anywhere walking, biking or driving is impractical, a Segway can likely fit in. What’s interesting about the reported funding is that one of the new investors is the Masdar Clean Tech Fund, an arm of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Initiative. While that could just be a venture investment, it’s possible it was more of a strategic funding — after all, Abu Dhabi will need to figure out some zero-emissions transportation options for its promised zero-emissions city. If Segway is selling worldwide, especially to other small cities that need a local transportation option, the company could get recoup its investments, which have now reached almost $150 million of venture capital and $100 million in development costs. And though the fan club may be dead, Segway is still reaching for a consumer base, with its recently launched Segway Social network. There’s also the strong likelihood that the company will roll out other transporter designs in the future. Backers on the round, which VentureWire says is $35 million total with a recent tranche of $9.5 million, include Kleiner Perkins, CSFB Private Equity, the Masdar fund, buyout firm Duff, Ackerman & Goodrich, and others.

Tesla Motors opens first store in L.A., talks about future plans

The Tesla Motors executive team and a gaggle of reporters and celebrities were out en masse yesterday to witness the grand opening of the company’s flagship store in Los Angeles. Close to 9 months in the making, the store was the culmination of several years of hard work — at times fraught with delays and production troubles — for the San Carlos, Calif., company.

Thin-film solar startup Sunovia raises $12M to compete with First Solar

Usually when we’re talking about startups with thin-film solar cell technology, they’re working with copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) or silicon. Sunovia, however, wants to follow in the footsteps of the $21 billion giant First Solar. Both make thin-film cells based off cadmium telluride (CdTe), a substance that works well in solar cells but is also toxic. CdTe cells have also outstripped by the efficiency of CIGS cells, at least in laboratory conditions. Part of what distinguishes Sunovia, at least according to its own statement, is an efficient and compact scheme for manufacturing that can produce 100 megawatts of cells a year from a 10,000 square foot facility. Other companies require substantially larger manufacturing areas. Sunovia is planning to have a manufacturing line up and running within two years. Aside from its solar cell business, the company also has an LED lighting subsidiary called EvoLucia, which just completed a first installation. The source of the $12 million funding was not disclosed. Sunovia says it has raised over $25 million to date. The company, based in Sarasota, Florida, is trade on the over-the-counter bulletin board as SUNV.

Range Fuels ups earlier round to $166M, racing against Mascoma and Coskata

Cellulosic ethanol producer Range Fuels has heaped more than $50 million extra onto a $100 million round we reported two months ago, picking up the support of Passport Capital, Morgan Stanley Capital Group and others. While the company originally planned to keep the round to $100 million, it appears to have received intense interest in its project. While the round was at first over-subscribed to $130 million, according to Ethanol Producer Magazine, Range has now taken a total of $158 million, according to a regulatory filing obtained by VentureBeat. The cap on the round is currently $166 million. The additional funding should give Range the edge it needs to speed ahead in the race to open the world’s first full-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery in Soperton, Georgia, which broke ground last November. At 100 million gallons per year of capacity, the plant will be larger than many existing facilities that make ethanol from corn. Importantly, it has trees from the surrounding forests on-hand for use, rather than counting on next-generation feedstocks like switchgrass that have yet to be planted at scale. Size is important for Range, because the thermo-chemical process the company uses works better at large scale. Yet even with its size advantage, a number of onlookers have speculated that the company may suffer from the pitfalls of being first to try out a complex process. Just breaking down woody fibers into a product isn’t good enough — Range’s ethanol must also be cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels, albeit with the help of subsidies. Its investors either don’t have the same expectation, or have been caught up in the drama of (maybe) leading a (possible) revolution.

SkyFuel raises $17M for solar thermal mirrors

SkyFuel, a manufacturer of components and technologies for solar thermal power generation, has raised a $17 million second round of funding (release via Earth2Tech). The company’s primary products are a mirrored material called ReflecTech, which could make mirror production for solar thermal plants cheaper, and the SkyTrough, a parabolic reflector. SkyFuel is also working on a “Linear Power Tower”, which is a Fresnel solar system somewhat like what Ausra uses for its own solar thermal designs. The final product SkyFuel is working on is an energy storage system for when the sun isn’t shining. Leaf Clean Energy provided the funding round. SkyFuel, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, had previously taken $1.6 million.

