Attero raises $6.3M for e-waste recycling

With the U.S. economy still in the doldrums, venture firms are increasingly looking abroad to capital-starved developing markets for new growth opportunities — with India and China quickly emerging as the main beneficiaries. Enter Attero, a Noida, India-based e-waste recycler, which has just snagged a $6.3 million first round cash infusion from VC heavyweight Draper Fisher Jurvetson and NEA-IndoUS Ventures, a Bangalore-based venture firm that provides early to mid-stage funding to Indian start-ups.

EOS takes second $2.5M tranche for water purification

Environmental Operating Solutions, a Bourne, Mass. water company with manufacturing facilities in Oregon and South Carolina, has finished raising a $5 million funding with the closing of a second $2.5 million tranche. The company makes denitrification chemicals for wastewater treatment facilities. The chemicals help keep waste flow from creating dead zones in open bodies of water. Stuart Mill Venture Partners led the overall funding, with Wolverine Venture Fund also participating in this tranche. EOS raised its first tranche of the financing in March.

Trilliant takes $40M in one of the biggest smart grid investments to date

Part of the growing trend for nearly every electronic device to be able to communicate with others, smart grid and advanced metering startup Trilliant has taken $40 million in its first official venture funding. Trilliant, like competitors Ambient, Silver Spring Networks, SmartSynch and others, makes wireless communication devices for utility meters. When enough are present in an area, they can form a mesh network capable of communicating moment-to-moment use information back to utilities, and to the homes and businesses they’re installed within. (Some can also communicate via hardwired connections.) The company is one of the oldest to try to tackle the problem. I covered it in more depth in June. The problem with looking at the field is that, at first glance, all the contenders seem to be pretty much identical; broadly speaking, each is approaching the same problem, that of trying to get more information about usage to consumers and utilities, in more or less the same way. One of the new investors in Trilliant, MissionPoint Capital’s Mark Lewis, says that the key difference is in the quality of the technology being deployed. While the concept of a mesh network is simple — add together a bunch of low-power nodes to create a linked network that can pass information end-to-end — they’re not always easy to scale up, in practice. Add in ideas that haven’t yet hit the market, like combining electrical metering info with the same from water and gas, and giving consumers the ability to remotely control devices and usage patterns, and it becomes even more difficult to make truly comprehensive chips (which are installed in existing meters by bigger manufacturers). Atop it all, the equipment has to be durable and long-lived, lasting for decades. At the moment it’s difficult to tell who will come out on top, but Lewis says the goal is just to capture a significant segment of the market, as well as expand overseas. In North America, utilities are continuing to test equipment by multiple manufacturers, with few having settled on any one solution yet. The $40 million investment in Trilliant was led by MissionPoint and Zouk Ventures, a European investment firm. Trilliant had previously taken strategic and internal funding. Only Silver Spring has taken more in one shot, with $59.3 million total split between an extended third round raised this year and last. makes its geothermal play with investments in Altarock, Potter Drilling

[Update: Lost in the press blitz about the investment was the fact that Altarock took $26.25 million in total. Advanced Technology Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins and Vulcan Capital all participated.] Here’s a fact: If you go outside, wherever you are, and start drilling a hole, once you get deep enough it will become very, very hot. Using that heat for electricity is the cornerstone of geothermal power, and it’s great if you can reach the hot spots — just ask Iceland. But much of that heat is difficult to reach or use, a detail that has inspired the latest investment by The type of geothermal power that has been used for over a century comes from underground reservoirs of water that are heated from below. Areas that are easy to access, like California’s Geysers geothermal development, are a valuable source of power. But in many other places, there are heated areas relatively close to the surface — in Google’s view, that means three to 10 kilometers down — that also don’t contain water. To draw power from those locations, you’d need to not only drill down far enough, but also pump in water and retrieve it as steam to run turbines. That technology is called Enhanced Geothermal Systems. The funding, for $10.25 million, has been split two ways. Altarock Energy will get $6.25 million, and Potter Drilling will receive $4 million. Separately, the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab will get about half a million dollars for ongoing research. Between the three, Google is tackling the various requirements for drilling and injecting water, as well as mapping out new resources. However, the amounts are small compared to other recent investments. We speculated that would be making a geothermal bet back in May, right after it had helped plow over $200 million into solar thermal firms Brightsource and, separately, eSolar. Those amounts suggested that Google was ready to put serious weight behind any technology it thought could take off. The investments announced today could indicate that EGS isn’t ready for prime-time, or that the companies Google funded are simply a bit earlier in the development cycle. Or it could mean that Google is nervous about some of the risk factors with EGS, like the possibility of losing large amounts of the water you pump in or destabilizing the ground beneath plants (not a small concern in California). Another company we’ve written about, Australia’ Geodynamics, is planning thousands of megawatts of geothermal development using technology similar to Altarock’s, but has already had to abandon at least one well that it drilled. If successful, both it and the Google companies estimate that they can produce geothermal power for under 10 cents per kilowatt hour, the usual figure required for success. We’ve also written about Altarock before, when it received at $4 million investment last year from Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures.

