Cash for Trash: ecoATM Lands Funding for Recycling Kiosks

Cash for high-tech trash. That’s the basic concept for the recycling kiosk from ecoATM. You drop off old electronics at one of these machines, it calculates their value, then pays you on the spot, in cash or coupons. Think it’ll work? Apparently some venture capitalists do, because ecoATM announced Wednesday its first round of venture funding, led by Tao Venture partners.

ecoATM’s secret sauce is its kiosks’ ability to automatically estimate — using electronic and visual techniques — a price of the unwanted items that will give consumers an “immediate financial incentive” to recycle at the station, Mark Bowles, ecoATM’s chief marketing officer, told us today. The company has built a network of 50 buyers around the globe that will take used consumer electronics devices that ecoATM collects from its kiosks (currently just mobile phones but soon expanding to iPods, MP3 players and game cartridges) and recycle the components. ecoATM finds the best price for the devices and then passes a portion of that revenue onto its customers.
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The Future of Electric Vehicle Batteries: Lithium Ion & China

As the automotive industry transitions to electric vehicles, companies developing lithium-ion battery technology will be in the driver’s seat – and they’ll be carrying Chinese driver’s licenses. Li-ion technology is quickly replacing nickel-metal hydride batteries in hybrid electric vehicles, and the advanced battery market for emerging plug-in hybrid vehicles will be worth billions of dollars within a decade, according to a new report by market research firm GBI Research. But while Japanese manufacturers currently control a majority of the global advanced battery market, South Korean and especially Chinese firms are nipping at their heels.

If you own a hybrid-electric vehicle today, chances are it has nickel-metal hydride battery technology. These batteries today account for 97 percent of the hybrid electric vehicle market, by revenue. But the nickel-metal hydride technology has reached its maturity, according to GBI researchers, and Li-ion technology is advancing more quickly and offers better overall performance characteristics, such as longer life, high energy density, and is more light weight. The report estimates that hybrid electric vehicles will make up 10 percent of new sales by 2020 and that Li-ion batteries will be in more than 60 percent of those cars and trucks.
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Ice Is Nice: Veolia Acquires Into Ice Thermal Energy Storage

Is the ice battery finally getting its day in the sun? Veolia Energy North America, a subsidiary of massive French energy and water company Veolia Environnement (s VE), announced on Wednesday that it has snapped up a district cooling system that uses ice to lower the cost of cooling buildings from Baltimore-based Comfort Link. Financial details were not disclosed, but Veolia says the purchase gives it one of the largest existing ice thermal storage systems in the U.S.

Comfort Link’s Baltimore district cooling system has had $80 million in capital investment, has a total cooling capacity of 32,000 tons, includes more than 10 miles of chilled-water distribution piping, and serves more than 11.5 million square feet of buildings. Comfort Link essentially sells cooling as a service by owning, operating and maintaining the district system for its customers. Prior to the acquisition, Veolia provided centrally produced steam, hot water and chilled water to about 250 commercial, government, institutional and hospitality customers in Baltimore, but the deal marks the company’s first foray into using ice for thermal storage, John Gibson, Veolia Energy’s VP of the southeast region and general manager for its Baltimore operations, tells us.
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Pole Solar: Petra Solar Goes Big With $40M Funding Round

Update: Petra Solar, which develops pole-mounted solar systems for electric utilities, announced Monday that it has raised $40 million in funding led by Craton Equity Partners and Espírito Santo Ventures with participation from existing investors including OnPoint Technologies, a venture fund for the U.S. Army. 

Petra Solar said it will use the new funding to expand its customer base and hire more staff. The South Plainfield, N.J.-based company also said it plans to expand its product line to address new applications and market segments. We’re still waiting for comment from Petra Solar, but we’re thinking that those new applications and markets might have to do with commercial and residential customers. The company’s website has dedicated sections for commercial and residential products and services.

Update: Petra Solar CEO Shihab Kuran has confirmed for us that the company will use the funding to expand into commercial and residential markets, but always with “utilities in mind as partners,” such as those with initiatives to add PV to their customers’ roofs. Also, the startup will use the funding to expand its applications for utilities, such as around smart grid, mounting systems and grid reliability.
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Q&A: Vulcan Power’s CEO on the Potential of Geothermal

At times it’s seemed like geothermal power is the Rodney Dangerfield of clean energy – it’s gotten little respect compared with glitzier cousins like solar and wind. But that image is changing as more investment flows into the industry and new technologies make tapping the heat below the earth’s surface cheaper and more accessible. According to the Geothermal Energy Association there are 144 new U.S. geothermal plants under development, which could add seven gigawatts of new baseload power, and enhanced geothermal systems, a field of promising new technologies, could increase the U.S. geothermal generation capacity 40 fold, according to the Department of Energy.

