Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Consumers Never Heard of ‘Biobased’ – But Know It’s Green

Most consumers say that biobased products are green – even though only a minority recognize the term “biobased”, according to research by a biotechnology company.

According to the Genencor Household Sustainability Index [pdf], 72 percent of U.S. consumers and 70 percent of Canadians said biobased ethanol fuel for vehicles is definitely, or is likely to be,“green”. When asked about biobased laundry or dishwasher detergents, 79 percent of U.S. and 83 percent of Canadian consumers said those products are probably or definitely green.

But despite consumers’ confidence in assessing the environmental credentials of biobased products, the survey found that just four in ten American consumers and about a third of Canadian consumers have heard of the term “biobased” to describe products.

And while consumers may be confident that biobased products are green, they have “a noticeable degree of skepticism” about whether products claiming to green actually benefit the environment, the report found.

Over a third of consumers surveyed – 37 percent in the U.S. and 33 percent in Canada - said they were “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that green products were better for the environment.

The poll also asked consumers what makes “green” products better for the environment. “Few or no toxic materials/ingredients” was the top answer for 22 percent of Americans and 36 percent of Canadians. Other popular choices were “breaks down naturally when disposed of”, “generates less pollution from manufacture or use”, and “can be recycled or reused”.

Some of the least popular answers were “fewer phosphates”, “no harmful health effects” and “made from biobased materials”.

And a whopping 34 percent of U.S. consumers, and 32 percent of Canadians, said either “other” or “don’t know/not applicable”.

“The findings indicate that consumers are prepared to actively choose biobased products, especially those consumers who are familiar with green products and are generally confident about their environmental claims,” said Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Genencor, which makes enzymes used in nearly 400 consumer and commercial products, including many green household materials.

In April the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 60 products had been awarded its then-new “BioPreferred” label for biobased products. Brands Hoover, DuPont and Seventh Generation were among the companies earning the right to use the BioPreferred seal.

At last count, 100 companies had submitted applications for about 400 products since the program started in January.

Products can qualify for the label in one of two ways:

* Those within pre-identified product categories must meet the minimum biobased content of that category.
* Those that do not fall within a pre-identified category must be 25 percent biobased, or the applicant can apply for an alternative minimum biobased content allowance.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Solar Cell Technology Greatly Boosts Efficiency

With the creation of a 3-D nanocone-based solar cell platform, a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Jun Xu has boosted the light-to-power conversion efficiency of photovoltaics by nearly 80 percent.

The technology substantially overcomes the problem of poor transport of charges generated by solar photons. These charges -- negative electrons and positive holes -- typically become trapped by defects in bulk materials and their interfaces and degrade performance.

"To solve the entrapment problems that reduce solar cell efficiency, we created a nanocone-based solar cell, invented methods to synthesize these cells and demonstrated improved charge collection efficiency," said Xu, a member of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division.

The new solar structure consists of n-type nanocones surrounded by a p-type semiconductor. The n-type nanoncones are made of zinc oxide and serve as the junction framework and the electron conductor. The p-type matrix is made of polycrystalline cadmium telluride and serves as the primary photon absorber medium and hole conductor.

With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials.

"We designed the three-dimensional structure to provide an intrinsic electric field distribution that promotes efficient charge transport and high efficiency in converting energy from sunlight into electricity," Xu said.

Key features of the solar material include its unique electric field distribution that achieves efficient charge transport; the synthesis of nanocones using inexpensive proprietary methods; and the minimization of defects and voids in semiconductors. The latter provides enhanced electric and optical properties for conversion of solar photons to electricity.

Because of efficient charge transport, the new solar cell can tolerate defective materials and reduce cost in fabricating next-generation solar cells.

"The important concept behind our invention is that the nanocone shape generates a high electric field in the vicinity of the tip junction, effectively separating, injecting and collecting minority carriers, resulting in a higher efficiency than that of a conventional planar cell made with the same materials," Xu said.

Research that forms the foundation of this technology was accepted by this year's Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers photovoltaic specialist conference and will be published in the IEEE Proceedings. The papers are titled "Efficient Charge Transport in Nanocone Tip-Film Solar Cells" and "Nanojunction solar cells based on polycrystalline CdTe films grown on ZnO nanocones."

The research was supported by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and the Department of Energy's Office of Nonproliferation Research and Engineering.

Other contributors to this technology are Sang Hyun Lee, X-G Zhang, Chad Parish, Barton Smith, Yongning He, Chad Duty and Ho Nyung Lee.


Monday, May 9, 2011

A Renewable Twist on Fossil Fuels

Pulling valuable fuels out of thin air? It sounds like magic, but Joel Rosenthal, a chemist at the University of Delaware, is working to transform carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, into gas for your car and clean-energy future fuels.

Such a feat could help reduce the rising CO2 levels implicated in global warming and also offer a new method of renewable energy production.

Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), a consortium of 98 Ph.D.-granting universities, of which UD is a member, has selected Rosenthal to receive the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award to pursue the novel research. Rosenthal is one of 30 award winners nationwide.