Sunrgi claims bargain-basement power prices from new solar concentrator design

When looking at next-generation renewable technologies, you’ll hear a lot of claims about how cheaply they can create electricity. Usually the figures hover around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is about low enough to compete with the mix of coal, oil and nuclear power most utilities use. No such small ambitions, for a new startup called Sunrgi, which is unveiling its technology today at the annual National Energy Marketers Association convention. Sunrgi claims it can provide power for as little as half the above figure, at about 5-7 cents per kWh. That’s low enough to undercut damn near everything, with the possible exception of cheap, dirty coal — for which prices have been going up. Conventional solar cells cost upwards of 20 cents per kWh. Sunrgi uses a concentrating solar power design, which generally means you start off with a tiny, highly efficient solar panel and focus in the sun’s rays on it with mirrors and lenses. A variety of companies already do this, including SolFocus, which has raised heaps of cash and even sparked a small bidding war toward commercializing the concept. It’s debatable whether concentrated solar power can compete, long-term, with regular solar panels, but Sunrgi says it has two tricks to magnify CSP’s advantage. The first is a special, lens-only concentrating design with built-in solar trackers, which can focus over 1,500 “suns” on a single point (by comparison, one of the previous biggest claims for concentration levels was Greenvolts’ 625 suns). For an idea of how this might work, try to think of the most ingenious way possible to torch ants with magnifying glasses. This scheme causes a problem, namely heating the solar cell that’s supposed to be generating electricity to over 1,600 degrees Celsius (or over 3,000 Fahrenheit). That’s where the second part of Sunrgi’s technology comes in, with a special cooling design, combining active and passive measures, that keeps the cell at around 30-40 degrees C (86-104 F). Cooling is important above a certain level to avoid actually burning the solar cell, and below that point to reduce the failure rate. This ties in heavily to the cost equation, co-founder Dr. KRS Murthy told me in an interview — where other companies will have to pay heavy maintenance and replacement costs, Sunrgi’s well-chilled cells will last much longer, he said. But beyond the details I’ve laid out, Sunrgi isn’t saying a great deal. The members of the management team who joined me on a call declined to give any further details of exactly how they cool the solar cells. While they did suggest a size for their utility-scale generation modules — 14 inches square, with a solar cell of less than a centimeter square in the center — they are still applying for patents, and so don’t want to describe the units further (although you can get an idea from the pictures at right and below). What they did say is that they’re still conducting field testing on the units, continuing to optimize the basic design, and working on models for different markets (aside from utility generation, they’re looking at smaller commercial and industrial applications). That said, perhaps the second most surprising assertion Sunrgi has to make, after the price, is that they’ll be manufacturing within 12-15 months. If Sunrgi can pull it off, that would be one of the faster production turnarounds a new energy generation technology has yet seen. On the other hand, if the price claims can be proven on a large scale, there will be plenty of investment dollars lining up to grease the industrial gears. Speaking of funding, that’s the one missing part in the company’s claims. While the founders and executives have solid backgrounds, they haven’t yet announced where their backing is coming from. I’m told that several top VC firms are in talks with the company, though, as well as a “major strategic partner”, with announcements due in a week or two — so stay tuned for more.

TechnoSpin raises $8M for small wind turbines

TechnoSpin, a New York-based company creating small wind turbine designs for both consumer and commercial use, has raised $8 million in its first venture funding. While the company is gearing up to make a turbine for sale mainly in remote and rural areas, it is also working on a gear mechanism that may be useful in applications beyond turbines. The $8 million funding was led by 21Ventures. The company itself also has facilities in Israel, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

First Reserve buys Gamesa Solar for $408M, creates $940M renewable energy fund

First Reserve Corp. is a private equity fund based in the United States. The firm has acquired Gamesa Solar, a division of a larger Spanish company, for about $408 million. Along with the acquisition, First Reserve has also announced a $940 fund that will be applied toward renewables, primarily solar energy projects. The amount will represent a significant portion of First Reserve’s next fund raise. The firm’s current $8 billion fund is nearly expended, according to the Financial Times, and it will be raising a further $12 billion.

Super-efficient lighting technologies provide energy saving ideas, outdoors and in

In Australia, the husband and wife team behind Lumiflux has found a way to make a 50 year old technology seem new and, well, shiny. Electroluminescence, or EL, has been the technology behind your digital watch night-light and a series of small lamps from Sylvania for a long time. Until quite recently, though, EL was not bright enough for more widespread area lighting applications.

