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Rick Thompson: January 4, 2010, 2:00 AM

It's been fun, but Greentech Media's Green Light blog is no longer being updated at this URL. All content is now being integrated directly into our main website - For your convenience, all archived content on Green Light is still available on our site via search, related content, etc.

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The Greentech Media Staff

Biodiesel Tax Credit Ends, But Expect it to Return

Michael Kanellos: January 2, 2010, 12:02 PM

The $1 a gallon tax credit for biodiesel expired with the New Year, but there's a good chance that it will return as a retroactive credit in whatever energy bill gets passed.

The $1 tax credit, passed in 2004, helped biodiesel get off the ground. (The $1 applied to virgin oil--biodiesel from old oil got a smaller credit.). The credit, though, didn't completely insulate the industry from supply and demand. Rising feedstock prices and then declining diesel prices have meant financial headaches for many refiners in the past few years. The Energy Information Administration has already said that the U.S. won't likely hit its "100 million gallons by 2022" mandate until 2030. Many ethanol refiners had to sell off or close facilities in 2008 and 2009.

Will it be back? Probably. A form of the credit is in the House energy bill, senators like Max Baucus have promised to champion biodiesel in 2010 and alternative fuels tend to enjoy a strong level of support among investors, politicians and the public. Ask a stranger about algae fuel: they probably have an opinion. Plus, many of the refineries are in red states, so bipartisan support will exist. Republican Senator Charles Grassley has said he wants to bring it back. It can be made retroactive too.

But in the meantime, expect to see layoffs, says the Houston Chronicle.

Greentech Venture Capital Summary 2009

Eric Wesoff: December 30, 2009, 11:26 PM

Here's a quick look at Venture Capital investment in Greentech over the last year.  We'll dive into the details next week.

VC investment in green technologies totaled $4.85 billion in 356 deals in 2009. Although the dollar total is down from 2008’s $7.6 billion, the number of deals total actually exceeded last year’s total.  

Consistent with the last four years, solar power was once again the leading investment segment at more than $1.4 billion in 84 deals followed by biofuels at $976 million in 44 rounds. As forecast by GTM Research – investment in Smart Grid, Energy Storage and Automotive is gaining momentum along with overlooked sectors such as Wind, Water, and Lighting.  Water has finally made it onto venture capital radar screens with more than $130 million invested in 33 deals

Notable and sizeable deals in 2009 included:

  • Silver Spring Networks’ $100 million investment from Google Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins and Northgate Capital.
  • Solyndra’s $198 million VC investment from Argonaut Private Equity, et al. for the Fremont, Calif.-based thin-film solar firm and a $75 million C round for crystalline silicon solar vendor, Suniva.
  • Synthetic Genomic’s $300 million multi-year commitment from Exxon for the development of algae-based biofuels.
  • eMeter’s $32 million investment from Sequoia Capital and Foundation Capital and Tendril’s $30 million round from VantagePoint and good Energies for smart grid management software and hardware
  • Tesla Motor’s $82.5 million round from Fjord Capital and Daimler Motors and Fisker Automotive’s $85 million round from Kleiner Perkins et al. for their groundbreaking electric vehicles.
  • Serious Materials’ $60 million round from Mesirow Capital et al. for green building materials.

Some of the most active VC investors in greentech this year included NEA, CMEA, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, NGEN Partners, DFJ, Foundation Capital and the Quercus Trust.
Although entrepreneurs have expressed some frustration with the difficulty in closing middle stage rounds at less-than-profitable companies - there is a marked trend of a return to early stage deals with more than 110 Series A and seed rounds this year.
Also remarkable was the increasingly global nature of greentech investment this year. Approximately 20 per cent of greentech deals came from outside the United States with plentiful deals from the U.K. and France.

In the words of Marianne Wu, Partner at Cleantech investor,Mohr Davidow Ventures, “We saw tremendous innovation in 2009 as entrepreneurs addressed pressing opportunities across the cleantech spectrum.  We continue to see talent turn to the massive opportunities in this new industrial revolution combating climate change.  Some of the early market leaders are poised to go public in 2010 and companies are getting increasingly sophisticated in their approach to both the capital and industrial markets."

We'll take a deeper look on Jan 4.  See you in 2010!

Nuclear Plant Planned For California, Despite State Ban

Michael Kanellos: December 30, 2009, 2:01 PM

Areva, the French nuclear, giant, has signed a letter of intent to build up to two nuclear plants near Fresno, California. California has a ban on new nuclear plants in the state but Areva believes the law will fade away under the state's demand for more clean power. Each plant could produce 1.6 gigawatts and the whole thing could cost between $5 and $8 billion.

Sez the Los Angeles Times:

The agreement with Areva is expected to be finalized in March, said John Hutson, chief executive of the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group, a partnership of local business executives and farmers. Once that's done, the two potential partners would begin a site selection and evaluation process that could take as long as two years, he said.

Will it happen? Hard to say. Nuclear advocates say that the U.S. will need 25 to 30 new nuclear plants by 2030 to just keep nuclear at 20 percent of the energy budget. The U.S. could ultimately need 187 new reactors by 2050 to meet its climate goals, they add, although nuclear advocates admit that's unlikely. Public opinion has begun to soften toward nuclear. Additionally, academics like MIT's Ernie Moniz and UC Berkeley's Dan Kammen have stated that nuclear needs to be part of the future energy diet. (Eric Wesoff and I also recently wrote a report on modular nuclear reactors--it makes a great gift.)

Nuclear could also produce jobs, both construction jobs and high-end, high-tech jobs. France and Japan have become the centers of nuclear engineering since the U.S. stopped building power plants in the 70s.