The competitive award, which provides $5,000 in seed funding from ORAU and $5,000 in matching funding from the faculty member's university, is intended to enrich the research and educational growth of young faculty and serve as a springboard to new funding opportunities.

Rosenthal and his team are designing electrocatalysts from metals such as nickel and palladium that will freely give away electrons when they react with carbon dioxide, thus chemically reducing this greenhouse gas into energy-rich carbon monoxide or methanol.

Besides its use in making plastics, solvents, carpet and other products, methanol fuels race cars in the United States and currently is being researched as a hydrogen carrier for fuel cell vehicles.

Carbon monoxide is an important precursor to liquid hydrocarbons in the energy arena, in addition to its applications as an industrial chemical for producing plastics to detergents to the acetic acid used in food preservation, drug manufacturing and other fields.

"The catalytic reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide is an important transformation that would allow for the mitigation of atmospheric CO2 levels, while producing an energy-rich substrate that forms a basis for fuels production," Rosenthal says.

"The chemistry we're doing is energetically uphill -- it's an energy-storing process rather than a downhill, energy-liberating process," he notes. "And our goal is to make liquid fuel renewably from wind and solar sources, not from typical fossil fuel bases."

As early as junior high, Rosenthal said, he realized that basic life processes are linked to molecular energy conversion. Then his undergraduate and graduate research took off on renewables.

He earned his undergraduate degree in organic chemistry from New York University and his doctorate in inorganic chemistry at MIT while studying how metals catalyze various energy conversion processes. His doctoral adviser at MIT was Dan Nocera, a leading scientist in renewable energy research.

The strong reputation of the chemistry and biochemistry department lured Rosenthal, a New York City native, to UD. He joined the UD faculty this past fall and already has a research group of eight focusing on the project -- one postdoctoral researcher, four graduate students and three undergraduates.

"The CO2 problem is very important, and people have to tackle it," Rosenthal says. "It's my hope to be able to map out the molecular design principles for efficient CO2 conversion into fuels. Then you can think about doing this on a commercially relevant scale."

Conservative estimates predict that by 2050, the rate of global energy consumption will roughly double the rate recorded at the end of the 20th century. Most scientists believe that rising carbon dioxide levels are leading to global climate change.


Synthetic Trees Remove CO2 from Atmosphere !

There are people who think outside the box. Then there are people like Klaus Lackner who throw the box away entirely when they think. While others argue over new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Lackner has methods that will, as he puts it, “close the carbon loop” altogether.

“Stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air requires reducing carbon dioxide emissions to nearly zero,” Lackner said in testimony before the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment recently. “Think of pouring water into a cup: as long as you pour water into the cup, the water level in the cup goes up. It does not matter whether the maximum level is one inch below the rim or one and a half inches below the rim. In either case, you will eventually have to stop pouring.”

That sort of big-picture thinking is nothing new for the Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering. His efforts to find systemscale solutions to humanity’s demand for energy set the stage for Lackner’s seminal conclusion in 1999 that, to truly control carbon emissions, we would have to learn how to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. The wind, he calculated, is vastly more efficient at transporting carbon dioxide to a collection device than it is as a means of generating electricity.

Now Lackner has taken his ideas one step further and is working with Global Research Technologies to create artificial trees that will pull carbon dioxide from the air, just as real trees do. His air capture machines are like giant filters that trap the carbon dioxide that will be later freed and converted into a liquid: syngas, synthetic gas that can be used as a fuelstock. Alternatively, it could be disposed of through geologic and mineral sequestration.

Our reliance on liquid hydrocarbon fuels for transportation has led Lackner to search for affordable low-carbon production methods. In a nod to his work contemplating an auxon army, he and his colleagues at the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy are looking for ways to apply the benefits of mass production to energy and fuels to drive down costs. In addition, he is taking a serious look at solar power as a way to eliminate carbon emissions from fuel production entirely and bring us closer to achieving a carbon-neutral society rather than simply dealing with the effects of climate change as they occur by doing such things as blocking a portion of the sun’s radiation.

“Imagine if we decided to solve our garbage problem by putting houses on stilts and raising them a little every year,” said Lackner. “That’s what a lot of geoengineering amounts to, and that’s not a solution to the problem. A real solution will only come by completely rethinking the way we use carbon.”

Learn more at [Link]

Watch the [VIDEO]

Bloomberg Claims 200% ROI on Sustainability

Every dollar that Bloomberg has spent on sustainability has saved two dollars in operating costs, according to the company’s first public sustainability report.

The media and financial services company said that demand reduction and capital investment projects have led to over $25 million in net savings since 2008. According to the report (pdf), last year Bloomberg met its targets on renewable energy credits, external energy star compliance, waste diversion and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, but missed goals related to on-site renewable energy, paper use and recycled content.

