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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Lilliputian Snags $28M for Consumer Electronics Fuel Cell Factory

Lilliputian Systems, a Wilmington, Mass.-based company developing fuel cells for cell phones, laptops and other consumer electronics, has raised $28 million in venture-capital funding. Mouli Ramani, vice president of business development, told us Friday that the company plans to use the money to help integrate its fuel cells into customers’ products and to upgrade a pilot facility into a “small-volume” manufacturing plant, as well as for business development. He wouldn’t disclose the size of the planned factory, but said Lilliputian plans to hire some 100 new employees, mostly to run the factory, in the next two years.
In this capital-poor environment — the Cleantech Group reported earlier this week that first quarter venture investments fell 41 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 — Lilliputian’s funding is the latest sign that energy-storage startups seem to be making out pretty well, especially those targeting the consumer market. During the first three months of 2009, lithium-ion battery startup Boston Power raised $55 million, lithium-ion anode technology company Nexeon raised $14 million and ReVolt Technology raised $13 million for its zinc-air battery technology. Meanwhile, Bloom Energy is reportedly near to closing a $150 million round.
Lilliputian claims its ceramic solid-oxide fuel cells deliver five to 10 times more energy, for the same size, as lithium-ion batteries and weigh 20 to 40 times less. Of course, fuel cells have been long on promises and short on products for decades, with a history of delays and missed milestones. And some fuel-cell companies are definitely suffering in the sour economic times: Medis Technologies laid off some 50 workers last month.
According to Lilliputian’s web site, the company had already raised “more than $60 million” before this round. Investors include Stata Venture Partners, Altira Group, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Atlas Venture, Fairhaven Capital and Rockport Capital.

Zoho Takes a Page from Google: Adds Notebook Import, Plug-In

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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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Thoughts from the road

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At long last I am sitting at the gate in the San Francisco Airport where I will soon be heading back to the old hacienda.  It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks with the long CES trip to Vegas, one day home and then out to San Francisco to meet with my buds at GigaOM.  Both trips were well worth the trouble and went down swimmingly but it’s time to be home for a bit.  I have not been in Mobile Tech Manor for a couple of weeks so had no columns during that time and I missed doing them.  Consider this a poor substitute but here are my random thoughts from the road in no particular order.

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