Still, waste, proliferation and other grave issues remain. On the same day that Areva announced its plans, a report came out that Iran has been trying to buy uranium from Kazakhstan. A new nuclear renaissance will mean more widespread knowledge of how to process uranium, and with that will come more opportunities for bribing and cajoling said individuals for that information. It's not an easy debate.

Californians are also prickly when it comes to the environment. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein continues to move ahead with a plan that would prevent solar thermal power plants, one of the more cost-effective forms of alternative enrgy, from going up in the Mojave. A thermal plant is one heck of a lot cleaner than a nuclear plant when you consider the construction materials and nuclear waste. And, unlike PV panels or wind, solar thermal plants produce power in steady, large quantities.

Another Greentech IPO Registration: Codexis and Biofuels

Eric Wesoff: December 28, 2009, 7:08 PM

2010 is going to see the return of the IPO, especially in greentech.

Today sees another Greentech IPO registration filing, this time from Codexis, a provider of biocatalysts.  We'll report on the S-1 in detail shortly but a quick take shows the company losing money on $58 million in revenue in the first nine months of 2009.  

Codexis is funded by venture firms and strategic investors.  CMEA is one of their major shareholders along with Shell Oil and CTTV, the investment arm of Chevron.  CMEA is on a bit of a roll of late - one of their other portfolio firms, Solyndra has also just filed their S-1, and A123, another CMEA portfolio firm, went public in one of the biggest greentech IPOs of late.

Codexis' biocatalysts are used in the pharmaceutical industry but the greentech angle is the deal that Codexis has with Shell to produce commercially viable biofuels from cellulosic biomass.  Other green applications for their product include carbon management, water treatment and "green" chemicals.

Codexis' biofuel product is intended to produce commercially viable, cellulose-derived biofuel alternatives to petroleum-based fuels. They have been engaged with Shell since 2006 in a research and development collaboration.  Their advanced biofuels program focuses on two primary elements: (1) developing biocatalysts to convert cellulosic biomass into sugars; and (2) converting these sugars into two advanced biofuels, cellulosic ethanol and biohydrocarbon diesel. Their catalysts aim to:

  • Increase the rate at which cellulosic biomass is converted into biofuels;
  • Increase the yield of biofuels produced from cellulosic biomass
  • Eliminate the need to use food resources for the production of biofuels;
  • Provide producers with more flexibility in designing processes to convert cellulosic biomass to biofuels
  • Enable the production of new types of cellulosic biofuels that could be alternatives to petroleum-based fuel

We'll take a closer look at the SEC documents and report back to you.

Why Solyndra Moves Ahead

Michael Kanellos: December 23, 2009, 6:33 PM

I've heard this from a source and with the documents for an initial public offering filed, I don't expect Solyndra to confirm it, but it gives an insight into why the company seems to have moved ahead of some of the other start-ups in cadmium indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells.

CEO Chris Gronet gets a live video feed of the machinery on the factory floor. When and if production slows down, he knows quickly. He even gets the feed at home.

That sort of urgent paranoia lay at the heart of semiconductors and solar panel manufacturing. The multimillion dollar factories these companies must build can only become effectively profitable if utilized in a highly efficient manner. Intel became Intel through the "copy exactly" methodologies pioneered in part by former CEO Craig Barrett. The factories were literally identical: one of the few ways to tell if you are in Arizona versus Israel is the inordinate number of people named Gadi. Execs at rival AMD sometimes joked that they used a "copy somewhat exactly" methodology. That partly explains why so many green start up CEOs have come out of Intel.

Gronet, no coincidence, spent over a decade at Applied Materials, an equipment maker with its own exacting standards, before coming to Solyndra.

Solyndra has its pluses and minuses. Eric Wesoff dug through the S-1 and unearthed interesting details on Solyndra's costs per watt. The company also lost $232 million in fiscal 2009. On the other hand, it has customers and reports efficiencies in the 11 to 14 percent range, or higher than a lot of the other thin films out there. It's going to continue to be one of the big stories of 2010.

General Motors to Unveil More on Volt Battery Strategy Jan 7

Michael Kanellos: December 23, 2009, 11:36 AM

The Volt--the car we've all been waiting for--is going to be one of the big stories at the North American International Auto Show taking place next month in Detroit.

General Motors sent out an e-mail blast today stating that GM and government officials will make a landmark announcement regarding the Volt battery on January 7 at 9:30 EST. If you've never been to Detroit, early January truly is the best time of year to visit.

Much we already know. The Volt will have a 16 kilowatt/hour battery largely engineered by Compact Power, a joint venture that includes South Korea's LG Chem. (Compact will make the cells--GM will fuse them into a battery pack in a plant in Michigan.)  It has a lithium manganese chemistry, less volatile than those lithium cobalt batteries in your notebook, and it will be based around prismatic (or rectangular) cells instead of cylindrical ones to take up less room. Some experts claim that lithium batteries cost around $900 a kilowatt hour, but rumors percolate that GM and Compact will get close to the $500 range. Still, that would be an $8,000 battery, which partly explains why a Chevy will cost close to $40,000.

Both GM and Compact have received DOE grants to lay the groundwork for commercialization of the Volt. Compact got $151.4 million in August while General Motors got $240 million. GM also got billions ("approximately three jagundas" according to one Staten Island car analyst) to stave off death.

What's it going to be? Probably an update on the factory and manufacturing. Maybe pricing. The Volt will be shown off as well.

GM and Ford have also set up an interesting dynamic in plug-in hybrids. The Volt is a series hybrid, a novel architecture that only GM seems to be promoting. Ford's plug-in hybrid will be a power split hybrid, sort of like a regular hybrid with more batteries. GM will likely have better mileage. Ford, though, says its battery will be cheaper, which generally means a less expensive car. Ford won't come to the market with a plug-in until 2012.