Tag Archive | "greenbeat"

GM, Itochu charge up battery-maker Sakti3 with $4.2 million

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GM Ventures announced today it has teamed up with Itochu Technology Ventures to invest $4.2 million into Sakti3, a lithium-ion battery developer.

Sakti3, a spin-off from the University of Michigan, is working on battery cells that could be smaller, cheaper and more effective than what’s currently on the market – potentially resulting in batteries that could extend its range of electric cars. GM, which it set to release the Chevrolet Volt electric hybrid later this year, reportedly invested $3.2 million.

“The technology will eventually make it into GM batteries/vehicles, but it’s years away from commercial applications,” said GM spokeswoman Allison Ackels. “When the technology becomes commercially viable, it could be in future GM cars and trucks.”

With the backing of GM Ventures – the company’s venture capital branch opened in June to fund advanced transportation projects — and Japanese conglomerate Itochu (which lately invested in video platform Ooyala and game startup Tonchidot), Sakti3 should be able to speed the commercialization of its batteries. This is the second announcement from GM Ventures, which said last month it would invest $5 million in Bright Automotive, which makes a hybrid van.

Range and the reliability of batteries are big question marks in the electric car market. While consumers have tax incentives to purchase an electric car – the Nissan Leaf, Coda sedan and Chevrolet Volt all debut at the end of this year – questions remain about the range of these cars and the reliability of the batteries, which are expensive to replace. The Leaf, for example, goes about 100 miles on a single charge but could perform worse in extremely cold or hot weather.

It’s also not clear how long the batteries last, though Nissan and Chevrolet both extended an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty to the Leaf and Volt, respectively.

Sakti3 is led by Ann Marie Sastry (pictured above, with a Volt), a University of Michigan professor who the New York Times writes about in detail here, along with the company’s technology, which uses solids instead of the standard liquid electrolyte and electrodes.

Sakti3’s  investors include Khosla and Beringea.

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Viridity Software stores away $8M to make data centers greener

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Viridity Software, maker of a package, dubbed EnergyCenter, that collects data on server energy consumption and a host of other metrics without using fancy sensors, announced today that it has landed $8 million in a second round of venture capital funding from Battery Ventures and North Bridge Venture Partners.

Data center energy conservation is a hot topic these days, with major companies like Google, Apple and others moving to slash the energy demanded by their server farms, and to power them with a greener mix of renewable sources like solar, wind and biomass. Viridity Software — different from micro-grid software provider Viridity Energy — is hoping to ride the trend.

For just $500 per server rack, the company’s EnergyCenter software models and predicts energy usage based on how many servers are being utilized, for how long and under what conditions. This process allows data center operators to identify which servers are hogging a disproportionate amount of power, and which ones aren’t used enough.

Viridty’s software is similar to some of the more user-friendly home energy management offerings appearing on the market — like Microsoft Hohm — in that it leverages the data it gathers to make explicit recommendations for how to cut energy use. These suggestions include things like reorganizing racks to diffuse overheated sectors of centers, or eliminating whole servers altogether if need be.

Because Viridity is offering an all-software solution, eschewing the strategy of installing sensors throughout data centers to collect similar data, it can offer its services for cheaper than competitors like SynapSense, which uses technology to generate server energy heatmaps. Even though the EnergyCenter package can’t directly detect metrics like temperature, its modeling capabilities allow for fairly accurate predictions.

While Viridity’s services can optimize data center operations, most of its customers are probably interested in reducing their electricity bills. As cloud computing continues to pick up speed — accelerated by advanced mobile data plans and connected devices like the iPad — power-hungry server farms are sure to become a cornerstone for companies likes Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and more. Viridity already counts LexisNexis, Highbridge Capital and F5 Networks among its clients.

Based in Burlington, Mass., the company previously raised $7 million from Battery and North Bridge in December 2008.