REC purchases were up 25 percent from 2008 to 2010, to 60 percent of kWh, exceeding initial targets. This was due to savings made through deregulated energy contracts and to unexpected RECS bought to satisfy LEED requirements, the report said. Almost half of Bloomberg’s 13,000 employees will sit in LEED-certified office space by 2012, the company projected.

Last year, 100 percent of eligible, shipped customer equipment – the terminals and screens that Bloomberg clients use to monitor its news and data – was Energy Star compliant. Landfill waste was down 17 percent from 2007, and 59 percent of waste was diverted to landfill, beating a 50 percent goal.

But 2 MW of solar expected to be installed by year-end 2009 was postponed, and the current schedule calls for 1.8 MW in Q3 2011, with additional installations targeted for 2012. The company also fell short of its 50 percent paper reduction goal, reducing office paper purchases per PC by 39 percent from 2007 to 2010.

In 2010, 96 percent of paper that the company purchased for office use and its Markets magazine was FSC-certified, beating an 80 percent goal. But Bloomberg did not meet a goal of 50 percent recycled content, largely because it was unable to procure FSC-certified, recycled-content paper in Europe, the company said.

And travel emissions per employee were up 14 percent between 2008 and 2010. Bloomberg said this was due to increasing its headcount of customer-facing staff, such as sales teams, but hopes to address the issue in “the near future”, as teleconferencing equipment improves.

Last year the company’s absolute greenhouse gas emissions jumped by 26 percent over 2009 levels, but excluding recent acquisitions, GHGs actually fell by 1.5 percent. Businessweek and New Energy Finance (NEF), acquired in 2009, contributed 25 percent of Bloomberg’s 193,577 ton gross carbon output. Offsets took that corporate total down to 133,677 tons.

Bloomberg said that its environmental efforts have avoided about 83,000 metric tons of CO2e since 2008, the equivalent of emissions from burning 410 railcars of coal.

In examining its environmental impact, Bloomberg also considers its editorial content. carried 1,976 stories on clean energy and environmental issues in 2010, the company said

“Robust stakeholder engagement is critical for companies that are looking to integrate sustainability leadership and innovation across their entire enterprise,” said Mindy Lubber, president of investment advocacy group Ceres. “It’s an especially welcome development to see private companies like Bloomberg embrace the value of this approach.”

The report has been assessed as GSI application level B+.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Antibody-Based Biosensor Can Guide Environmental Clean-Ups, Provide Early Warning System for Spills

Tests of a new antibody-based "biosensor" developed by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science show that it can detect marine pollutants like oil much faster and more cheaply than current technologies. The device is small and sturdy enough to be used from a boat.

Testing of the biosensor in the Elizabeth River and Yorktown Creek, which both drain into lower Chesapeake Bay, shows that the instrument can process samples in less than 10 minutes, detect pollutants at levels as low as just a few parts per billion, and do so at a cost of just pennies per sample. Current technology requires hours of lab work, with a per-sample cost of up to $1,000.

"Our biosensor combines the power of the immune system with the sensitivity of cutting-edge electronics," says Dr. Mike Unger of VIMS. "It holds great promise for real-time detection and monitoring of oil spills and other releases of contaminants into the marine environment."

The biosensor was developed and tested by Unger, fellow VIMS professor Steve Kaattari, and their doctoral student Candace Spier, with assistance from marine scientist George Vadas. The team's report of field tests with the sensor appears in this month's issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The instrument was developed in conjunction with Sapidyne Instruments, Inc., with funding from the state of Virginia, the Office of Naval Research, and the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology, a partnership between NOAA and the University of New Hampshire.

The tests in the Elizabeth River took place during clean up of a site contaminated by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), byproducts of decades of industrial use of creosote to treat marine pilings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers PAHs highly toxic and lists 17 as suspected carcinogens.

The biosensor allowed the researchers to quantify PAH concentrations while the Elizabeth River remediation was taking place, gaining on-site knowledge about water quality surrounding the remediation site. Spier says the test was "the first use of an antibody-based biosensor to guide sampling efforts through near real-time evaluation of environmental contamination."

In the Yorktown Creek study, the researchers used the biosensor to track the runoff of PAHs from roadways and soils during a rainstorm.

Biosensor development

Kaattari says "Our basic idea was to fuse two different kinds of technologies -- monoclonal antibodies and electronic sensors -- in order to detect contaminants."

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system of humans and other mammals. They are particularly well suited for detecting contaminants because they have, as Kaattari puts it, an "almost an infinite power to recognize the 3-dimensional shape of any molecule."

Mammals produce antibodies that recognize and bind with large organic molecules such as proteins or with viruses. The VIMS team took this process one step further, linking proteins to PAHs and other contaminants, then exposing mice to these paired compounds in a manner very similar to a regular vaccination.

"Just like you get vaccinated against the flu, we in essence are vaccinating our mice against contaminants," says Kaattari. "The mouse's lymphatic system then produces antibodies to PAHs, TNT, tributyl tin [TBT, the active ingredient in anti-fouling paints for boats], or other compounds."