We sat down with Robert Warburton, acting chief executive officer of Vulcan Power Company, to get his outlook for the industry. The Bend, Or.-based geothermal project developer, which announced earlier this week that it raised $108 million in private equity investment, has some 170,000 acres of geothermal properties in four Western states including California and Nevada. Vulcan is currently developing geothermal plants totaling 300 MW of power, and it has signed 180 MW of long-term power purchase agreements with utilities, with another 120 MW currently under negotiation.
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Picarro’s Sensors to Measure Methane in California

Watch out methane producers, California has just hired Picarro. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup announced Wednesday that it has been selected to provide its greenhouse gas-detecting sensor boxes to measure changes in methane emissions across the Golden State.

CEO Michael Woelk told us last November that his grand vision for the company’s $50,000 gas analyzers was to have them deployed as part of vast networks to monitor changes in global carbon emissions. While this project will be limited to California, it still puts Picarro one step closer to that goal and could serve as an important validation for the startup’s technology. Read More about Picarro’s Sensors to Measure Methane in California

Semprius Surges Into 2010: A Siemens Deal, VC Funds

Hit the ground running in 2010. That appears to be the game plan for Semprius, a semiconductor technology company that is developing solar concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), systems that use mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight onto highly efficient solar cells. Just a month into the new year, Semprius has already closed an $8.16 million second round of venture funding and cut deals with heavyweights Siemens (s SI) and the Department of Energy.

According to a Securities and Exchange Commission document filed late last month, the Durham, N.C.-based firm increased a previous round of funding (announced last June) by about $1.7 million. ARCH Venture Partners, Applied Ventures, Illinois VENTURES and a handful of others were disclosed as investors in June, but it’s unclear who joined in the final tranche. We’re waiting to hear back from Semprius on more details of the funding.
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Obama: Fed’s GHG Emissions Must Drop 28% by 2020

A national cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gasses might be in limbo, but that hasn’t stopped President Obama from announcing on Friday an emissions reduction target for federal operations. The president, fulfilling an executive order signed in October, said the federal government will reduce its emissions by 28 percent by 2020 over a 2008 baseline year. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy,” Obama said in a statement.

The federal government – occupying nearly half a million buildings, operating more than 600,000 vehicles and employing more than 1.8 million civilians – spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 and is the largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy. Federal departments and agencies will achieve emissions reductions by measuring their current energy and fuel use, becoming more energy efficient and shifting to clean energy sources like solar and wind, the statement said.
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LS9 Makes “Major Breakthrough” in Cellulosic-based Fuel Production

Khosla Ventures-backed LS9, which is using a genetically modified version of e.coli bacteria to make diesel, announced Wednesday that it has made a “major breakthrough” in the production of biofuels and chemicals from cellulosic biomass. The company, working with researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, said it has developed a microbe that can produce advanced biofuels directly from cellulosic biomass, such as woodchips, in a “one-step” fermentation process that eliminates the need for additional chemicals and industrial processes.

LS9 aims to produce biofuels and renewable chemicals to replace conventional petroleum-based products, and the company said this breakthrough will enable it to do this at lower costs. Biofuels ultimately will need to compete against conventional fuels on the open market, and any technological advancement that lowers production costs should make LS9 more competitive.
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People Power: Using Facebook To Cut Carbon

The home energy management industry has become saturated with new players looking for creative ways to be heard among the crowd. That’s at least part of the reason why People Power, which says it’s developing plug-and-play devices for monitoring home energy use, plans to launch a Facebook app on Tuesday that calculates the amount of carbon emissions users have avoided emitting by turning off heaters, clothes dryers, PCs and other home appliances (the energy saved is based on what users say they will do, not what they’ve actually achieved).

The Facebook app asks users to pledge to “unplug” one or more home appliance from a list of 20 during Earth Day. The user selects how many hours those appliances will be turned off, and the app calculates the emissions avoided and what the rough equivalent would be in terms of miles driven in a car. “Unplug” users can invite friends, view their friends’ commitments, and track their collective emissions reductions. “If we band together then we can make a difference,” People Power Chief Executive Gene Wang told us.
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