Aurora Biofuels announced Monday that it has changed its name to Aurora Algae, in hopes of finding commercial markets today in turning algae into nutrients and protein products. It’s not exactly a vote of confidence for the idea of turning algae into biofuel.
Amid the rubble of the first generation of biofuel projects focused on ethanol derived from corn, a new landscape of biofuel tech has taken shape. As Lux Research puts it in a report released today, the companies range “from backyard brewers to billion-dollar industrial giants,” working in five key technology categories: fermentation, gasification, synthetic biology, chemical processes, and the political darling, algae. No single category offers a silver bullet for renewable fuels. Rather, Lux finds that each of the five categories “hosts promising producers and future failures.”
Given the amount of money pouring into these technologies from both public and private sources, how can we distinguish between the likely winners and losers? Based on factors like revenue per employee, patents, performance metrics, production capacity and other data, Lux has identified gaps between long-shot ventures that would make risky investments and weak partners, and companies with disruptive core technologies and other key characteristics that make them promising targets for mergers, acquisitions or licensing deals.
Read More about The Best & Worst Biofuel Startups
The financial crisis will likely hurt the cleantech sector in more ways than one — access to capital, more risk-averse investors, the need for cheaper power, and declining oil prices. But one industry could be particularly hard hit: ethanol. Bluefire Ethanol CEO Arnold Klann, who previously told us that the company is trying to scale up to 20 waste-to-ethanol plants in just a decade, tells Reuters that the pullback from bank lending could slow down their plans inover the long term.
First-generation corn ethanol plants have hit tough times due to the rise in corn prices, the storms this summer, and a reduction in both political and public good will. Quite a few plans for ethanol plants have been delayed or downright canceled. But for the next generation of cellulosic ethanol, which in its early stage has been prohibitively expensive, this credit crunch could spell some real problems.
Cellulosic ethanol has been produced in labs and on a small scale for some time. The problem has been getting those nascent technologies at a scale large enough at a cost cheap enough to justify production. A company like Canadian Iogen has been producing cellulosic ethanol for years, and only just shipped a small 50,000 gallon commercial order to Shell. Particularly startup companies that need to raise capital to make the transition to production could face some really tough times.
Canadian biofuel maker Iogen might have backed away from building a cellulosic plant in the U.S., but the company says it has already started shipping the first part of a roughly 50,000-gallon order of cellulosic ethanol to one of its investors and partners oil company Shell. Shell first invested in Iogen in 2002 and owns 50 percent of a jointly-owned development company Iogen Energy Corp.
Iogen was founded in 1974 and has been producing small amounts of cellulosic ethanol since 2004, in a demonstration plant in Ottawa. The company’s technology converts biomass into sugars using specialized enzymes; the sugars are then fermented and distilled to make cellulosic ethanol. Iogen told us they backed away from building a planned plant in the U.S. to focus on building a more advanced plant in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
The cellulosic ethanol that Iogen is shipping to Shell is made out of wheat straw at the company’s Ottawa demo plant, and Shell says it plans to use the fuel for various applications (sounds like testing). In a press release back in July, the companies said that Shell was “considering investing in
a full-scale commercial cellulosic ethanol plant and is contributing to Iogen’s detailed feasibility and
design assessment work.” Could that mean Shell will invest in Iogen’s Saskatchewan plant? Though there was no mention of that in this latest release.
While we just heard that land management company Alico has decided to nix its plans to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in the U.S., Canadian company Iogen tells us that it, too, is backing away from its intentions to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in the U.S. It’s interesting because both Alico and Iogen were chosen by the Department of Energy in February 2007 to potentially receive funding to build the first of the next-generation of cellulosic ethanol plants in the U.S. that can churn out biofuels made from waste, plant byproducts and energy crops.
Iogen had planned to build a plant in Shelley, Idaho; construction was due to start this year and be completed by 2010. Guess there’s been a change of plans. An Iogen spokesperson tells us that the company has “suspended” its cellulosic plant plans for Idaho to instead focus on its more advanced plant in Saskatchewan, Canada. The spokesperson says that at this time the company won’t be pursuing those DOE funds, which according to the Canadian Press, where we first read of the suspension, included loan guarantees and grant money that was estimated at some $350 million.
The Canadian Press story also quotes one Corey McDaniel, a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, who said that Iogen suspended its plant in Idaho because the DOE didn’t offer the company a bigger loan guarantee. Perhaps the DOE’s lack of potential funding for Alico’s planned plant was also a factor behind that company’s decision. Many cleantech advocates have said that loan guarantees from the federal government could be the single most important factor in getting new, large-scale, renewable energy technology built in the U.S.
Regardless of the reasoning, it’s very significant that at least two of the companies that the DOE vetted to possibly receive government funds to build cellulosic ethanol plants are now backing down. Good thing there are other private funding means and the venture world to help get almost of dozen of these things built in the next few years.