Xunlight raises $22M for thin-film solar modules

Who said academic egg-heads can’t craft compelling business plans? Xunlight, a developer of cheap, flexible thin-film silicon solar modules, has capped off a $22 million second round of funding, led by Trident Capital, Emerald Technology Ventures and NGP Energy Technology Partners.

Should tinkering with the planet be profitable? Some schemes seem worthwhile

A new study published in the journal Science has poured cold water on a proposed scheme to alter the planet’s climate by injecting sulfate particles into the stratosphere. The unorthodox strategy, boosted by several prominent scientists, including Nobel laureate Paul J. Crutzen, was meant to simulate the effects of a volcanic eruption: Sulfur particles released from aircraft or large balloons high in the stratosphere — like the soot and sulfur dioxide ejected by volcanoes — would scatter incoming sunlight, reducing its absorption by the planet and producing a global cooling effect.

Verdiem pulls in $12M for power-saving software

Verdiem, a Seattle, Wash. startup that makes PC software capable of reducing energy consumption across networks of computers, has raised a fresh round of funding as it expands. Its Surveyor software can reduce the energy consumption of an average computer by about 30 percent, according to the company, lowering electricity consumption across the average organization by 3-6 percent. The payback time, it says, it 18 months or less. Although this latest funding is Verdiem’s sixth, it is by far the largest round the company has taken to date. NCD Investors led the round, while Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Catamount Ventures, and Phoenix Partners also participated. The company has raised a total of $27 million.

We should be talking more about Optisolar — a solar startup with big plans

Firms need attention to thrive, right? Well, no, not always — some companies prefer to remain in stealth until they’ve reached some milestone, or maybe just indefinitely.Put Optisolar, a manufacturer of thin-film solar panels, in that latter category. When we first reported on Optisolar a year ago, it was planning to build one of the world’s biggest solar farms in sunny Ontario, Canada and it was doing it quietly. Now it appears that business is booming and the company is expanding at least as quickly as others we regularly report on, like Nanosolar.That’s evidenced by the one announcement Optisolar made recently, of plans to build a solar plant capable of producing 550 megawatts on land in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. For reference, that’s a monstrous size, unheard-of for any project using solar panels (rather than alternate technologies like solar thermal). The company says the project will power about 190,000 homes.The original plan in Sarnia, Ontario was for a 40MW plant, which has since been expanded to 50MW, with construction just started, according to Celsias. Two additional 20MW projects will be placed nearby in Petrolia and Tilbury. Another project was rumored to be under consideration in nearby Detroit.It sounds odd for Optisolar, which is based in Hayward, Calif., to have chosen to build first in Ontario, but that’s likely because of the artificially high prices it can receive there — 42 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the Toronto Star. However, the market is more competitive in California, and the company will need to offer a low enough price to convince the local utilities to buy its power, over that of other renewable sources.A separate question is where all these panels will come from. For that, the company will stay close to home. It just leased 650,000 square feet in a former Air Force base, according to the Sacramento Business Journal. That’s about as much space as Nanosolar planned for both of its two facilities, in San Jose, Calif. and Germany. However, Optisolar plans to go even larger, expanding to occupy over a million square feet and employ 500 people by 2011. There’s an extra incentive for Optisolar to grow quickly — if it fails to meet expectations, it may have to forfeit part of the $20 million in tax breaks offered by the local government.Right now, the company’s website claims a staff of 270, making it a rather large startup. But it’s also recruiting at a good clip. On Jobster, for instance, there are 23 positions listed, all white-collar (in other words, they aren’t listing their manufacturing positions online). Most are for engineers, but tellingly, three are for various human resources positions, indicating that the company is already expanding its support services for an ever-larger staff.The next logical question is where the funding for all these projects and facilities is coming from. The source almost certainly isn’t Silicon Valley venture capitalists — another reason the company can keep a low profile. It did recently take in a $38.3 million funding from a Canadian private equity fund, according to Earth2Tech. But more is certainly required to grow a company to the size Optisolar seems to be aiming for. Luckily, several top execs at the company seem to have connections to other private equity firms, as well as oil companies, as we pointed out last year.A picture is forming, but there are lots of questions remaining about Optisolar. For instance, how efficient are its solar cells? What’s their cost per watt? Repeated inquiries to the company over the past few weeks have been fobbed off or ignored, so I’ll leave it in your hands — if you’ve know more, drop me a line.

