A push for cheaper, safer natural gas cars

President Obama wants more natural gas development, and with it he wants to see more natural gas powered cars on American streets. He announced Thursday a $30 million R&D fund to develop technologies that will make natural gas cars cheaper and safer to drive and refuel.

LanzaTech raises $56M, targets Asia with biofuel tech

Asia, with its rapidly growing number of car owners and large pollution problems, could very well be the biggest market for biofuels and green chemicals one day. LanzaTech, which announced Monday it has raised $55.8 million, is certainly finding more willing customers and partners Asia.

Oil giant BP backs CoolPlanet BioFuels

Oil giant BP has invested in biofuel startup CoolPlanet BioFuels, according to an announcement on Thursday. CoolPlanet BioFuels is the biofuel startup you have never heard of but that has unusually famous investors like GE, Google, NRG Energy and ConocoPhillips.

Algae company Solazyme reports revenue & losses up

Algae oil company Solazyme, which went public in May of this year, reported both revenue and losses up for the second quarter of the year. At the same time, the company said it expects to produce 500,000 metric tons of algae oil by 2015.

Today in Cleantech

Here’s an interesting development in opening the smart grid world to open applications development. Echelon, the San Jose, Calif.-based company that has launched a line of smart grid devices that it wants third parties to build applications for, has announced that its new Edge Control Node (ECN) system is now compatible with Verizon’s 3G wireless network. Echelon makes smart meters and building control systems that use powerline carrier communications technology, but in a smart grid world that’s demanding wireless options, opening its platform to multiple communications options is a good idea. Will that expanded communications capability lure more third-party developers to work on apps to run over Echelon’s “edge” devices? So far, the only announced customer of Echelon’s ECN products is Duke Energy, which has named Verizon as a key smart grid partner. Opening the smart grid to developers in the way that Android has opened the world of cellphones is an interesting but untested proposition for an industry that’s run according to utility rules that place reliability first, second and third on its list of priorities. Echelon and others working on open application development for the smart grid, such as cellular smart meter expert SmartSynch and apps partner Qualcomm, will need to prove reliability for any new apps to find their place on the grid itself.

Today in Cleantech

From IDC Energy Insights comes today’s snapshot of the smart meter market, with the big top-line figure — half of North America’s electrical meters, or some 88 million, will be smart by 2015. That’s a lot of new meters, though to be honest, a bit of a slackening of the pace of growth we’ve seen over the past year or so. In October, eMeter’s Chris King  said 16 million smart meters were installed in the U.S., and in November, Pike Research counted 57.9 million installed or under contract. Add in Canada, which is adding several million smart meters mainly in Ontario province, and that means about 30 million more smart meters to come in the next four years. Most of that is locked up in contracts, of course, and Swiss-based Landis+Gyr leads the pack in total smart meter deployments, though just by a hair. L+G was also the only company IDC picked for its “leaders” category. Itron, Sensus, Elster, General Electric and Echelon were all listed as  “major players,” while Aclara was relegated to the “contenders” category.

By the Numbers: What a Bloom Electron Is Worth

What’s a Bloom Electron worth to would-be customers of Bloom Energy’s new power purchase agreement style service — and what will those electrons cost Bloom and its financial backers?

Today in Cleantech

Some news from Bloom Energy this morning. First, from Dow Jones VentureWire comes a report that the ultra-hyped, Silicon Valley solid-oxide fuel cell maker has raised an additional $100 million to add to its existing war chest of $400 million raised from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates, and Morgan Stanley. Next, we learn from Bloom that it will indeed be selling its natural gas-fueled Bloom Energy Servers via a power purchase agreement model to be called Bloom Electrons. Instead of paying for the fuel cell up front (they cost $700,000 to $800,000 apiece), customers can sign a 10-year contract to buy the electricity they produce at a set price, earning some green cred and a reliable backup power source to boot. Just how Bloom will price its contracts is the big question. Lux Research predicts Bloom’s fuel cells could produce power for 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, taking federal and state subsidies and 24/7 operation into account and assuming natural gas is selling for $7 per million BTU. That’s just under U.S. average grid power prices of 11 cents per kWh. But absent government support, Bloom’s power cost rises to 13 to 14 cents per kWh, Lux predicts — a tough sell for a PPA.

Today in Cleantech

Greentech patents kept rising in the third quarter of 2010, and General Motors was the global leader with a fistful of fuel cell, hybrid and electric vehicle patents. Those are some of the highlights of the most recent Clean Energy Patent Growth Index from the Cleantech Group and the Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti law firm, which tracked 490 granted U.S. patents in Q3, yet another record. Fuel cell patents have made up the majority since the index started tracking in 2002, and the third quarter was no exception with 253 filed (30 from GM, 21 from Samsung, 17 from Honda, 14 from Toyota and 10 from Panasonic). Solar had 88 patents, with Konarka filing nine of them and Sanyo four, and wind power had 71, of which 19 came from General Electric. As for EV and hybrid patents, the third quarter saw 41 filed, with GM and Nissan each filing nine, Toyota and Ford each filing six, GE with three, and Honda with two.