Lotame raises $13M for customizable social media ads

Lotame, an Elk Ridge, Maryland-based advertising startup, has closed its second funding for its social media ad platform, Crowd Control. Motto, and I quote: “Every Party Needs Crowd Control!”

Segway takes $5M more for innovative scooters

A scant two months after completing a $35 million funding, Segway, makers of the innovative, self-balancing scooters known everywhere but seen almost nowhere, has taken on another $5 million. The funding was first reported by peHUB at the end of last week, but VentureWire offers a few more details this morning. The money is from an unnamed strategic investor that the company “couldn’t pass up”, according to VW. The round is staying open with $9 million remaining for any further strategic investments. Despite still not having made it big — seven years after predicting that it would — Segway is still trying hard to become serious competition for ambulation and bicycling, with innovative marketing moves like the Segway Social. There’s even some indication that sales are picking up. However, the company also recently lost its CTO, Doug Field, to Apple, indicating that the scooter business likely still isn’t jet-fueled.

Marrone Organic Innovations raises $10M for green pesticides

Marrone Organic Innovations, a Davis, Calif.-based based maker of natural pesticides and weed killers, has wrapped up a $10 million second round of funding and expects a second closing of $1 million later this month. The round was led by Stuart Mill Venture Partners and Contrarian Group; returning investors included One Earth Capital, Saffron Hill Ventures, Clean Pacific Ventures, Wavepoint Ventures and local angel investors.

Overseas startups jump to pick up Twitter’s slack

Following our report on Wednesday that Twitter will stop sending mobile SMS updates to users in countries other than the United States, Canada and India, several startups have stepped forward to say they’ll help out (for a reasonable fee). To recap, Twitter found that it was being charged unreasonable amounts — up to $1,000 per user — in areas like Europe to send SMS messages to users, because of different billing standards. In the US, Twitter makes some money from SMS, because carriers will cut them a portion of the fee they charge their users for both incoming and outgoing messages. Zygotweet is an effort thrown together by the United Kingdom company Zygohubs, a sort of centralized messaging service that already ties into mobile. They’ve put together a form for Twitter users to request a service that would charge about 5 pence per incoming message from Twitter (the service wouldn’t try to send all messages, just those directed to you). A nearly identical idea, tweetSMS, is already online, and got covered on Mashable. Whether Twitter’s user base is large enough to provide meaningful revenue to startups in other countries is unknown. Chances are good that Twitter has well over a quarter million users in the United Kingdom — its US traffic numbers have grown rapidly, and it took off early this year in the UK — so if just a portion of those care enough to get SMS service, there’s some revenue to be had. It seems odd that the company would sacrifice the money when it has already said it’s interested in mobile and SMS, but Twitter does have a history of letting other companies step in and create features it should have made itself.

Are the economies of scale in PG&E’s 800 megawatt solar installation real?

Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility that services much of northern and central California, has announced plans to buy electricity from an 800 megawatt solar panel installation, a vast project many times the size of anything currently existing. The move is somewhat surprising, because the expectation was that utilities would first work on building more solar thermal plants, which focus sunlight with mirrors to drive steam turbines, before building large plants with costly solar panels. At around the output of a nuclear plant, the PG&E project should provide power to several hundred thousand homes. Economics usually drive such purchasing decisions, and they don’t always make sense for solar. Solar panels are generally expected to produce power for costs of over 15 cents per kilowatt hour when set up en masse (in smaller installations, like rooftops, the figure is higher). Roughly speaking, that’s at least three times what coal plants cost. Wind power goes for well under 10 cents per kWh, and solar thermal producers usually claim to be at 8-12 cents per kWh. Some estimates are listed here. Thus the unusual aspect of PG&E’s deal. It would seemingly make more sense to work with other types of renewables to reach the 20 percent requirement for renewable energy the utility needs to reach by 2010. While costs for solar panels have been dropping, most companies would prefer to test smaller projects first. No numbers have been released for the installations, which will be in San Luis Obispo County. One possible reason for PG&E pulling the trigger on the deal is that there is very little time left until the 2010 requirement. Solar thermal and wind require not only building the plants, but also erecting costly transmission lines from the site, sometimes several hundred miles worth. San Luis is close to the center of PG&E’s territory. However, there’s also an existing deal with solar thermal provider Ausra to build a 177MW plant in the county, which suggests that PG&E could have contracted for more solar thermal in the same location. Instead, it went with Optisolar, a secretive thin-film solar firm that will build out a previously rumored 550MW of panels, and SunPower, a public corporation that makes standard panels, and will have 250MW of generating capacity. Optisolar, which still says little about its technology, is also building about 100MW of capacity in Ontario, which offers hefty incentives for solar power. The thin-film silicon panels the company makes are likely very inefficient at converting sunlight to electricity, but very cheap to make. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the economics of solar panels have changed drastically in a short time, such that giant solar farms make sense. And that seems to be the impression that all three companies are attempting to give off; for instance, a PG&E spokesperson told the NYT that the plant would be “competitive with wind power”. However, there’s likely more to the story than is being admitted. PG&E obviously has some strong motivations to buy solar power. The question is what its contract with the two companies looks like. A standard contract involves a set purchase rate for electricity, say 12 cents per kWh for ten years, rising with inflation. That limits risk for the utility; and the risk, in turn, generally falls on the owner of the generating capacity. What’s nearly certain is that the plants will not be competitive with wind power, which is not only very cheap, but also proven at very large scales. Solar is not yet proven at the scale PG&E is working on — and that may remain the case until the plants are built. And in the meantime, to be built at all, the plants will require a renewal of the investment tax credit, which still doesn’t look likely.

TrueBridge Capital captures $310M for fund of funds

The latest fund-of-funds, a investment firm that puts its money into other venture firms, to close on a round is TrueBridge Capital Partners, with $310 million in new money. Based in Chapel Hill, Calif., TrueBridge is a new firm, and this is its first close. It was aiming for $250 million, but ultimately took on more. Some 50 of its limited partners are members of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a training ground for new VCs. The fund has already been investing in venture firms, according to The News & Observer, which says it has put in $195 million to date. TrueBridge declined to name the firms in its portfolio, but we can point out one: Boston’s Flybridge Capital, formerly known as IDG Ventures Boston. TrueBridge was founded by Edwin Poston, formerly of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mel Williams, who helped found the University of North Carolina’s endowment management firm.

Amyris Biotechnologies tacks on $21M for biofuel development

One of the most highly valued biofuel startups in the country, Amyris Biotechnologies, has taken on an additional $21 million as part of its previously announced $70 million second round of funding, according to VentureWire. Amyris is a synthetic biology company that is working on microorganisms to create analogs of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Earlier this year, it joined a venture in Brazil, Crystalsev, to make fuel from sugar in that country. The company was valued at $470 million for the round, and has now taken $91 million as part of the funding. It also raised $20 million in 2006.

Algal biofuel firm AXI receives seed funding

AXI, a spinoff from a University of Washington research group, has taken seed funding to design algae to produce biodiesel. The company is based on the work of Dr. Rose Ann Cattolico, a long-time algae researcher at the university. It already has its own proprietary algae strains, but did not make clear whether it would put the organisms to work in an open pond or closed system. Allied Minds, a local investment firm, provided the funding, but did not disclose the amount.

Aquus joins the solar service crowd with first investment

Yet another solar services company — the firms that install, maintain and sometimes own the panels on houses and businesses — has gained venture funding, with New Rochelle, NY-based Aquus Energy taking an undisclosed amount. Like others, Aquus is a full-service company, handling everything from permitting to warranties. The company also installs solar thermal and hot water, generators, and other systems. There’s plenty of room for growth for these companies, as each tends to operate in its own distinct geographic area. Aquus, for example, works in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. However, the number of similar companies seeking financing has multiplied, and in time they will begin to compete. The funding was provided by Oppenheimer, an investment bank and firm that also does venture rounds. It was Aquus’s first.

Geothermal engineering firm ThermaSource raises $41.5M

Just as in the oil industry, drilling and engineering for geothermal projects is an expensive proposition. To help buy drilling rigs and develop its services, ThermaSource has taken a hefty funding of $41.5 million. The Santa Clara, Calif. company employs 210 people, but plans on doubling in size by the end of this year. Riverstone Holdings, US Renewables Group and Rustic Canyon Partners provided the funding. ThermaSource has taken $93 million to date, counting both equity and debt.

