Propel Biofuels, which erects service stations that sell biodiesel and ethanol, has raised $12 million in equity and $8 million in debt to expand across California.
California has over two million alt vehicles on the road right now, and many municipal agencies have incorporated alt-fuel vehicles into their fleets. The U.S., meanwhile, is woefully behind on its goals for biofuels, so expect more regulations to favor expansion. Still, it won't be easy to proliferate the much-needed stations. Putting in ethanol tanks and pumps costs about $100,000 to $150,000 (see Ethanol Margins Suffer). And since 95 percent of all gas stations are independently owned, the owners either don't have the money or would rather put it into something with a quick payoff, like new snack racks.
"The major barrier is economics. There is no visibility into how many customers you will get," former CEO Rob Elam told us last year. "It just doesn't make sense and that is why existing gas station owners don't want to do it. They don't necessarily have anything against alt fuels."
Zoning and retrofitting can also be problems. Nonetheless, demand is clearly there, so the stations could start popping up near you soon.
French garbage and water giant Veolia, meanwhile, bought Comfort Link, an ice thermal storage company that serves around 50 customers, mainly in the Baltimore area. (That's 32,000 tons of cooling capacity in an 11 mile network.) Like Ice Energy and Calmac, Comfort Link has systems that create ice at night to run the air conditioners during the day. This sort of time shifting eases the demand for peak power. The concept of ice cooling has been around since the Romans, but in the modern era, it has come and gone out of fashion as electricity prices rise and fall.
Ice Energy is working with some government officials and others to get utilities or governments to subsidize the cost of these air conditioners, which could accelerate the market. Some companies sell equipment to building owners, but the preferred sales technique these days seems to be selling cold as a service like Comfort Link and Ice Energy do. Believe it or not, you're likely living in a golden epoch of air conditioning and lighting technology. It may not sound exciting, but those two applications probably account for close to 30 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S.
The deal, of course, also underscores one of 2010's big trends: conglomerates buying smaller companies and start-ups. (Comfort Link was a joint venture between Emcor and a Baltimore utility.) Yesterday, French nuclear giant Areva bought solar thermal specialist Ausra. A few months ago, Siemens bought solar thermal specialist Solel. The devaluation of the dollar probably helps, too.