Once a mouse has produced an antibody to a particular contaminant, the VIMS team applies standard clinical techniques to produce "monoclonal antibodies" in sufficiently large quantities for use in a biosensor.

"This technology allows you to immortalize a lymphocyte that produces only a very specific antibody," says Kaattari. "You grow the lymphocytes in culture and can produce large quantities of antibodies within a couple of weeks. You can preserve the antibody-producing lymphocyte forever, which means you don't have to go to a new animal every time you need to produce new antibodies."

From antibody to electrical signal

The team's next step was to develop a sensor that can recognize when an antibody binds with a contaminant and translate that recognition into an electrical signal. The Sapidyne® sensor used by the VIMS team works via what Kaattari calls a "fluorescence-inhibitory, spectroscopic kind of assay."

In the sensor used on the Elizabeth River and Yorktown Creek, antibodies designed to recognize a specific class of PAHs were joined with a dye that glows when exposed to fluorescent light. The intensity of that light is in turn recorded as a voltage. The sensor also houses tiny plastic beads that are coated with what Spier calls a "PAH surrogate" -- a PAH derivative that retains the shape that the antibody recognizes as a PAH molecule.

When water samples with low PAH levels are added to the sensor chamber (which is already flooded with a solution of anti-PAH antibodies), the antibodies have little to bind with and are thus free to attach to the surrogate-coated beads, providing a strong fluorescent glow and electric signal. In water samples with high PAH concentrations, on the other hand, a large fraction of the antibodies bind with the environmental contaminants. That leaves fewer to attach to the surrogate-coated beads, which consequently provides a fainter glow and a weaker electric signal.

During the Elizabeth River study, the biosensor measured PAH concentrations that ranged from 0.3 to 3.2 parts per billion, with higher PAH levels closer to the dredge site. In Yorktown Creek, the biosensor showed that PAH levels in runoff peaked 1 to 2 hours after the rain started, with peak concentration of 4.4 parts per billion.

Comparison of the biosensor's field readings with later readings from a mass spectrometer at VIMS showed that the biosensor is just as accurate as the more expensive, slower, and laboratory-bound machine.

A valuable field tool

Spier says "Using the biosensor allowed us to quickly survey an area of almost 900 acres around the Elizabeth River dredge, and to provide information about the size and intensity of the contaminant plume to engineers monitoring the dredging from shore. If our results had shown elevated concentrations, they could have halted dredging and put remedial actions in place."

Unger adds "measuring data in real-time also allowed us to guide the collection of large-volume water samples right from the boat. We used these samples for later analysis of specific PAH compounds in the lab. This saved time, effort, and money by keeping us from having to analyze samples that might contain PAHs at levels below our detection limit."

"Biosensors have their constraints and optimal operating conditions," says Kaattari, "but their promise far outweighs any limitations. The primary advantages of our biosensor are its sensitivity, speed, and portability. These instruments are sure to have a myriad of uses in future environmental monitoring and management."

One promising use of the biosensor is for early detection and tracking of oil spills. "If biosensors were placed near an oil facility and there was a spill, we would know immediately," says Kaattari. "And because we could see concentrations increasing or decreasing in a certain pattern, we could also monitor the dispersal over real time."


Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Online Mechanism for Electric Vehicle Charging

Researchers at the University of Southampton have designed a new pricing mechanism that could change the way in which electric vehicles are charged. It is based on an online auction protocol that makes it possible to charge electric vehicles without overloading the local electricity network.

The paper entitled Online Mechanism Design for Electric Vehicle Charging was presented this week at AAMAS 2011 -- the Tenth Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems, and outlines a system where electric vehicle owners use computerised agents to bid for the power to charge the vehicles and also organise time slots when a vehicle is available for charging.

Dr Alex Rogers, University of Southampton computer scientist and one of the paper's authors, says: "Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are expected to place a considerable strain on local electricity distribution networks. If many vehicles charge simultaneously, they may overload the local distribution network, so their charging needs to be carefully scheduled."

To address this issue, Dr Rogers and his team turned to the field of online mechanism design. They designed a mechanism that allows vehicle owners to specify their requirements (for example, when they need the vehicle and how far they expect to drive). The system then automatically schedules charging of the vehicles' batteries. The mechanism ensures that there is no incentive to 'game the system' by reporting that the vehicle is need earlier than is actually the case, and those users who place a higher demand on the system are automatically charged more than those who can wait.

University of Southampton computer scientist Dr Enrico Gerding, the lead author of the paper, adds: "The mechanism leaves some available units of electricity un-allocated. This is counter-intuitive since it seems to be inefficient but it turns out to be essential to ensure that the vehicle owners don't have to delay plugging-in or misreport their requirements, in an attempt to get a better deal."

In a study based on the performance of currently available electric vehicles, performed by Dr Valentin Robu and Dr Sebastien Stein, the mechanism was shown to increase the number of electric vehicles that can be charged overnight, within a neighbourhood of 200 homes, by as much as 40 per cent.