For the future of biodiesel, Chevron and Shell might be on the right track

Want to fill up your Volkswagen or Hummer on renewables, as Arnold Schwarzenegger does? Biodiesel, a vegetable-oil based variant on petroleum diesel, is your fuel. As we pointed out last week, the fuel doesn’t get as much attention as high-tech biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and “green” gasoline. However, substances called furanics may help bring biodiesel back into the spotlight. Furanics, while not actually identical to biodiesel, might as well be — they burn in diesel engines quite well. Two researchers at the University of California, Davis say that a process they developed to reduce plant matter to furanics could be more efficient than existing methods for making cellulosic ethanol. That should be a red flag for the ethanol industry, because furanics would use the same sort of feedstocks that current cellulosic ethanol processes do — woody materials like switchgrass and pulped timber. But cellulosic ethanol has proved difficult to make, requiring energy-intensive processes to break down the stiff cellulosic fibers. Professors Mascal and Nikitin say they’ve hit on a simple process to directly convert cellulose into furan. A couple more details are at Chemical & Engineering News, while the full study was published in Angewandte Chemie, an international journal of chemistry. Interestingly, it appears that Chevron Technology Ventures, the oil giant’s venture investment arm, helped fund the UC Davis researchers with a grant. Chevron isn’t the only oil company interested in furanics; as Gas 2.0 points out, Shell spun off Avantium to commercialize the same biofuel. Separately, it’s beginning to look like jatropha will work well as a feedstock for regular biodiesel. Following our article on Innovation Fuels last Thursday, another company has announced funding to work with the oil-producing plant. Globes is reporting that Galten, an Israeli startup, has taken $10 million in funding led by Xpert Financial Group. Where Innovation is looking to grow the plant in Asia, though, Galten has laid its chips on Africa, with a lease on 500,000 acres in Ghana. According to their own calculations, if all of the land were planted, it would be enough for a significant 600,000 tons of oil per planting, which transfers fairly directly to biodiesel.

T. Boone helps inject $160M into natural gas-fueled taxis

Ever since multi-billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens unveiled his grand energy plan for the United States last month, everyone with an ounce of skepticism has been wondering why he’s so bullish on using natural gas for transportation. True to form for the canny Texan, it soon emerged that he owns a refueling station business called Clean Energy Fuels. Now Pickens, who was famously portrayed as a high-stakes gambler by Time, has doubled down on his own plan, and helped put $160 million into a company with plans to build a fleet of natural gas taxis and paratransit (for the disabled) vehicles. The Vehicle Production Group makes a boxy yellow vehicle called “The Standard Taxi”, which can fit four passengers and a wheelchair. Taxis seem like an intelligent bet, because many commercial fleets and bus systems already run on natural gas. Private commercial transportation is a logical step toward the consumer market. The investment wasn’t majority led by Pickens and Clean Energy Fuels, who went for $10 million each. The majority of the funds came from Perseus, a private equity fund which also, incidentally, owns a stake in Clean Energy Fuels. Keep an eye out for further moves from this trio — whenever the money and reputation of gamblers is at stake, they can be counted on to follow up with another bet.

Roundup: A123 files for IPO, Nokia opens in Africa, Calera comes out, and more

A123 Systems files proposal for IPO — Lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems, which aims to sell into the electric vehicle market, has filed the initial registration statement required for an initial public offering. The number of shares to be sold or price has not yet been determined. Nokia opens research unit in Africa — Aiming to keep ahead in Africa’s growing telecommunications market, handset maker Nokia has opened a unit to study which services will work best on the continent. Calera succeeds in binding CO2 into cement — An initial pilot project by stealth-mode cement maker Calera, which was funded last year by Khosla Ventures, has successfully run a pilot in which it bound about half a ton of CO2 for every ton of cement it made. Usually, cement manufacturing is a huge emitter of CO2. The Scientific American has a profile, with more details. However, the biggest question — whether Calera can make cement cost-effectively — has yet to be answered. Stealthy cloud security firm Confidela funded — An Israeli firm developing a “new security model in cloud computing, for use in tasks like online document collaboration, has raised a second round of $5 million, according to Globes. Matrix Partners scores former PayPal exec — Dana Stalder, a senior vice president of marketing at PayPal, has defected to become a general partner at Matrix Partners.

Mining moves from earth to water with Simbol investment

Simbol Mining, a company that says it has a better way to collect the lithium used in today’s most advanced batteries, has taken a first round of funding. The idea of mining usually conjures up images of sweating, grime-encrusted men and earth-moving machines. What Simbol is aiming for more closely resembles running a water through a Brita filter. The startup hopes to separate out valuable elements from water stored in mineral-rich deposits deep underground. That would be an expensive task, if undertaken alone. Luckily, geothermal plants also have an interest in tapping into deep water supplies, which are often hot enough to use for electricity. By using the same water streams that geothermal plants do, Simbol can use its high-tech filters to separate out lithium and, eventually, other elements. Lithium is a good target because demand for it in lithium-ion batteries, used by laptops, phones and hybrid and electric vehicles is on the rise. The market is about $500 million yearly right now, but could triple in size in less than a decade (or much more, if the electric vehicle market really takes off). A somewhat comparable investment is Greatpoint Energy, which scooped up $100 million last year to convert and clean coal. In general, though, venture investments in mining-related technology are pretty rare. The $6.7 million funding was led by Mohr Davidow Ventures and Firelake Capital.

