Biofuel investments keep on coming

Developing biofuels continues to be a bright spot in the cleantech world. Two startups, plant genetic engineering company Chromatin and biofuel producer ZeaChem, announced separately on Tuesday that they have raised new rounds of funding.

ZeaChem Breaks Ground On Next-Gen Ethanol Plant

A startup that’s using a microbe found in termite guts and soil to breakdown trees and plants into next-generation ethanol, has broken ground on its first demonstration plant. The company is eight-year-old Menlo Park, Calif.-based ZeaChem, and on Wednesday afternoon the team held the official ground-breaking ceremony.

TeuxDeux: A Simple and Elegant To-do Service

Recently, I’ve been pondering the role that lists play in my life — from Twitter’s “playlists of people” to Umberto Eco’s thoughts on lists as a cultural tool for “facing infinity” to my own ideas about the use of “someday list” for lingering tasks — which should perhaps never be part of to-do lists anyway.

So it was with great excitement that I found Digitizd’s recent post, “9 Tools for Simple Productivity,” which highlights Fictive Kin‘s TeuxDeux, a bare-bones, elegantly designed and eminently usable list-based task manager, which also incorporates a “someday list.” (The post also discusses Ommwriter, a tool that was recently covered here at WWD).

TeuxDeux orients the user around days of the week, rather than the traditional task and priority view of most to-do applications. Each day is displayed as a column on a horizontally scrolling carousel; underneath each day is a simple text field and a list of things to do that day.

The simplicity and elegance of the user experience is striking and immediate — a running list of days, one-click editing and a separate list of “someday” tasks. Read More about TeuxDeux: A Simple and Elegant To-do Service

Daily Sprout

Selling the Smart Grid to Average Joe: Smart grid analyst Jesse Berst examines how the Electrification Roadmap released this week by a coalition of heavyweight CEOs could be an inflection point for the smart grid. “Electric transportation is something the public wants; it will take a significant infrastructure upgrade to make it happen; and it can only happen if everyone gets really good standards.” — Smart Grid News
Cap and Trade for Power Plants Only?: A small bipartisan faction of Senate moderates has begun examining the idea of passing a bill that deals only with greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, rather than a comprehensive cap and trade system covering broad sections of the U.S. economy. — Greenwire via NYT
EU Green Lights New Energy Standards for Buildings: The European Union late Tuesday agreed on new energy-efficiency standards for all buildings constructed (or significantly renovated) after 2020. — Dow Jones Newswires
Quantum Dots for Longer Battery Life: “You probably don’t know it, but you live in the dawn of the Golden Age for waste heat research.” A breakthrough “quantum dot device” at MIT, plus technology from Cleantech Open runner up Alphabet Energy and ARPA-E grant winners MC10 and Photonic Devices, offer the latest examples. — Greentech Media
ZeaChem Plant Construction Under Way: “Start-up ZeaChem has begun construction of a plant to convert wood chips into ethanol and specialty chemicals, a small step forward for the long-awaited cellulosic ethanol industry.” — CNET’s Green Tech

WWD Reader Profile: Jennifer Woofter, Sustainability Consultant

jenniferWho are you and what do you do?

My name is Jennifer Woofter and I run Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC). We’re a boutique consulting company that works with small- and medium-size organizations that want to “go green.” I spend about one-third of my time on billable sustainability consulting work (green audits, carbon footprinting, coaching and training) and about two-thirds of my time running the business — made up of three in-house staff, between four and six interns, and a freelance network of more than 450 sustainability experts.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I’m a night owl, and since I usually go to sleep in the wee hours, I’m rarely awake before 9 a.m. Since I work from home, that’s not a problem — I just walk downstairs to my office (stopping in the kitchen for a cup of coffee) and am ready to work by 9:05. Read More about WWD Reader Profile: Jennifer Woofter, Sustainability Consultant

The Last Frontier for P2P VOD: Your Patience

Imagine you’re watching a movie via Internet-based VOD, one of those flicks you choose purely for the action scenes. Problem is, the dialogue is horrendous. What do you do? Skip ahead, of course. Such skipping can be a major technical challenge, however, especially if your VOD provider uses P2P technology to deliver its video streams. But five researchers from Spanish ISP Telefonica and UC Irvine have come up with a way to solve this problem.

The gang of five have developed a system called “Kangaroo” that promises to deal with jumpy VOD viewers by improving the architecture of the underlying P2P network. Kangaroo was field-tested during the 2008 Olympics, and its technology was presented at the 8th International Workshop on Peer-to-Peer Systems in Boston last week. While the details of this technology are admittedly a bit geeky, they help to understand illustrate why previous P2P VOD efforts like Joost and Babelgum failed and why smaller providers like Global Media Services/GridCast and MediaMelon need big content partners to make P2P work.

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Next-Gen Ethanol Firms on the Hunt for Funding – Good Luck

While there is funding available for U.S. cellulosic ethanol companies in the form of grants or loan guarantees from the departments of both Energy and Agriculture, these days, it doesn’t come close to matching demand. And without help from the federal government, some projects may never get off the ground.

“If you don’t have a loan guarantee, you aren’t going to be building any projects,” said Gerson Santos-Leon, executive V-P of Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies, at the Biomass 2009 conference in Maryland on Tuesday. And this from a man whose company already has a big backer — it’s part of Spain’s Abengoa, a publicly traded firm with operations in infrastructure, environmental services and energy.

“Equity two years ago wasn’t a big deal for Abengoa,” said Santos-Leon. “Now it is.” He said there is a lot of competition for cash within the company as it evaluates which projects across its wide portfolio can give it the best return. And advanced biofuels may be a product without a market.

“Right now in the ethanol industry we are in excess capacity mode, 20-25 percent excess capacity,” he said. “We are talking about building new cellulosic capacity, but we cannot sell the ethanol that we presently manufacture.” But for the time being, Abengoa is pushing ahead with its plans for cellulosic ethanol, likely in hopes of stricter regulations on biofuels that would give non-food based ethanol a leg up in the marketplace. The company previously teamed up with the DOE on a pilot plant in Nebraska and is now is working with the agency on a commercial-scale, biomass-to-ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kan.
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Baby Steps in Hard Times for Cellulosic Ethanol Makers

With many of the next-generation ethanol makers being forced to drag their heels on plant construction during the downturn, it’s becoming rare to hear about progress on cellulosic ethanol plants. But here’s a small step for a small demo plant: Next-gen ethanol maker ZeaChem says it is still on track to start construction of its 1.5 million gallon per year demo plant in Boardman, Ore., this year, and the company says engineering work on the plant has already started with contractor CH2M Hill.

It’s a baby step, far from commercial scale production, but 7-year-old ZeaChem seems to be keeping on the steady track that it has set for itself. We took a tour of the lab last month, and witnessed the process by which the company takes a common microbe (found in termite guts and regular soil) and uses it to break down trees and plants into ethanol. The company claims its hybrid process, which combines the microbe steps with a gasification step, enables it to produce 40 percent more ethanol per ton of biomass than competitors.

In this economic climate, in which project financing for large plants has dried up, cellulosic ethanol makers are routinely pushing back plant construction plans. The financial whirlwind that hit at the end of 2008 was just sudden and intense enough to have left companies that were planning to spend hundreds of millions on building ethanol plants this year in the lurch.
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