This research follows on from Dr Rogers' and Professor Nick Jennings' work on developing agents that can trade on the stock market and manage crisis communications and Dr Rogers' iPhone application, GridCarbon for measuring the carbon intensity of the UK grid.


Power purchase agreements (PPAs), Other Deal Financing Tools will Weigh on Balance Sheets

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) have amended their accounting standards, writes BusinessTimes. And the new rules are expected to impact the way energy deals function. Two of the most popular financing arrangements in the industry, sale leasebacks and power purchase agreements (PPAs), would be hit the hardest by these changes, according to analysis at

PPAs, one area to see significant impact with the changes, are currently treated as service contracts, but that would be reclassified. Under the new standards, NREL said, “…a normal commercial PPA with the vast majority of energy fed to the host would be classified as leases. PPAs, treated as leases, would be reported on a company’s balance sheet, removing one of its major incentives for hosts: buying the electricity and outsourcing the hassle of owning a solar system.”

The other area caught up in the changes is the use of a sale leaseback, a common financing route used to circumvent the burden of a capital lease. According to NREL, “currently, there is a difference between an operating lease and a capital lease. In an operating lease, the lessee has the right to use an asset and not assume the responsibility of ownership. Because of this lack of responsibility, the lessee does not have to put the asset on its balance sheet.”

According to, at the moment businesses are only required to include capital leases as assets on their balance sheets. The new rules change that, and would require all companies to list all lease transactions as assets and liabilities on their balance sheets. This requirement could deter energy-efficiency investments for developers, companies and non-profits by souring the “off-the-books” benefits of sale leasebacks, Forbes said.

Although the financial mechanics of these transactions will remain unchanged, companies who pursue energy efficiency or clean energy will have heavier balance sheets and risk being perceived as having higher leverage than they otherwise would, Forbes said. This could make debt more expensive for companies who perform lease transactions.

As well, writes Forbes, heavier balance sheets will lead to higher tax exposure, more extensive disclosure requirements and steeper annual accounting costs.

FASB and IASB are still receiving feedback from industry. The groups have a financial asset and financial liability round-table meeting in Singapore on Friday and another in Norwalk, Conn., on May 9.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Overview of Cleantech VC deals in April: Greentech Venture Funding in April Roundup $335M

A total of more than $335 million invested in 27 deals.
[information compiled by Greentech media]

Venture capital funding of greentech firms totaled $2.6 billion in the first quarter of 2011 -- an extremely strong showing, albeit with a leaning towards later-stage deals.

The momentum seemed to slow a bit in April with more than $330 million invested in 26 deals. The biggest greentech deal this month was Suniva with their $115M round D, closed after suspending their request for a DOE loan guarantee.

VC Funding in Solar

Suniva (Atlanta, Georgia) a manufacturer of high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon solar cells raised $94 million of a $115 million round D from NEA, Warburg Pincus, et al.

SolarReserve (Santa Monica, California), a developer of utility-scale solar thermal power plants, raised a $20M round C from undisclosed investors. The new round brings SolarReserve's total VC raised to over $160 million from Argonaut Private Equity, Citi, Credit Suisse, Good Energies, Nimes Capital, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, and US Renewables Group.

Tigo Energy (Los Gatos, California), a provider of solar panel electronics raised $10 million from Generation Investment Management, Matrix Partners, OVP Venture Partners, ICV Partners, IAC, and Clal Energy. The firm previously raised $27 million from Inventec Appliances, Matrix Partners, OVP Venture Partners, and ICV.

Geostellar (Reston, Virginia), a developer of technology to determine the best places for solar (or wind, hydro and biofuel plants) won $2 million from Flash Forward Ventures.

VC Investment in Fuel Cells and Energy Storage

Ioxus (Oneonta, New York), a manufacturer of ultracapacitor technology, raised $21 million from Energy Technology Ventures, Northwater Capital, Aster Capital, and Braemar Energy Ventures. The firm plans to expand its manufacturing capacity from 20,000 ultracaps a month to 200,000 a month for use in markets like wind, portable lights, and transportation. Energy Technology Ventures is a JV between GE, ConocoPhillips and NRG Energy. Aster Capital is an investment vehicle for Alstom and Schneider Electric.

FutureE Fuel Cell Solutions (Germany) secured investment from Deutsche Telekom’s venture capital arm T-Venture, German development bank KfW, and the U.K.-based Entrepreneurs Fund for its PEM fuel cells ranging in power from 0.5 kilowatt to 50 kilowatts.

ReliOn (Spokane, Washington), a maker of fuel cells for backup power applications, raised $6 million from existing investors.

Intelligent Energy (Loughborough, UK) raised $11.4 million from existing investors such as Scottish and Southern Energy and Scottish Enterprise to develop hydrogen fuel cells.

VC Investment in Smart Buildings

Scientific Conservation (San Francisco, California), a building energy management company, closed its round B with more than $19 million from GE Energy Financial Services, Intel, and Triangle Peak Partners. Scientific Conservation's software-as-a-service approach reduces energy spending by contrasting modeled energy and system efficiencies against real-time operation.