Ausra rakes in $24.5M for solar thermal power

A little over a month after opening its first 130,000-square-foot factory in Las Vegas, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Ausra, a developer of utility-level solar thermal power, has raised $24.5 million in a third roundof  funding from returning investors Khosla Ventures and KPCB. New investor KERN Partners, based in Alberta, Canada, also joined the round.

ReCellular dials up $15M for cell phone recycling

Don’t throw away that used mobile phone just yet — chances are ReCellular, a Dexter, Mich.-based phone recycling firm, can help find it a new home. One of the world’s leading cell phone recyclers, it has just raised $15 million in first round funding from Investor Growth Capital.

Nokeena Networks raises $8.7M for faster streaming video

A stealthy content accelerator called Nokeena Networks has raised $8.7 million in a first round of funding, with an aim to sell a hardware appliance that will better process and transmit video across networks. The company is specifically directing its efforts toward high-quality video, according to a story in The Deal, which first reported the funding in a story about its investors. Clearstone Venture Partners and Trinity Ventures led the $8.7 million investment in Nokeena, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif.

As LEDs become hot, Intematix takes an investment, expands objectives

While most agree that LEDs will someday replace compact fluorescents as the energy-efficient lights of choice for homes and businesses, that day often seems far off. LEDs, which emit light from a semiconductor chip instead of interaction with a gas, have always been bulky and expensive, and the illumination they give off isn’t exactly mood lighting. But recently, it has begun to look like lighting companies may overcome those problems more quickly than anticipated. Intematix got its start tackling the light quality problem. Unlike the soft light that incandescents are valued for, LEDs light tended to be harsh, generally coming in bright reds, blues or an off-kilter white. The company specialized, until recently, in making a phosphor coating for the semiconductor in LEDs that could produce a more attractive light, for which it drew funding from top VCs like Crosslink Capital and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, as well as tech giant Samsung. But while Intematix was honing its chemistry, other companies made headway into the remaining problems. It now looks like LEDs will replace CFLs as the lighting technology of the future, and Intematix has joined the ranks of companies aggressively pushing to install the lights in houses and businesses. With a new $5.2 million strategic investment from a manufacturing partner in Asia, Intematix has taken over a plant in Taiwan and vertically integrated to produce entire “light engines” — a term that CEO Peter Larsson uses because an LED is more complex than the bulbs you’re used to. A complete LED bulb requires components for cooling the back of the unit, optics to diffuse the light, and a power supply. Notably, Intematix provides the tiny 1-watt bulbs that D.light Design uses in its cheap, solar-powered lamps for families in developing countries. It is also designing a tube-shaped LED that will replace the big fluorescent lights in parking garages. Aside from LEDs, Intematix has also started using its phosphors for CFLs, which, like LEDs, don’t producing desirable light without some tinkering. And the company is finding serious potential in a third business, the cold cathode fluorescent (CCFL) tubes that are used in LCD televisions. Those two areas could turn out to be a big business, but Larsson is confident LEDs have serious potential. “The market is only going to expand as LED prices come down,” he told me, noting that the semiconductors used in LEDs have improved rapidly over the past year, putting out more light per watt. Despite pouring money into ongoing research, he expects Intematix to become profitable by the end of this year. A number of other companies have also taken investments this year to tackle LEDs, including $5.25 million for Illumitex, $6 million for Optoelectronix and a whopping $72 million for Luminus Devices.

Cellulosic ethanol maker Verenium gets $90M investment from BP

Verenium, a Cambridge, Mass. biofuel maker, has formed a partnership with oil giant British Petroleum and taken on a $90 million investment from the latter company to develop its cellulosic ethanol process. Under the deal, BP will have access to Verenium’s technology if it wishes to build its own production plants, and will also fund further research. Although Verenium is publicly traded, it is a competitor to quite a few private companies working on cellulosic ethanol, including Coskata, Mascoma and Range Fuels.

Six Degrees Games raises $7M for sports virtual world

Virtual world creator Six Degrees Games has taken $7 million to develop a world for six to 14 year old children with a sports theme. The funding is the company’s first. Six Degrees hasn’t given many specific details on the game, called Action AllStars, but the company’s executive roster includes two people from Jamdat Mobile, which Electronic Arts acquired in 2006. Jamdat was well known for simple, but engaging games for mobile phones. Clearstone Venture Partners and Prism VentureWorks led the round. The company is based in Marina del Rey, California.

