Google.org’s investments in geothermal-energy exploration last week highlighted the potential for harnessing the heat below the Earth’s surface to generate electricity (see Google Funds Hot Rock Technology).
Geothermal energy is hardly new, but much of it has come from areas blessed with natural reservoirs of water and steam. Technology improvements in drilling and engineering steam fields are promising to deliver an extraordinary amount of energy from miles beneath our feet.
Google.org said last week it would invest $10.25 million in “enhanced geothermal systems,” which involve creating geothermal fields in areas without natural reservoirs of water and steam. The technology promises to greatly expand U.S. electricity production and help the country rely less on coal-fired power plants.
AltaRock Energy got $6.25 million from Google.org as part of a $26.25 million round for developing and demonstrating its EGS technology. The Sausalito, Calif., startup’s investors include Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Google.org, Advanced Technology Ventures and Vulcan Capital.
Potter Drilling, a Redwood City, Calif., company that is developing new ways to drill deep into the earth for geothermal energy, received $4 million. Google.org also gave $489,521 to the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab to understand and map geothermal-energy resources in North America.
The Google.org investments are chump change for developing a geothermal-energy facility using the EGS technology. Companies have to drill deep wells and inject water at a high pressure to fracture the hot rock. A well drilled nearby would then reclaim the hot water and harvest the heat to power the turbines nearby.
Drilling a well miles into the earth would cost a couple of million dollars at least. Figuring out ways to control and manage the fractured hot rocks and reclaim the water for heat mining would be tricky.
Investors often refer to a 2007 government-funded report that describes the awesome potential of the EGS technology to meet the United States’ electricity demand without spewing emissions seen today from coal-fired power plants. The report, crafted by a research team headed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the EGS technology could enable the United States to produce 2,000 times the electricity it consumed in 2005.
Here is a rundown of more recent funding news:
- Trilliant, which develops wireless devices that collect and transmit information from utility meters, raised $40 million (see Green Light post). The company, located in Redwood City, Calif., is among a growing number of businesses targeting the smart-metering field. Competitors include Silver Spring Networks, Ambient and Eka Systems, which launched a new product for water utility meters last week (see Eka Systems Dives Into Water World).
- EnOcean raised €4.5 million ($6.66 million), which it plans to use to develop wireless sensors and to buy new companies or technologies to broaden its market reach. EnOcean’s sensors are powered by solar electricity, heat or other sources of energy nearby, eliminating the need for batteries. The idea is that customers could create a sensor network to monitor temperature fluctuation and lighting, or to enhance building security. The Germany company’s investors include Wellington Partners, 3i Group, Emerald Technology Ventures and Siemens Venture Capital.
- Attero Recycling raised $6.3 million from NEA-IndoUS Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The India-based electronics-recycling startup plans to use the money to build a recycling center spanning 100,000 square feet. The company is working with an unnamed American company to develop its own metallurgical technology, Attero said.
- MaxWest Environmental Systems raised $10 million from Leaf Clean Energy, which is traded on London AIM under the ticker “LEAF.” MaxWest, based in Houston, is developing gasification technology to turn agricultural waste, biowaste from wastewater-treatment plants and other types of trash into energy, including electricity.
- Parco Homes, which designs homes that use sustainable materials and energy-efficient technologies, is looking to raise $5 million, VentureWire reported. The San Francisco company has developed four design models and plans to build a model home in the fall of 2009.
- Makani Power, a wind-power company in Alameda, Calif., raised $5 million from Google.org, Private Equity Hub reported. Makani is developing giant kites to harness wind power from high in the sky to generate electricity. The startup received $10 million from Google.org in 2006.
- Environmental Operating Solutions, which has developed a chemical that removes nitrogen from wastewater, raised money from Stuart Mill Venture Partners and Wolverine Venture Fund. Although Environmental Operating Solutions didn’t specify the amount raised last week, it announced in March that it was on its way to raising $2.5 million.
- Schott Solar plans to go public “shortly” and raise €500 million ($741 million), the company’s managing director told Germany daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (via Reuters). The German publication said the company more than doubled its operating profit to reach €26 million ($38.53 million) during the first nine months of its fiscal year, while generating revenue of €311 million ($460.36 million). In March, the company broke ground for a $100 million production plant in New Mexico to make solar panels and receivers for building solar-thermal power plants. Schott plans to spend an additional $400 million to expand the production capacity in the future.
- Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide (NASDAQ: QTWW) has agreed to sell its shares to an undisclosed investor and raise $19.1 million. The Irvine, Calif., company engineers and makes fuel systems and other automotive components for vehicles powered by alternative energy such as fuel cells and natural gas. Quantum is a part owner of Fisker Automotive, which earlier this year unveiled a plug-in hybrid electric sedan, Fisker Karma. The company plans to begin shipping the car to customers in the fourth quarter of 2009.
- Och-Ziff Capital Management (NYSE: OZM) committed $500 million to a joint venture with Blue Source to fund companies developing carbon capture and other technologies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Och-Ziff, based in New York City, also made an undisclosed investment in Blue Source, which is based in Salt Lake City.
- New York City-based Wolfensohn & Co. created by the former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, is looking to raise a $350 million greentech fund, according to VentureWire. Wolfensohn is an individual investor in Project Better Place.
- Nexus India Capital closed its second, $220 million early stage fund for investing in cleantech, media, consumer and business services and other sectors. The Indian company plans to use the fund to invest up to $10 million in each company.
- Greenhouse Capital Partners plans to raise a second fund of $75 million to $100 million in early 2009. The firm, based in Sausalito, Calif., already has invested $6 million from its first, $11 million fund, in eight companies, including Mariah Power and Solaicx (see Mariah Power Gets a Gust of Financing).