Solar and wind get most of the headlines in the green energy generation press -- it's visible, high-tech, and it doesn't smell too bad.
But "biomass is the silent hero in renewable energy," according to Paul Sellew, the CEO of Harvest Power.
Harvest Power, based in Waltham, Mass., is a developer of renewable energy and fertilizer products from organic waste. Last year, the firm raised a $51.7 million round B from Generation Investment Management, DAG Ventures, Keating Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Waste Management, Munich Venture Partners, and TriplePoint Capital. The CEO noted that the majority of that investment round came from Europe.
Today, the firm announced that it closed a $110 million financing led by True North Venture Partners with American Refining and Biochemical alongside existing investors. True North is helmed by Michael Ahearn, the founder of solar thin film pioneer First Solar (Nasdaq:FSLR).
The firm’s technology platform processes organic materials such as food scraps, yard trimmings, scrap wood and other organics to provide renewable power, as well as fertilizer and soil products.
In an interview last year, Sellew said that the firm was already profitable and had broken ground on its first commercial-scale facility in North America.
Harvest is a builder/owner/operator of its processing facilities. The firm controls waste streams via partnerships in local markets, and uses its technologies and those of others to generate natural gas and electricity. The idea is to extract maximum value from these waste streams. The firm claims to already have diverted over 425,000 tons of organic material from landfills. Revenue comes from tipping fees, power generation, soil and soil enhancement products.
Sellew labeled organic waste "underutilized," calling it "stored solar energy," which, unlike solar panels, can be turned into baseload power. Harvest uses anaerobic digestion, composting and other technologies to yield soil and fuels from the waste stream.
As with most energy businesses, the policy environment is extremely important.
The U.S. has a relatively active compost industry since laws were passed prohibiting yard waste in landfills and sewer sludge in the oceans. Germany has a thriving biomass industry because just as it offers a feed-in tariff for solar power production, it also offers a feed-in tariff for biomass power production. And just as in solar, Germany created a long-term consistent policy where investors can make decent returns. According to Sellew, Germany has built a thousand biomass plants in the last few years and a significant portion of its renewable power (and heat) comes from biomass.
I also spoke with Amol Deshpande of Kleiner Perkins (Deshpande serves on the board of Harvest). I asked him what prompted an investment from KPCB when the investment firm looks to invest in disruptive technologies.
Deshpande's response was: "Compost and anaerobic digestion applied to organic waste -- that is disruptive. Organic waste today mostly goes into landfills," adding "This is how it should be done -- Harvest fundamentally changes the way organic waste is managed in the U.S. Anaerobic composting is not new, but the way Harvest is deploying it -- that is new."
Not as glamorous as solar and wind, but a huge, growing market with VC interest, nevertheless.