BPL Global raises $23M for smart grid control

BPL (Better Power Lines) Global is a Pittsburgh, Penn. company that makes software and equipment for utilities in order to manage and monitor the grid, and help integrate in renewable energy sources. The company has partnerships with utilities both in the United States and overseas in Africa, Asia and South America, and reports that it is near to profitability. The $23 million funding was providd by existing investors IFA Group, Novitas Capital, El Dorado and Morgan Stanley, as well as new investor Cross Atlantic Capital Partners.

Innolume raises $13.4M for quantum-dot lasers

Innolume, a diode laser manufacturer co-based in Santa Clara, Calif. and Dortmund, Germany, has raised $13.4 million (€8.6 million euros) in its third round of funding. The company makes lasers that can operate in a wavelength unattainable by other lasers, useful for applications in manufacturing, telecommunications and medicine. S-Group Capital Management led the round, and was joined by Applied Ventures, NRW.BANK and Peppermint Financial Partners.

Plastic Logic sees flexible, low-power displays coming with $50M funding

Thin, flexible display tech is one of those advances that has been just over the horizon since the Internet bubble started inflating. Remember the promises of e-paper — a crossbreed with the best qualities of both paper and computer screens, used as portable reading material? So far the best we’ve gotten is the Amazon Kindle, but Plastic Logic is hoping to change that, with a plan for commercialization next year. Plastic Logic, spun off from Cambridge University in 2000, has been working for a long time on its technology, a semi-transparent sheet of tough plastic that can quickly create and erase static images (video is still a challenge). Electronic books, of course, are the obvious application, but there is also potential for signage, RFIDs, head-up displays (HUDs) and other gadgets. Nowadays, the company has its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. But more importantly, it also has a manufacturing center, in Dresden, Germany, from which location it will introduce a mass-market device incorporating a flexible display — pitting it against E-Ink, Samsung, Panasonic and several other rivals who are working in a similar time frame. That facility is scheduled to open in September 2009 2008 [update: The company initially misreported the date; the plant is slated to open next month. We’ll have more details soon.] but the company says its product will be on the market in early 2009, which suggests that it’s probably working with another manufacturer. Who that could be presents some interesting possibilities. Because it’s just a display, the technology seems like a natural match for a device like a cellphone, which has a tiny screen but can download data such as the daily newspaper. Polymer Vision has already installed a tiny foldable display into a phone called the Readius, which is slated for release in Europe this year. A larger screen could potentially be a smart add-on for a cutting-edge phone like Nokia’s N95 or the iPhone. (Interestingly enough, Steve Jobs hinted earlier this year that an Apple reader of some sort might be on its way.) In the meantime, if you can’t bear holding out another year for a flexible display, you only have to wait until October, when the 75th anniversary issue of Esquire will have a blinking e-paper display made by E-Ink incorporated into its cover as an elaborate publicity stunt. The $50 million funding for Plastic Logic was led by existing investors Oak Investment Partners and Amadeus Capital Partners, with participation from Intel Capital, Morningside Technology Ventures and others (a full list is here). The company has taken over $200 million to date.

Xoft raises $25M for targeted cancer treatment

Xoft, a Sunnyvale, Calif. company with an X-ray radiation treatment used for breast cancer and endometrial cancer, has raised a fifth round totaling $25 million, according to VentureWire. The treatment uses targeting technology and tools to pinpoint the area being irradiated, limiting the damage done to the patient and allowing technicians to remain in the room. New investor Chicago Growth Partners provided a majority of the funding, and was joined by previous investors including Easton Capital, Cutlass Capital, Maverick Capital and Sutter Hill Ventures.

Versant Ventures raises $500M for life sciences investing

Versant Ventures, a Menlo Park, Calif. venture firm that specializes in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, has raised $500 million for its fourth fund to date. The firm has some 75 companies under management. Some of its more prominent investments to date include Cadence Pharmaceuticals, Helicos Biosciences and Phenomix.

Set-top box company Entone wants to be TiVo-killer

Entone, a company that sells a set-top box for Internet television that can distribute video to three different TVs at once, has raised $14.5 million in a second round of financing.

MBA Polymers raises $40M for recycling plants

Some plastics, like high grade steel or aluminum, are just too good to toss in the dump. But for years that has happened to them anyway, for lack of good recycling technology. MBA Polymers was started to separate out worthwhile plastics from waste streams to break down and re-form into new, high-quality plastics. The company just took funding to build new recycling plants, according to VentureWire. Although based in Richmond, Calif., MBA has plans to build its plants around the world, starting in either the United Kingdom or China. The $40 million investment was co-led by Citi Sustainable Investments and Honeywell Capital Management, both large corporate investors. Previous backers Doughty Hanson Technology, Balderton Capital and Asia West returned for the round.

