Conspiracy nuts, pay attention: George Soros is teaming up with Cathy Zoi, a formerly high-placed Washington official, and the guys who made a fortune through a complex financial transaction involving Seagate to invest in green technology.
The Silver Lake Kraftwerk fund will invest in energy and resource companies. Soros is a strategic partner; Adam Grosser, a former general partner at Foundation Capital, and Cathy Zoi, who just stepped down as the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Energy, will help manage the fund. 'Kraftwerk' is German for power plant -- it has nothing to do with the techno band that emerged in the '70s, so there won't be too much fun fun fun on der Autobahn.
The firm will have offices in both the U.S. and China and plans to target growth stage companies with proven business models. In other words, it sounds like they will target later-stage companies. Sources tell us that VantagePoint Venture Partners is amassing a $1.5 billion late-stage fund: the firm already has a China fund, too. So if you are already growing -- eMeter, Silver Spring, oPower, MiaSolé -- Soros might be there to help. The 'resources' label indicates it could even be interested in things like recycling or rare earth mining.
Perhaps the best part of this fund will be the conspiracies that surround it. Soros has been accused of collaborating with the Third Reich (like a lot of nine-year-old Jewish kids in Europe during that period), as well as plotting against established governments. Zoi came to prominence in a federal department that has become the bane of many conservatives. And Kraftwerk had an eerie, otherworldly sound and sang about world domination on Trans Europe Express 5.
--Waste heat, one of the largest untapped sources of energy on the planet, got some funds this week. Phononic Devices, from the University of Oklahoma, raised $10 million, while Alphabet Energy, from UC Berkeley, won contracts for $1.48 million from the Department of Defense. Photonic last year won an ARPA-E grant. The company's chips could be wrapped around a steam pipe in a factory to produce electricity or could be attached to a car engine.
Alphabet uses silicon nanowires to convert ambient heat directly into electricity. The chips are far more efficient than traditional bismuth telluride waste heat semiconductors. Approximately 55 percent to 60 percent of the energy generated in America gets dissipated as waste heat, according to Arun Majumdar, who came up with some of the science behind Alphabet. Majumdar now works at the DOE. He runs ARPA-E, which gave money to Photonic, and this week took over Zoi's job. Call Mel Gibson. Something's afoot here.
Other names to follow in waste heat: Tempronics, RED (Recycled Energy Development) and GMZ Energy.
--Southwall Technologies, which makes a window film that can block 50 percent of the sun's heat and still let in lots of light, won a massive contract for putting film in 26,000 square meters of glass in the Universiade Center in Shenzhen.
--Australia is going to give carbon taxation a third try in 2012. The first two attempts failed under former prime minister Paul Rudd. But now Australia is run by Julia Gillard. New Zealand has carbon regulations.