Archive for the ‘Biodiesel’ Category

VC Investment Down, IPOs Up for Clean Technology Companies in 2011

Solar panels in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Shayan (USA). Some rights reserved.

The public debate about government’s role in developing clean energy has never been livelier. In addition to President Obama’s push for clean energy in his State of the Union address, Spain, a poster-child for wind energy, is making headlines for cutting subsidies to renewable energy industries. Less discussed, at least recently, is the role of private investment in clean energy.

An Ernst & Young analysis, covered by Environmental Finance here, shows that venture capital investments in clean technology reached $4.9 billion in 2011, down 4.5% from 2010 due to a slow fourth quarter. The number of deals fell slightly to 297 from 300 in 2010, but Ernst & Young’s clean-tech director, Spencer Jay, trumpets that the industry is holding steady in a tough economic environment, and that many companies are commercializing their services.

The leading clean-tech segment was energy and electricity generation, raising $1.5 billion, followed by the industry products and services segment at $1.0 billion, energy storage at $932.6 million, and energy efficiency – the innovation that Ernst & Young says does not require as much capital – at $646.9 million.

The big mover here is the energy storage sector, which saw a 250% increase in investment in 2011 compared to 2010. Energy storage complements the intermittent electricity generation of wind and solar, allowing the overall cost of electricity to consumers to decline.

The IPOs announced in 2011 for clean-tech companies confirm these trends. Solazyme, the year’s high-profile advanced biofuels IPO, as well as Gevo (producer of isobutanol as a “drop-in” for gasoline and chemicals used in manufacturing), KiOR (converting forest-based biomass to crude oil), and BrightSource (large-scale solar developer), are all energy generation companies. The fifth IPO, Silver Spring Networks, in the industry products and services sector, is a smart grid software provider.

These companies have something else in common, too:  four of the five are based in the San Francisco area. While northern California has long been a hot clean-tech market, both Massachusetts and Colorado – the home of Gevo – have also taken big steps towards establishing themselves as clean-tech ‘innovation clusters,’ seeing venture capital investment increases of 63% and 28% respectively.

The Alligator’s Role in ‘Winning the Future’

Photo by The Wandering Herpetologist. Some rights reserved.

Did you know:

–          The average lifespan of the American alligator is approximately 50 years long

–          Alligators have five toes on their front legs but only four on their hind legs

–          The average weight of an alligator is between 400 and 500 pounds!

Fans of alligator facts are advised to read on, as the New York Times reports today on a new study led by Rakesh Bajpai, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Louisiana, which shows that the American alligator, and alligator fat in particular, could provide a practical solution to a growing problem facing biodiesels.

As soybeans are used regularly in food production as well as biodiesel production, researchers have pointed out that, as biodiesel users grow, the amount of soybeans needed to produce even a fraction of the amount of oil that could soon be necessary would surpass the current ratio of American soy farms. Alligator fat, on the other hand, is not currently used for anything, and is discarded into landfills when alligators are harvested for meat and skin.

Bajpai and his researchers converted roughly 15 million pounds of discarded alligator fat into 1.25 million gallons of usable biodiesel fuel. Bajpai estimates that a large plan could feasibly produce such fuel at $2.40 a gallon, a very reasonable figure indeed, and a morally sound way to put to use a part of the animal that has up until now been needlessly thrown away.

The American alligator was added to the endangered species list in 1967 and later removed, thanks to widespread efforts by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service along with state wildlife agencies in the South, in 1987, having fully recovered their original populations. In similar news, the Lake Erie watersnake was removed from the federal list of endangered species this week, after property development in the area threatened to wipe out their natural habitat. Their population has rebounded to over 10,000 in the last two years, and their recovery stands as testament to the lasting impact of the Endangered Species Act. Reptilophiles rejoice!

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