The Algae Fuel Backlash: Here Come the Skeptics

algaefuel2Judging from the flurry of venture-capital deals, big oil company investments, and attention from politicians on startups creating biofuels from algae, it might seem like the world has fallen in love with the technology to power vehicles with pond scum. But after all of the algae euphoria this summer, we’ve started seeing a few signs of an algae fuel backlash, with several prominent investors publicly questioning the economics of algae fuel.

At the AlwaysOn’s GoingGreen conference, outspoken cleantech investor Vinod Khosla said his firm has aggressively been looking at algae technologies, but hasn’t found one viable plan after looking at “maybe two dozen.” “The economics of algae don’t seem to work,” he said.
(You can watch the video here by clicking on “Renewables at Scale.”)
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Biofuel Company LS9 Closes $25M With Chevron Backing

LS9_graphicLS9, a company which is using a genetically modified version of e.coli bacteria to make diesel from biomass, on Thursday announced it has raised $25 million in its third round of funding. Chevron Technology Ventures’ venture capital arm, CTTV Investments, participated in the round, making this the latest biofuel project from the big oil company. In 2008, Chevron announced a development deal with algae-based fuel company Solazyme, and has been working on a cellulosic ethanol joint venture, called Catchlight Energy, with forest-product company Weyerhaeuser.

While having a big oil backer is a good sign for a young startup, LS9’s round was markedly smaller than the $65 million the company was seeking back in February and well below the $75-$100 million it had hoped to raise last October.
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CHEAT SHEET: Heavy Hitters in Algae Fuel Deals

The race to bring pond scum to fuel tanks has acquired high stakes in recent years, with venture capitalists, federal agencies and legacy oil companies pouring millions of dollars into the technology. Today ExxonMobil (s XOM) and startup Synthetic Genomics announced one of the biggest deals yet: more than $600 million for a 5-6-year algae biofuels development program, including more than $300 million to be invested into the startup.

While today’s project does not represent the largest algae deal to date (Algenol is building a plant in Mexico reportedly worth $850 million, as we’ve noted in the chart below), it is one of the biggest commitments so far from the oil industry — which has been placing a growing pile of chips on algae for its potential to work with existing infrastructure for fossil fuels (e.g., pipelines, oil refineries). Read More about CHEAT SHEET: Heavy Hitters in Algae Fuel Deals

Algae Fuel Funding: Solazyme Hits $76M, Still Not Commercial

algaefuelDespite the slow demise of algae fuel company GreenFuel, investors are still pumping money into algae-based fuels. The latest recipient is Solazyme, which uses synthetic biology to produce algal-derived fuels in dark, closed fermentation tanks. The company said this morning that it has raised a total of $76 million, including $57 million in a Series C round.

The news broke last August that Solazyme had raised a $45.4 million Series C, but the company now says that the C round was extended. The latest funding comes from Braemar Energy Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, VantagePoint Venture Partners, The Roda Group and Harris and Harris Group. That’s the first time I’ve seen VantagePoint Venture Partners listed on Solazyme’s backer list. (VantagePoint has invested in capital-intensive companies like Better Place, BrightSource Energy and Tesla.)
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Daily Sprout

EU Gets Another Fuel Sipper: What’s not a hybrid, doesn’t have a plug and isn’t available in the U.S. — but gets 59 MPG? A new aerodynamic Corsa ecoFLEX from GM’s European brand, Vauxhall. — AutoblogGreen

The Problem With Carbon Capture: Carbon capture and storage could be “the longest of long shots on which to pin humanity’s hopes” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. — Climate Progress

Ex-Wall Streeters Flock to Carbon Trading: As collapsing firms send bankers packing, the nation’s few carbon-trading shops have seen an influx of interest from ex-Wall Streeters. — NYT’s Green Inc.

No Happy Campers: Is anyone satisfied with the 932-page compromise version of the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill? — WSJ’s Environmental Capital

Solar’s Good, Bad and Behemoth: Bechtel, Chevron and Lockheed Martin are important players in the U.S. solar industry, and with enormous balance sheets and expertise designing, building and managing complex projects, they pose a threat to pure solar players. — Greentech Media

Stimulus Starting to Warm Up Cleantech Funding

Despite the fact that cleantech investment fell off a cliff in the first quarter of the year, talk of the “seeds of revival” (i.e. investment) is starting to creep back into both clean power projects and cleantech ventures thanks to the funds from the stimulus package. While layoffs are still hitting industries like solar and wind, and biofuels are struggling across the board, if this morning’s funding news is any indicator, then it looks like the federal funds are actually starting to thaw the pocketbooks of the capital holders. Just a little bit.
This morning we’ve heard about three different cleantech investments in smart grid, distributed clean power and even, gasp, next-gen biofuels. GE and a group of investors including Altira, Rockport Capital Partners, NGP Energy Technology Partners, and the venture capital arm of Chevron Technology Ventures, have invested $10 million into small wind builder Southwest Windpower. The stimulus package allocates $872 million over 10 years for federal tax credits for distributed clean power generation like small wind.
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Zoho Takes a Page from Google: Adds Notebook Import, Plug-In


Quick, where’s that important note you need right this second? If it’s in Google Notebook, you might want to consider looking at Zoho. They’re taking a page right out of Google and seizing an opportunity. Last week Google announced they were shutting down several services: Jaiku, Google Video, and Dodgeball to name a few. Google Notebook is on the list as well, although it’s not shutting down at this time. It won’t see any additional development however, nor will the browser extension work with it. Effectively, you could keep jotting notes with it but without an expected future for the application or usable plug-in, do you want to?

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