OutSmart Power Systems (Natick, Mass.), a spin-out of Manifold Products building a network of software and hardware for energy management and monitoring in commercial buildings, added $1.8 million to a debt-based funding round that could reach $4.5 million. Previous VC investors included Bainco International Investors, the Clean Energy Venture Group, and Manifold Products.

Panoramic Power (Israel), a real-time, cloud-hosted energy-monitoring company, raised $4.5 million in new funding from Israel Cleantech Ventures, Greylock Parnters, Clal Energy, Qualcomm Ventures, Israel Electric Co., and Alexander Schneider, bringing the company's total funding to $6 million.

VC Investment in Smart Grid

Utilicase (Montreal, Quebec) won a $5 million investment deal from Cycle Capital for optimization in real time of electrical production management.

VC Investment in Lighting

Shine-on (China) raised a $51.5 million round B from Mayfield Fund, IDG-Accel Capital, GSR Ventures, and Northern Light Ventures for packaging, chip and applications design for the high brightness LED market.

Digital Lumens (Boston, Mass.), a developer of LED lighting systems, raised a $10 million round B. Return backers include Black Coral Capital, Flybridge Capital Partners and Stata Venture Partners. The company also secured a line of credit from Silicon Valley Bank.

Barefoot Power won angel backing for its solar powered LED lighting for developing nations.

VC Investment in Biofuels and Biomass

Shalivahana Green Energy Limited (Andhra Pradesh, India) a biomass power producer, received $15 million from International Finance Corporation (IFC).

VC Funding in Wind Power

Wind Energy Direct (Limerick, Ireland), won a $29.6 million round from ESB Novusmodus. The firm installs wind turbines on customer’s industrial sites and finances, owns, and operates the turbines while selling the electricity produced to it customers at a discount to their retail rate.

Greengate Power (Calgary, Alberta), a developer of wind energy projects, raised $15.2 million in funding from The Westly Group, NGEN Partners and SAM Private Equity.

VC Funding in Energy Efficiency

Groom Energy (Salem, Mass.) a provider of energy assessments and renewable energy projects received $2.6 million in funding from a group of angel investors.

GMZ Energy (Waltham, Mass.) won $7 million as part of a first funding round from Mass High Tech and with seed capital from Kleiner, Perkins Caulfield & Byers for its nanothermoelectric materials for cooling and waste heat harvest.

Hybrid Energy Solutions (Kilkenny, Ireland) won $1.2 million for its energy-efficient power generators used to power telecom infrastructures without access to power grids. Kernel Capital led the round.

Next Step Living (Boston, Mass.) won $1.5 million of a $2.8 million equity offering, according to an SEC filing. The firm assists consumers in the process of auditing their homes for energy inefficiencies. Previous investors included Black Coral Capital and the Clean Energy Venture Group.

VC Funding in Water Technology

Eureka Resources (Williamsport, Penn.), which focuses on wastewater treatment and disposal solutions to reduce the environmental impact of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Haddington Ventures.

Waterlife International (India) received an undisclosed amount from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

VC Funding in Transportation

Current Motor (Ann Arbor, Michigan), an electric motorcycle startup, raised $700,000 from Belle Capital, the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, and former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz.

VC Funding in Miscellaneous Greentech

CoalTek (Tucker, Georgia) raised $2 million of a targeted $3 million round to bring its total funding to $53 million. CoalTek reduces the moisture content in a range of coals, with the goal of enhancing plant efficiency and environmental safety. Previous investors in the firm include Braemar Energy Venture, Lightspeed Ventures, Technology Partners, Element Ventures, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Atlantis Resources (London, England) completed a $6 million round from Statkraft, Morgan Stanley, et al. for their tidal-current powered turbines.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hot Clean energy technologies - highlights from the MIT Clean Energy Prize

Here is a list of the technologies I found interesting and that I would recommend looking into:

Ubiquitous Energy

They transform any paper or textile surface into a renewable energy source by depositing ultra-lightweight and ultra-flexible solar cells that retain the feel and performance of the underlying substrate. Products composed of these ubiquitous materials become convenient new formats for distributing energy to consumers. This award-winning technology is based on a simple, surface-independent, vapor-printing process that was developed by members of a team in the labs of MIT.

Effimax Solar

Effimax is known for its innovative, high-efficiency nanotexturing methods. Their patented solar cell processes dramatically lower manufacturing costs (by getting rid of manufacturing steps) and produce solar cells 22% more powerful than anything else on the market (thanks to cone-shaped cells). This efficiency increase directly translates into higher market value for your solar cells.

Resolute Marine Energy


Resolute Marine Energy, Inc. (RME) is developing wave energy converters (WEC) that generate clean energy from ocean waves. Our near-term goal is to complete development and commercialization of a wave-driven seawater desalination system that operates completely “off-grid” and fills a huge gap in the market for seawater desalination systems. We are also in the early stages of identifying opportunities to cost-effectively supply electricity to near-shore communities that currently rely upon diesel generators.

