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New Englanders Gripe About LED Billboards

Michael Kanellos: March 5, 2009, 7:21 PM
Advertisers love them, but drivers and residents around Boston say that billboards made with light emitting diodes are irritating. The billboards -- which flash signs about low mortgage rates and podiatry clinics -- are far easier to switch around, thereby cutting their costs and improving ad churn. Advertisers say that drivers pay attention to them too. But they aren't popular, according to the Boston Globe. (As a side note, because there's less paper involved, the signs are arguably more eco-friendly than paper billboard and far better than neon.) "It's like trying to watch TV driving down the street," Craig Bower, 40, of Beverly, told the Globe. The best ad is one for Eliot Sherr, a podiatrist. He flashes big pictures of bunions and in-grown toenails. "Limp In. Walk Out," reads one ad.

Gemini Solar Snags First Utility Contract

Ucilia Wang: March 5, 2009, 1:59 PM

It’s official: Gemini Solar Development, a new joint venture between Suntech Power Holdings and MMA Renewable Ventures, has scored its first project.

The City of Austin on Thursday awarded Gemini a $250 million, 25-year contract to sell electricity from a 30-megawatt solar power plant. The plant, which is scheduled to begin producing electricity in 2010 to customers of city-owned Austin Energy, will be built on 350 acres of city-owned land, the city said. Gemini, based in San Francisco, will be responsible for operating and maintaining the power plant.

The deal would help the municipal utility meet its goal of obtaining 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2020. Austin Energy wants the renewable energy mix to include 100 megawatts of solar power.

Suntech, a solar panel maker based in China, and MMA announced the creation of Gemini last October. Gemini’s mandate is to develop and operate large-scale solar power plants of 10 megawatts -- or more -- in capacity. The joint venture hopes to build projects and sell the solar electricity to utilities in the country, many of which have to meet state or local renewable energy mandates.

With the pending sale of MMA's solar assets to Spain's Fotowatio, Gemini is set to become a joint venture between Suntech and Fotowatio's U.S. operation. 

Gemini is one of a growing number of solar project developers targeting the utility market. First Solar, also a solar panel producer, also is making a strong bid for utility customers. The company, based in Tempe, Ariz., said earlier this week that it would buy a portfolio of unfinished solar energy projects from OptiSolar.

Some Progress on My Startup ‘Plato’s Forms’

Darryl Siry: March 5, 2009, 1:23 PM
I've talked a bit on this blog and left various cryptic messages on Twitter and Facebook about the new startup company I have founded and am working on. I have a few bits of news to add: For starters, the provisional name of my new startup is "Plato's Forms." I say this is provisional because I may change the name prior to launch depending on how it grows on me and how the business model and product evolves (as they tend to do.) The inspiration for the name is quite simple: When I first conceived of the business idea and the problems I was trying to solve, I kept thinking back to Plato's Allegory of the Cave. After the usual endless iterations of what I might call the company, I kept coming back to Plato's Forms. All I can say about the company right now is that it is a software service aimed at corporate customers that addresses some of the challenges of communicating in complex, rapidly evolving industries, like the Cleantech industry I have been involved in for the last two years. So it's pretty obvious I am not founding an EV company or anything like that. The company is a software service delivered over the Web, so I won't have to worry about faulty transmissions or crash testing (of the physical type.) I will stay closely involved in Cleantech in my new role at Peppercom as their Senior Analyst for Cleantech. Since I am founding a technology company, I imagine it is important to get someone on the team who knows something about technology. So the second bit of news is that Ben Metcalfe is joining me as "Acting CTO." What this means is that Ben is advising on the high level technology issues as well as doing some of the hands on work in the early days. Ben will also help me build the initial team of developers to get the first product launched. Ben not only understands technology, he understands media, having spent a good part of his early career at the BBC working on their digital properties and establishing an award winning developer network. I will start to post more on what I am doing with Plato's Forms here on this blog, but please understand that it may be a bit murky at first. I hope to have a first public beta ready to go in six months or less and will be launching it initially in the cleantech sector (hence, the synergy with my other job at Peppercom.) I will also continue to post on Cleantech topics. Daryl Siry is the former chief marketing officer for Tesla Motors. He now consults on marketing and the automotive industry. You can read more here:

Cal Air Resources Board Proposes New Fuel Standard

Ucilia Wang: March 5, 2009, 12:56 PM

The California Air Resources Board released a draft regulation Thursday to require the use of alternative transportation fuels in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

CARB released the proposal for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard that would promote alternative fuel use and enable the state to meet its emissions reductions goals. Fuel producers, importers, refiners and blenders will have to start providing fuels to meet the standard starting in 2011. The standard is based on calculations carried out by CARB's staff on the greenhouse gas emissions that can be produced by the production, transportation and use of various types of fuels.

One of the goals for enacting a new fuel standard is to replace 20 percent of the conventional fuels used by cars in the state with cleaner alternatives such as electricity, biofuels, natural gas and hydrogen, the CARB said.

The public will have 45 days to review and comment on the proposed standard.

The proposal is one of a series of regulations that CARB is drafting to meet the mandate of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, a sweeping legislation designed to cut California’s greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 levels by 2020. The transportation sector, from fuel production to tailpipe emissions, is responsible for generating 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the CARB said.

CARB issued a master plan last December for carrying out the climate change law. The plan included a program to cap and trade carbon emissions.