Kleiner Perkins reportedly raising a $400M-plus "green growth" fund

Kleiner Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that backed Google in its early days, is planning to raise a “Green Growth” fund of more than $400 million, to invest in later-stage cleantech companies, according to PeHub. The move is a sign of the maturation and realities of the green technology industry. Many environment-related projects, including solar thermal, electric cars and bio-fuel manufacturing, require huge amounts of capital. Kleiner had earlier raised $200 million to invest in early-stage green companies, but it doesn’t have enough money to invest large chucks of cash in more mature companies as they move to manufacturing stage. According to the report, which we have yet to confirm, the firm may do select public investments, carveouts and spinouts. Kleiner has won considerable stature in the clean technology investing area, since hiring former Vice President Al Gore as a partner last year. Gore, a proponent of stronger measures to clean up the environment, won the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts. Apparently, Gore is among those leading the firm’s effort to raise the new fund.

Amyris joins forces with Crystalsev to produce sugary fuels

A combination of rising food prices and environmental concerns has helped spark a backlash against biofuels. Once viewed as a key component of any successful climate mitigation strategy, biofuels — particularly those derived from food crops, such as corn ethanol — have seen their popularity wane in recent months as scientists and policymakers alike have come to realize that their costs may far outstrip their perceived benefits.

Enerpulse raises $5M for vehicle fuel efficiency

Electric car startups aside, there’s still plenty of room for improving the traditional cars we all grew up with. Among the many parts that go into a car, relatively few have been optimized over the years, leaving plenty of room for startups to innovate. Enerpulse chose to work on improving spark plugs, the part that ignites the fuel in internal combustion engines. A more efficient design can help to save fuel; Enerpulse says it provides about 6 percent fuel savings. The $5 million funding is the company’s second, and will go toward expanding retail sales of the plugs. It was provided by Robeco, which is a subsidiary of the European-based Rabobank Group. Enerpulse has taken $10.5 million in total, with its first funding coming from Sail Venture Partners and Altira Group.

What's life without a car? Google, HopStop are helping figure it out

Happy Earth Day, environmental sinners. Today is the day for feeling guilty about all the things your life revolve around, if you’re a typical American business person — your cross-country flights, your expanding collection of electronics, your wasteful habits, your car. Some of the changes you should make come down to self restraint — but for others, there’s a dire need for alternative options. After all, you need your car, right? Maybe not, if you live in an area with public transportation. For that, there are rapidly expanding planning services to help you figure out how to get around. Today, Google Transit is announcing coverage of nine more cities, bringing its total in the United States to 46, while another provider, HopStop, is touting the eight million pageviews, and 25 million ad impressions, it now gets each month on its site. Here’s how they work: For Google Transit, you just enter a destination in Google Maps and click on an option to see public transit instead of driving directions. For HopStop, which also works well with mobile devices, you have the additional option of seeing private shuttles, ferries and taxi fares.

Infinia, a solar power startup, attracts attention from iPod and iPhone manufacturer

For an idea of what a sun-powered future might look like without solar panels or huge solar thermal farms, take a look at Infinia — an odd little startup I covered two months ago when it sucked in a hefty $50 million round and announced plans to start churning out dish-based systems next year. By some back-of-the-envelope calculations I did following another recent conversation with CEO J.D. Sitton, there’s enough free industrial capacity in the United States to manufacture over 100 gigawatts per year of the company’s solar arrays — enough power for well over 50 million people. Got your attention? Good, but don’t expect to hear the same thing out of Infinia. The company started out planning 90MW of capacity and has since gotten enough inquiries to consider trying to make several times that amount in 2009, but has kept its outlook “very modest” despite intense interest from investors and developers. The eye-popping 100GW figure I spun out comes not from any capability of the company, but from its scheme for manufacturing. Infinia’s solar arrays use a mirrored dish focused on a Stirling engine, in which air is heated to cause an internal cycle that produces energy. To simplify a longer explanation, the fact that it’s an engine makes it possible for automobile manufacturing plants to produce it, given a bit of re-tooling. And according to Sitton, the nation’s auto plants, set up to churn out well over 20 million cars a year, will instead produce as few as 15 million. That leaves a lot of unused capacity (and unemployed workers; hello, Detroit) ready to build something else, capacity that Infinia is tapping into to build its first run, starting in November. So where most solar companies have to work incrementally, building their own plants to produce the parts they need, Infinia has the advantage of simply being able to contract out the work, and the luck of contracting it out into a market thirsty for work. The company does have limitations; it takes care of final assembly from the parts received itself, and of course has to prove that the arrays can produce power at competitive rates without problems cropping up (like the Stirling engines breaking down). Any kinks that exist will become apparent in a year or so, when the first clusters of dishes are going up. The initial picture for Infinia does look pretty good, though. The news that prompted the conversation with Sitton is some fresh attention for Infinia from a company famous for making the iPod and iPhone — no, not Apple, but Foxconn, the company that actually builds the things. A giant Asian manufacturer, Foxconn just placed a $7 million strategic investment in Infinia, with an eye toward getting in on the dish and engine manufacturing action. The dishes themselves produce about three kilowatts each, and when first deployed will be bunched up into groups generating between one and 10 megawatts each. The small project sizes both allow the company to skip a lengthy permitting process — the same idea that eSolar, a solar thermal company, just announced for itself — and to hook into the existing transmission grid without any modifications. As to who’s actually making the first arrays, it’s not Foxconn. Infinia is working out the details with some North American manufacturers, with the details to be announced in a few months.