RME’s business model is to: target maritime commercial activities that would be enabled or greatly improved by the availability of an on-site renewable energy supply; identify specific industry leaders, customers or partners for a joint research/pilot project; and, use industry leaders, customers or partners to sell jointly-developed products into the targeted market.

S2E Solar

They make and sell S2E Solar Film(TM) — a proprietary “window electrode” product that enables solar shingles for rooftop electricity generation to be 50% less expensive than existing solar cells and lower cost than grid electricity. The foundational IP behind S2E Solar Film was invented at Northwestern University.

POW Solutions

POW (Power Optimized Workloads) Solutions is building an enterprise software platform that allows IT data centers to execute incoming workloads in the most energy efficient way possible. They achieve this by 1) dynamically and intelligently managing server speed (in GHz) and 2) by determining the exact number of servers that are needed at any point, given an incoming workload (demand). Initial implementations of POW’s technology have shown up to a 30% decrease in response time (for the amount of power) or up to 30% decrease in power consumption (with next to no impact on job response time).


LinkCycle brings a novel approach to assessing the environmental performance of industrial products by bringing the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to a collaborative, web-based environment. This allows the quantity of data to improve over time. Data quality also improves, because LCA standards are embedded in the functionality of the tool, which provide guided and easy-to-perform analysis. This significantly reduces the primary costs of conducting LCA of products–opening the market up to small and medium sized businesses.


MODride (Mobility-On-Demand Ride) builds on research conducted at the MIT Media Lab SmartCities group ( In partnership with General Motors, we have created a number of breakthroughs which will define the new era of clean, urban auto transportation.

A Billion Tons of Biomass a Viable Goal, but at High Price

A new study from the University of Illinois concludes that very high yield biomass would be needed in order to meet the ambitious goal of replacing 30 percent of petroleum consumption in the U.S. with biofuels by 2030.
A team of researchers led by Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, shows that between 600 and 900 million metric tons of biomass could be produced in 2030 at a price of $140 per metric ton (in 2007 dollars) while still meeting demand for food with current assumptions about yields, production costs and land availability.

The paper, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, is the first to study the technical potential and costs associated with producing a billion tons of biomass from different agricultural feedstocks -- including corn stover, wheat straw, switchgrass and miscanthus -- at a national level.

According to the study, not only would this require producing about a billion tons of biomass every year in the U.S., it would also mean using a part of the available land currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for energy crop production, which could significantly increase biomass production and keep biomass costs low.

"Most studies only tell you how much biomass is potentially available but they don't tell you how much it's going to cost to produce and where it is likely to be produced," Khanna said.

"Our economic model looks at some of the major feedstocks that could produce biomass at various prices."

Khanna and her team concluded that high-yielding grasses such as miscanthus are needed to achieve the 30 percent replacement goal, "but even then it's going to be a fairly expensive proposition," she said.

When miscanthus is added to the mix, the goal of 1 billion tons of biomass can be achieved, but at a cost of more than $140 per ton.

"Most studies consider costs in the range of $40 to $50 per ton, which is fine when we're talking about biomass production to meet near-term targets for cellulosic biofuel production," Khanna said. "But if we really want to get to the 30 percent replacement of gasoline, at least with the current technology, then that's going to be much more costly."

According to Khanna, miscanthus has been excluded from previous studies because it's a crop that has yet to be grown commercially, and most of the research about it is recent and still considered experimental.

"But across the various scenarios and prices our model considered, miscanthus has the potential to provide 50 to 70 percent of the total biomass yield," she said. "In most parts of the U.S., miscanthus is cheaper to produce than switchgrass, making it a very promising high-yield crop."

The study also contends that the economic viability of cellulosic biofuels depends on significant policy support in the form of the biofuel mandate and incentives for agricultural producers for harvesting, storing and delivering biomass as well as switching land from conventional crops to perennial grasses.

"Unless biomass prices are really high, these perennial grasses are going to have a hard time competing with crops like corn, soybean and wheat for prime agricultural land," Khanna said. "The economics works in favor of using the marginal, less productive lands, where corn and soybean productivity is much lower. But even then there are limits as to how much we would like to use that land for biomass. The more efficiently we can use the land, the better."

With biofuels, there's also the common perception that there's an unavoidable trade-off between fuel and food, Khanna said.

"That concern is much more prevalent when we talk about first-generation biofuels like corn-based ethanol," she said. "But for second-generation fuels, you can use crop residues as well as dedicated energy crops that can be grown on marginal land. This reduces the need to divert cropland away from food crop production. I'm optimistic that we can get considerable amounts of biomass without disrupting food production."

But relying on crop residues alone won't be sufficient to scale production up to levels set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which limits the production of corn ethanol to 56 billion liters after 2015, and mandates the production of at least 80 of the 136 billion liters of ethanol from non-corn starch-based cellulosic feedstocks by 2022.