The proposed fuel standard will sure elicit strong opposition from some fuel makers. In fact, an ethanol advocacy group last October objected to the metrics used by CARB staff to determine what types of alternative fuels would pose more environmental harm than others.

The sticking point was the inclusion of the impact of indirect land use, such as emissions that resulted from clearing forestland for farming energy crops. Measuring direct land use impact would look only at the emissions that come from growing and turning crops into fuels.

Another ethanol group called Growth Energy reiterated the same objection Thursday. Measuring indirect land-use impact would unfairly punish ethanol makers, the group said

CARB recently passed other regulations aimed at reducing emissions, including one that requires big rigs truckers to add filters to their existing fleets between 2011 and 2014. A new law that took effect in January limits the amount of time long-haul truckers can idle the engines in order to cut emissions.

Ecolite: Cleantech Concrete for Green Buildings

Eric Lane: March 5, 2009, 12:19 PM

Ecolite Concrete (Ecolite) is a San Diego company that provides sustainable construction materials using proprietary modeling software and a patent-pending system for making pre-fabricated concrete (read the Sustainable Industries article here) The manufacturing process starts with project plans developed by the company’s EcoCad modeling and engineering software, which produces a shop drawing of each wall panel.  Ecolite has filed an application to register the EcoCad service mark for “computer-aided engineering services for others (77194288_app.pdf). The wall panel info is sent to roll-forming machines, where the shop drawing is translated into appropriately sized and marked steel framing members.  The steel members are snapped into place and fastened together into assembled frames forming the composite panels. These panels are covered by U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2007/0062151, entitled “Composite building panel and method of making composite building panel.

Concrete (12) is then poured into the composite panel (10), which includes the frame (14) and has a front face (16) and a rear face (18).  The panel also has a high performance steel lath (not shown) attached to the assembled frames to provide additional strength.  The concrete is then smoothed and cured, and the panels are kept in a storage facility or shipped to the construction site. The Sustainable Industries piece says that Ecolite’s automated steel system is the first of its kind in the U.S. It also provides benefits for green builders.  According to the company’s Website, Ecolite’s concrete mix is made of about 25 percent recycled content and Ecolite walls can assist builders in achieving LEED green building ratings for their projects by providing credits in several LEED categories. Eric Lane is a patent attorney and intellectual property lawyer at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego, where he is in the Intellectual Property and Climate Change & Clean Technology practices.  Eric is the founder and author of Green Patent Blog, which provides discussion and analysis of intellectual property law issues in clean technology.

Would-Be Biofuel IPO Declares Bankruptcy

Jeff St. John: March 5, 2009, 8:24 AM
Changing World Technologies has gone from floating the possibility of an IPO to filing for bankruptcy in little more than a month's time. The West Hemppstead, N.Y.-based biofuel maker filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, saying it had faced the threat of running out of cash at the end of March and would lay off most of its staff, including 50 workers at its biofuel plant in Carthage, Mo. Changing World raised eyebrows in January when it declared it was ready to go public through an unusual "OpenIPO" auction process. After all, the credit crisis and economic downturn drove down the number of IPOs in 2008 to their lowest level since 1978, according to Renaissance Capital. Companies canceling plans to go public included several biofuel makers, like Redwood City, Calif.-based Codexis, Iowa-based biodiesel producer Renewable Energy Group and Seattle-based Imperium Renewables (see Codexis Says No to IPO and Imperium IPO Delay Underlines Feedstock Shortage, Analyst Says). Changing World isn't the only biofuel maker to seek bankruptcy protection. VeraSun Energy Corp. (NYSE: VSE), which claimed to be the largest ethanol producer in the world, filed for bankruptcy in October, after making bad bets on corn price hedging contracts in the midst of falling corn prices.

Corn Ethanol Worse for Environment Than Leaving Land Alone, But Cellulosic Seems Good

Michael Kanellos: March 5, 2009, 3:28 AM
A new study from Duke University (by way of Green Car Congress) indicates that we're probably better off from an environmental perspective by leaving fields fallow and not trying to grow corn ethanol at all. The researchers, after analyzing 142 soil studies and extrapolating forward, found that the greenhouse gases reduced by running cars on corn ethanol are largely offset by the carbon released in the corn farming and harvesting. Corn farming releases 30 percent to 50 percent of the carbon in soil, according to Gervasio Piñeiro, the lead researcher. When consumed in cars, corn ethanol produces 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gas at the tailpipe. Corn ethanol, though, only has about 70 percent of the energy content of regular gas, so you have to burn more. Corn ethanol, thus, is really carbon neutral. A better way to reduce carbon in the atmosphere would be to plant fields and leave them. The growing plants would absorb carbon dioxide. In a head to head contest between corn ethanol and doing nothing over a 50 year period, doing nothing would be better for the environment for the first 48 years, the study stated. It's also a lot cheaper. By contrast, cellulosic ethanol preserves about 30 percent to 50 percent of the carbon in soil. Unlike corn, cellulosic plants are dug up every year. They get planted and clipped, sort of like trees. Cellulosic ethanol, however, remains in the experimental stage. Amyris, one of the early companies, says it will have fuel in two years. Large volumes of cellulosic ethanol, however, are further off. And just to take a walk down memory lane, let's salute Cornell's David Pimentel.  Back in the early part of the decade, he criticized corn ethanol. He was heavily criticized in many quarters for this.