There are almost a dozen companies racing to build the first next-generation cellulosic ethanol plants in the United States over the next few years. The plants will be built all over the U.S. and will churn out biofuels made from waste, plant byproducts and woody energy crops. It’s no easy task. Not only do these companies have to build pilot and demo plants, but ultimately large-scale, commercialized refineries that can take years to construct and require hundreds of millions of investment dollars.
While biofuels have been getting a bad rap lately, President Bush’s Twenty in Ten Initiative aims to increase the use of renewable and alternative fuels in the transportation sector to the equivalent of 35 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2017. These 11 companies are focusing on finding the right recipe to make the cellulosic ethanol production economically feasible. Good luck to them (per request from the comment section, we added in the tickers for the public companies):
Verenium: The company is in the final stages of testing and evaluating its demo facility, which can produce 1.4 million gallons per year. Construction on the pilot plant began in February 2007. Japanese companies Marubeni and Tsukishima Kikai used Verenium’s technology to build a demo project that can produce 1.3 million liters (less than 350,000 gallons) per year in January 2007 in Osaka, Japan, with plans to scale it up to 4 million liters per year in 2008. The company is currently on track to start construction of a 30 million-gallon-per-year commercial U.S. plant in mid-2009. Verenium trades on the NASDAQ, ticker: VRNM.
Coskata: The company is currently producing cellulosic ethanol in its labs and plans to scale up a pilot project in Madison, Penn., to a 40,000-gallon-per-year demonstration facility that will start delivering ethanol by early 2009 and is projected to cost $25 million to build. Coskata says it’s working on a 100 million-gallon-per-year facility, in an undisclosed U.S. location, that it hopes will go online by early 2011. The startup has raised almost $30 million from Globespan Capital Partners, GM, Khosla Ventures, GreatPoint Ventures and Advanced Technology Ventures. Coskata’s technology first gasifies biomass into syngas and then adds proprietary microbes that turn the syngas into ethanol.
Read More about 11 Companies Racing to Build U.S. Cellulosic Ethanol Plants
If a recent research report by IDC (sponsored by Nortel) gets some traction, a new word will likely enter the web-worker lexicon: hyperconnected. After surveying 2400 members of the “global information workforce” in 17 countries, the IDC folks performed a cluster analysis of communications and connectivity habits. Those at the cutting edge – the hyperconnected – use all sorts of new technology and applications for both business and personal reasons. They juggle an average of 7 devices and 9 applications to connect to the network and represent 16% of the workforce.
As a Web Worker Daily reader, our guess is that you’re either already hyperconnected or in the next (and largest) group that IDC found, the 36% “highly connected” who are using fewer devices and application but are on their way to hyperconnectivity. Their prediction is that we’ll see up to 40% of the total information workforce hyperconnected within the next few years. Read More about Are You Hyperconnected?
Like other classic platform strategies, Twitter is not only providing a compelling user experience, but coupling this to a comprehensive developer toolkit.
Innovation on the Twitter platform continues with the recent launch of Cubic Telecom’s TwitterFone, a cute voice interface for Twitter, that enables users to record a short voice message using their cellphone, have the message transcribed to text and then twittered to the public timeline, including a link to the original voice message.
The jet lag from CES 2008 still hasn’t worn off, but maybe that’s a good thing. I woke up at 12:15 this morning feeling like I had a full night’s sleep, even though it was only a few hours of rest. Of course, the middle of the night is usually when I have my best thought of the day; yes, I only get one and that’s on a good day, so here’s today’s.The banners at MacWorld have this catchy little phrase: “There’s something in the air.” OK, it could be that we’ll see WiMAX-ready hardware coming out of Apple, but that might be a little premature. After all, Sprint won’t be rolling out WiMAX coverage until April or May and it’s going to take a while to blanket the country. We know that the Apple iPhone SDK is appearing by next month and that one of the grudges folks have with the device is the lack of Flash support. Could it be that the iPhone will support a light version Adobe AIR, just in time for the SDK release? Or maybe I just need more sleep… and a better thought for the day.
James caught wind of this news earlier today, but we had no time to share it with you. The NewsGator family of RSS products might gain a larger audience thanks to the applications changing from a paid-license model to a free one. It doesn’t matter what product or platform, they’re all free. That includes:
- FeedDemon for Windows
- NetNewsWire for Mac OS X
- NewsGator Go! for Windows Mobile or BlackBerry
- NewsGator Online
- NewsGator Inbox for Microsoft Outlook
For a long time I used NewsGator Online simply because I could read my feeds on any device. I’ve since switched to Google Reader, but I’ll be exporting my Google feeds into an OPML file and then importing them in to several of these products to see how well they do or don’t work for me.
You’ll want to read the info on the new offerings because personal data will be collected about your RSS activities, unless you specifically opt out. It becomes a choice of having privacy or providing data in order for NewsGator to offer you Popular Topics based on your data. From a mobile perspective, all of these products can stay in synch, so if you use multiple devices on the go, this could be an alternative to Google Reader, Bloglines and other RSS apps.