Dirtt Environmental, a green builder, raises $25M

Green building has gotten yet another boost with a sizable investment to the Canadian firm Dirtt Environmental, which makes modular floors, walls and equipment that can be assembled and taken apart as needed. The company received C$25 million from the Canadian firms Canaccord Adams, Blackmont Capital and D.F. Mackie, according to VentureWire (subscription required). Dirtt also recently bought Spider Manufacturing, which makes reusable electronic components that Dirtt can sell alongside its building materials. Some similar companies we’ve included in recent coverage are Hycrete and Serious Materials, both of which have gained some traction in the green building market.

Norwegian electric vehicle headed to the US

[EMBED1]It looks like Tesla Motors will finally have some competition for headlines in the United States: Think, a Norwegian maker of electric cars, has announced a partnership with Kleiner Perkins and Rockport Capital Partners to export its vehicles stateside through Th!nk North America, a new subsidiary.Out of the many small electric vehicle makers in existence, Think is one of the few that seems credible. The company has proved popular in its home country and taken investments from General Electric, DFJ Element, Kleiner Perkins and Rockport, and several European firms.The Think City, the first model to come over, looks vaguely like a VW Beetle and has a range of 110 miles and top speed of 65 miles per hour. While those specs aren’t likely to inspire the masses to junk their SUVs and switch, its $25,000 price tag will prove attractive to plenty, including corporate fleets anxious to cut down on fuel expenses. More attractive will be the Think Ox, a model slated for production in 2010 with a higher top speed and range. (It’s the model pictured below.)

Google, Oak Investment and Idealab back eSolar to the tune of $130M

In the rapid rise of solar thermal power, a small handful of companies have grabbed the lion’s share of attention and funding: Ausra, Brightsource and Solel are the three most oft-heard names. Another company, eSolar, can now add its name to that shortlist, with one of the biggest cleantech venture fundings to date. Notably, eSolar has plans to immediately funnel the money into construction projects that may see its plants going online ahead of its competitors’. The solar thermal designs of all these companies involve using fields of mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight on contained water, which then boils and powers turbines. From that starting point everything can differ, from the size and shape of the mirrors to the type of receptacle containing the water and the location of the power plant. ESolar’s trick is a minimalist design that uses small, flat mirrors in relatively modest deployments — the company is planning to build a series of plants producing 33 megawatts each, which is enough to power from 15,000 – 25,000 average Californian homes. Ausra, by contrast, is planning a 177MW plant in San Luis Obispo County, while Brightsource has a deal for five of about the same size. Going smaller has several benefits for eSolar. The biggest is that the bureaucratic stumbling block of permitting is smoothed for plants under 50MW. Having smaller plants — they fit on about 160 acres of land — could also benefit eSolar by allowing it to nestle plants into areas that are closer to the regular transmission grid. The size and speed with which they can be built means that eSolar could potentially have a plant up by the end of this year or early next. Most of its competitor’s earliest installations are scheduled for a year or so beyond that.

Sungevity brings web 2.0 grit to the solar installation market

Set to be officially unveiled on Tuesday to coincide with Earth Day, Sungevity, a Berkeley, Calif., based solar installer, aims to make the experience of configuring and ordering solar panels as easy as the click of a mouse — quite literally. Enter your home address on its website, and Sungevity’s satellite-imaging software (from Microsoft’s Visual Earth) takes you to a zoomed-in map of your house. It then helps you calculate your roof’s dimensions (its pitch, azimuth and available area) and pick the appropriately-sized arrays. It uses its own proprietary algorithm to do so.