Chinese Company to Manufacture in U.S.

Chinesesolar-cell maker Suntech Power Holdings Co. said Thursday it has started discussions to set up manufacturing plants in the United States.

"We are currently in discussion with the governors of three different states who have been recruiting us to build factories," said Roger Efird, president of Suntech America, the company's U.S. subsidiary, on a Solar Energy Industries Association conference call. "And we have actually begun looking at sites, et cetera."

The news could help calm concerns by U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Alexander Karsner that the renewable-energy manufacturing is located domestically for energy-security purposes (see Who Will Be the Middle East of Solar?).

Efird did not say when Suntech might break ground on a U.S. manufacturing plant, but indicated the company would wait until the market -- which makes up less than 10 percent of the world's solar businesss today -- is big enough to justify the investment.

In October, the company opened offices in San Francisco (see Suntech Power Opens Shop in San Francisco). Suntech expects California alone to make up 70 percent of the company's market in the U.S. (see China's Suntech Power to Come to California).

And if the U.S. market grows as quickly as Suntech expects, Efird said the company could provide "1,000 or so" manufacturing jobs in the next few years.

Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, found Suntech's interest to build a U.S. solar plant exciting.

"A Chinese company opening up a manufacturing facility in the US. That's quite a reversal from what we have seen in the last couple of years," he said (see Could China Steal the Solar Throne?).

Khosla Puts More Money Into Cellulosic Biofuels

Khosla Ventures said Thursday it has invested an undisclosed amount into another biofuel company.

The company, KiOR, is a joint venture between Khosla Ventures and BIOeCON, a scientific network focused on catalysts and biomass processing.

Khosla Ventures is bringing the Series-A funding to the venture, while BIOeCON is bringing its knowledge -- and intellectual property -- about catalysts that break cellulose into oils, which can then be refined into transportation fuels, according to a press statement.

While most ethanol today is made from corn or sugar cane, a number of researchers are developing technologies to make fuel from cellulose, which is more abundant and isn't eaten, meaning it wouldn't compete with crops for food.

Khosla Ventures has invested in cellulosic technologies before, including those from Range Fuels and Mascoma.

So far, breaking down cellulose into sugars to make fuels such as ethanol has been expensive and required a good amount of energy.

BIOeCON claims it has developed a simple, low-energy way to convert the woody bits into oil.

The company also told Earth2Tech that the technology requires lower capital costs than competing technologies.

Further details were not immediately available.

Serious Materials Closes $50M for Drywall

Serious Materials said Thursday it closed $50 million in funding from New Enterprise Associates, Foundation Capital and Rustic Canyon Partners.

That sum is no joke, especially considering it's for a drywall technology. And the second round brings Serious Materials' total funding to $55.5 million so far.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup claims its process uses "virtually" zero energy and gives off no carbon-dioxide emissions. According to Serious Materials, its EcoRock drywall could reduce such emissions by 25 billion pounds annually.

The company is putting its new capital toward an EcoRock manufacturing plant, expected to begin production next year.

VentureBeat said Serious Materials was raising up to $50 million in August.

The company also was named a Greentech Media Top Ten Startup in September.