Google to start new venture capital division — likely for telecom

Reports in years past have suggested that Google, like Intel, Motorola and other large tech companies, might open an internal venture capital fund to invest in startups. The idea has never come to fruition, but a brief in this morning’s Wall Street Journal says that discussions are on once again. David Drummond, a senior vice president and Google’s chief legal officer, has been tapped to lead the fund, and the company has hired William Maris, a former entrepreneur, to help set it up. Maris worked at a health investment fund in 2005 with Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, according to the NYT’s DealBook. What Google could potentially invest in is probably somewhat limited by its own extensive activities on the Internet. Startups in advertising, email, media, search, social networking and many other areas would likely be leery of letting a potential competitor see the inner workings of their business and technology. And, an independently operating “philanthropic” (but for-profit) division of the company, already handles cleantech investments of all sorts. That leaves one major area in which Google has expressed strong interest: Telecommunications. With its Android mobile platform creeping toward completion and the need to break into mobile advertising, Google has reason to put money into mobile and communications companies of all stripes. Of the few investments the company has made so far, most are somewhere in the communication space. Whether those companies should work with Google is another question. While the search giant has not been an active investor, it has bought up quite a few companies — only to have most of them disappear within its sprawling mass. Google’s reputation alone should net it plenty of interest, but there’s also plenty of competition from private venture firms, as well as other corporate funds, and no guarantee that the search giant would be an attentive strategic partner. Google’s direct investments to date include public WiFi operator Meraki Wireless, a Chinese P2P company called Xunlei, and British femtocell company Ubiquisys.

FTL Solar raises $250,000 for thin-film solar

FTL Solar, a New York-based maker of thin-film solar cells, has secured $250,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). In total, the company has received over $450,000 in funding from NYSERDA for R&D efforts.

H2scan raises $4M for hydrogen monitoring technology

H2scan, a Valencia, Calif.-based maker of hydrogen sensing devices, has received $4 million in fourth round funding from Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, H5 Capital, Tri-Strip Associates, TGB Partners and Ravinia Venture Fund. Members of the Tech Coast and Pasadena Angels also joined the round; all but TGB Partners are returning investors.

With $15M new funding, Cyrium will fight Boeing and Emcore for the concentrating solar market

When we talk about concentrating photovoltaics (CPV), it’s the lenses, mirrors and tracking systems that focus sunlight onto solar cells that get all the attention. But why not the cells themselves? A little-discussed handicap in CPV is the near-monopoly two public companies, Boeing’s (BA) Spectrolab and Emcore (EMKR), enjoy on high-efficiency cells. That’s starkly different from the other solar markets, in which dozens of startups are vying for attention. One reason the two companies reign uncontested is that the market for their expensive cells, which can capture over 30 percent of the sunlight that hits them, is very small. But Cyrium Technologies, with $15 million in new funding, hopes to break the status quo and, in the process help the CPV market to expand. At the moment there’s not a lot separating Emcore and Spectrolab. Both companies occasionally put out press releases touting record-breaking efficiencies, but those milestones are achieved in labs, not manufacturing lines. What’s actually sold are cells that average 37 percent efficiency (although anecdotal reports suggest their real performance is around 34 percent). Both companies have struggled to do any better with efficiency, and prices have likewise stayed high. That’s not a huge problem for CPV companies like SolFocus, because the biggest cost is in all the lenses, trackers and so forth that make up concentrating solar units, and the technology is still new. However, many CPV systems are now at a point where they compare favorably to regular solar panels. As a new technology, they could use a competitive advantage to help convince buyers, and lift their own profit margins. Cyrium thinks it can provide that edge. Cyrium’s innovation is changing a time-tested portion of the cells Emcore and Spectrolab use. The photovoltaics in question go by the geeky designation of III-V, triple-junction cells. That means they’re built with three layers that work a bit like a sieve with progressively smaller holes. The top layer captures ultraviolet light, the middle takes in visible light, and the bottom grabs the remaining infrared spectrum. The middle layer is what has held up further development, according to Cyrium’s CEO, Steve Eglash. It captures less light than the other two, and further development has been slow. Cyrium was founded by Simon Fafard, now the company’s CTO, around the idea of embedding nano-scale amounts of a material called indium arsenide within that layer of the cell (also called quantum dotting). Eglash says the technique will boost his company’s first line of solar cells to around 41 percent efficiency, which can milk out 10 percent more energy from a CPV system. That’s a large and important gain, especially if the CPV technology in question is already competitive with other forms of solar power. Cyrium hasn’t gotten to that efficiency yet, but Eglash says its initial partners are already reporting comparable output to Spectrolab cells, and development is far from done. And interest in the finished product is running high: “Out of the 25-30 concentrated photovoltaic companies out there, nearly every single one has reached out and asked if they can please work with us,” Eglash says. Also on the books is a reduction in cost, but there, Cyrium’s competitors are on a more even footing with it. Eglash says his company will benefit from a fabless (outsourced) manufacturing model, which Spectrolab and Emcore don’t use, but prices will remain high from now, only falling gradually over time. The funding for Cyrium is its second so far, and was for $15 million. Quercus Trust led, and was joined by previous investors BDC, Chyrsalix and Pangaea Ventures. It also recently received some funding from Sustainable Technology Development Canada, and its first round was for $3 million. Cyrium is headquartered in Ontario, Canada with an office, headed by Eglash, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