"Crop residue yields tend to be relatively low per unit of land -- 2 to 3 tons per hectare," Khanna said. "That can get costly pretty quickly. There are also concerns about how much you want to take away because at some point it has a negative effect on soil productivity as well as water quality because it affects run-off. So there are limits to crop residues, which is why we have to take a closer look at energy crops."

Because even marginal land is costly and has some alternative use, both now and in the future, using it as efficiently as possible means focusing more on the highest-yielding energy crops, Khanna said.

"Clearly the way to go is with the high-yielding grasses, which means switchgrass and miscanthus, but what we found is that it's not going to be a single feedstock but really a mix of feedstocks," she said.

Different regions of the country have a comparative advantage in different types of feedstocks.

"Corn stover is more common in the upper Midwest and West, whereas miscanthus is more prevalent in the southern part of the country and switchgrass in the real northern and southern areas," Khanna said.

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the U. of I. Energy Biosciences Institute. Other co-authors are Hayri ├ľnal, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, and research associates Xiaoguang Chen and Haixiao Huang, of the Energy Biosciences Institute.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Chemical in Plastic, BPA, Exposure May Be Associated With Wheezing in Children

Exposure to the chemical bisphenol A during early pregnancy may be associated with wheezing in children, according to a Penn State College of Medicine researcher.
Bisphenol A, or BPA is a chemical found in many consumer products, including plastic water bottles and food containers. It is present in more than 90 percent of the U.S. population, suggesting widespread exposure. Experimental research suggests that prenatal BPA exposure causes asthma in mice, but no data exists for humans.

Adam Spanier, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, studied 367 children, 99 percent of whom were born to mothers who had detectable BPA levels in their urine during pregnancy. These parents then reported any incidents of wheezing on a twice-yearly basis for three years.

At six months, the odds of wheezing are twice as high for children with mothers who had higher BPA than those who had mothers with lower BPA levels. However, the effects may have diminished as the children aged.

Researchers then looked at the levels of BPA in the women during certain times of their pregnancies and any association with wheezing in their children. The researchers reported their findings May 1 at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Denver.

Higher BPA concentrations in the urine of the pregnant women at 16 weeks were associated with wheezing in their babies. However, concentrations of BPA at 26 weeks or at birth were not associated with wheezing in their children.

"This suggests that there are periods of time during pregnancy when the fetus is more vulnerable," Spanier said. "Exposure during early pregnancy may be worse than exposure in later pregnancy."

The researchers believe that more research is needed to study the correlation between BPA and wheezing in children.

"Consumers need more information about the chemicals in the products they purchase so they can make informed decisions," Spanier said. "Additional research is needed in this area to determine if changes should be made in public policy to reduce exposure to this chemical."

Other researchers who contributed to this work are Allen Kunselman, M.S., Department of Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine; Robert S. Kahn, M.D., M.P.H., Richard Hornung, Dr.P.H. and Bruce P. Lanphear, M.D., M.P.H., Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences supported this project.


Solar-Thermal Flat-Panels That Generate Electric Power: Researchers See Broad Residential and Industrial Applications

High-performance nanotech materials arrayed on a flat panel platform demonstrated seven to eight times higher efficiency than previous solar thermoelectric generators, opening up solar-thermal electric power conversion to a broad range of residential and industrial uses, a team of researchers from Boston College and MIT report in the journal Nature Materials.
Two technologies have dominated efforts to harness the power of the sun's energy. Photovoltaics convert sunlight into electric current, while solar-thermal power generation uses sunlight to heat water and produce thermal energy. Photovoltaic cells have been deployed widely as flat panels, while solar-thermal power generation employs sunlight-absorbing surfaces feasible in residential and large-scale industrial settings.

Because of limited material properties, solar thermal devices have heretofore failed to economically generate enough electric power. The team's introduced two innovations: a better light-absorbing surface through enhanced nanostructured thermoelectric materials, which was then placed within an energy-trapping, vacuum-sealed flat panel. Combined, both measures added enhanced electricity-generating capacity to solar-thermal power technology, said Boston College Professor of Physics Zhifeng Ren, a co-author of the paper.

"We have developed a flat panel that is a hybrid capable of generating hot water and electricity in the same system," said Ren. "The ability to generate electricity by improving existing technology at minimal cost makes this type of power generation self-sustaining from a cost standpoint."

Using nanotechnology engineering methods, the team combined high-performance thermoelectric materials and spectrally-selective solar absorbers in a vacuum-sealed chamber to boost conversion efficiency, according to the co-authors, which include MIT's Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering Gang Chen, Boston College and MIT graduate students and researchers at GMZ Energy, a Massachusetts clean energy research company co-founded by Ren and Chen.

The findings open up a promising new approach that has the potential to achieve cost-effective conversion of solar energy into electricity, an advance that should impact the rapidly expanding residential and industrial clean energy markets, according to Ren.

"Existing solar-thermal technologies do a good job generating hot water. For the new product, this will produce both hot water and electricity," said Ren. "Because of the new ability to generate valuable electricity, the system promises to give users a quicker payback on their investment. This new technology can shorten the payback time by one third."