BT buys Ribbit for $105M

BT, the dominant British telecommunications company, has acquired Ribbit, a company that has styled itself “Silicon Valley’s first phone company,” for $105 million.

Northwind Ethanol, another cellulosic startup, claims cheap production from retrofitted plants

Ethanol production has proved to be both cost and energy intensive, distilled with basically the same methods used in biblical times. The latest effort to crack that problem is by Northwind Ethanol, which claims that its low-cost method can efficiently make ethanol using feedstocks like sawdust and switchgrass.Mantra Venture Group, a publicly-traded investment firm, is in negotiations with Northwind to finance a new cellulosic ethanol venture called NextGen, which Northwind projects producing ethanol for less than $1 per gallon. The financing for NextGen has not yet been disclosed, but Northwind CFO Brian Currie’s says that at market prices of $2.20 per gallon for ethanol, far below current prices, the joint venture would yield a return on investment of between 60 and 110 percent. Currie and company president Fred Enga started Vancouver-based Northwind seven years ago to commercialize the Gaian Starch Process, a low-heat process that breaks down cellulosic feedstocks into fermented sugar. The company says costs for the process are driven below industry norms through efficient construction and production processes. The company retrofits decommissioned mills and distilleries, a plentiful commodity in British Columbia, and utilizing their existing fermentation equipment and infrastructure to significantly lower capital costs. “Nobody else wants these things,” Currie says. “As long as there’s rail access, we can produce ethanol and ship it out at a low cost.” According to Currie, the venture’s inaugural plant, located in British Columbia with production capacity of 25 million gallons annually, will see $5 million in reduced capital costs from retrofitting. The project will be online in six to twelve months. The installation will be self-sufficient, generating carbon neutral energy through a closed loop system that captures and uses waste products as energy sources. Mantra President Larry Kristoff claims the plant will generate a surplus of four megawatts annually for sale back to the grid. The company’s output primarily is slated for the Canadian market, with multiple distribution deals signed and one with Canada’s Husky Energy in the works. There’s no shortage of competition for NextGen. The market for cellosic ethanol startups has seen a flurry of recent activity, with competitors like Mascoma, Range Fuels, and Coskata raising over $400 million in new financing over the past six months. Northwind is trailing the pack in developing partnerships with large multinationals and Washington. Both Coskata and Mascoma have partnerships with General Motors, while Range Fuels received a $76 million grant from the US Department of Energy. All three are backed by Silicon Valley cleantech powerhouse Khosla Ventures. All of these startups have promised ethanol production at $1 per gallon, but none have yet done so at commercial scale.

Accel opens an Indian outpost, with an eye toward $60M raise

Venture capital is streaming to India. The latest fund to add its chips to the pile is Accel Partners, a successful Palo Alto firm that already has outposts in the United Kingdom and China. Accel, rather than beginning from scratch, is taking over a local firm called Erasmic Venture Fund. Four of Erasmic’s existing partners will stay on to run Accel India, with a focus on seed and early stage investments. That focus is a bit of an oddity in the Indian market, where other firms have been injecting funding into businesses that have already proven successful. Like China, India is a rapidly growing market with enormous capital needs — which gives foreign investors a path to easy returns. But there’s also plenty of opportunity for new businesses, especially in the areas Accel India will be looking, which include mobile technology, consumer Internet and infrastructure. The early-stage focus also means that the fund won’t need as much capital committed. Accel says it will start with about $60 million, which it expects to raise within the next three months. Erasmic also brings about 12 portfolio companies to the table, including Bollywood movie review site Chakpak, vacation planner Holiday IQ, the CafePress-like site Myntra, and green computing startup Virident. Accel’s last round, which it raised at home, was for $520 million, completed in November.