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Week in review: Hacker’s intercepted phone calls, Facebook’s new patents

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Here’s our roundup of the week’s tech business news. First, the most popular stories published in the last seven days:

Chris Paget at DefconHacker shows how he can intercept phone calls with $1,500 device — A security researcher showed in a live demo at the Defcon security conference how he can intercept cell phone calls on 80 percent of the world’s phones with just about $1,500 worth of equipment.

PlayOn brings Hulu and Netflix to the iPhone — without Apple’s help — PlayOn, the service that allows you to view streaming media from the Web and PCs on a variety of devices, finally made it to the iPhone.

iPhone 4 jailbreak lands with JailbreakMe 2.0, no computer required — The moment many intrepid iPhone 4 owners have been waiting for is here: The iPhone Dev Team has released a jailbreak for the iPhone 4 via their JailbreakMe 2.0 tool — and this time around, users can perform the hack right on their device.

How North Korea could build a cyber army to defeat the U.S. — It wouldn’t be that hard for North Korea to build a cyber army to take on the U.S. in a war fought only in cyberspace. That’s the assessment by Charlie Miller, a veteran computer security tester whose accomplishments include hacking Apple’s operating system and the iPhone.

Reformed hacker reveals “My life as a spyware developer” — Garry Pejski’s tale is a cautionary one for young hackers, and it offers a rare glimpse inside the shadowy world of spyware, a massive underground industry which dances on the edge of legality.

And here are five more articles we think are important, thought-provoking, or fun:

Mark Zuckerberg at F818 new ways Mark Zuckerberg rules social networking — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is already the undisputed king of social networks, but now he has one more prize: 18 key patents related to social networks, quietly purchased this summer from the industry’s faded pioneer, Friendster.

Tesla Motors reports wider $38.5M loss, but says it’s on track — As predicted, Tesla Motors posted higher losses for the second quarter during its earnings announcement this week — its first as a public company.

RIM fights back against the iPhone and Android with touchscreen BlackBerry Torch and BlackBerry OS 6 — We knew that BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion was going to announce something big at its joint AT&T event Tuesday, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Google confirms acquisition of social app startup Slide — Google announced Friday that it has acquired Slide, the social application maker headed by PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, confirming reports from earlier this week.

Shopkick’s mobile shopping app tracks you in stores, delivers real-time deals — At the San Francisco Best Buy store, Shopkick founder and chief executive Cyriac Roeding unveiled the company’s free iPhone app that rewards users for visiting partner retailers.

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Cleantech IPOs still fail to impress as Molycorp misses its goal

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With the exception of Tesla Motors’ blockbuster public sale last month, clean technology IPOs have been disappointing this year. And the trend continues today with Molycorp Minerals, miner of many of the rare metals used in green technologies, debuting at $13.25 a share — down from the anticipated range of $15 to $17.

All told, the Greenwood, Colo. company raised $394 million, pricing its shares at $14. The stock has performed weakly since this morning, dipping as low as $12.

While it’s not exactly a traditional green technology company, Molycorp does provide the raw materials for advanced batteries (for plug-in vehicles, primarily), wind turbines, and energy-efficient light bulbs. More and more demand for its products is coming from the sector — which means its success relies largely on the shaky and uncertain growth of other green technologies.

This may be a major reason its IPO followed in the footsteps of similar sales by biofuel maker Codexis and solar cell maker Jinko Solar, both of which sold for less and raised less on the public markets than expected. Cylindrical solar module maker Solyndra couldn’t even get its IPO out the door.

Investors just don’t seem to be hot on cleantech stocks. There’s a lot of risk involved in green plays, and returns sometimes don’t come for years.

Molycorp, in particular, is in a sticky spot. The company plans to use the money raised in the offering to jumpstart its mine in Mountain Pass, Calif. that has been defunct since 2002 when radioactive waste from the site contaminated a local lake. The project is more vital than ever, considering China’s growing dominance in the rare earth elements market (it owns 95 percent of global production), and Molycorp’s dependence on its own operations in China.

Geopolitical dipsutes over rare earth metals have stolen the spotlight recently, especially following the discovery of a massive pocket of lithium in Afghanistan that could be used to make millions of new batteries. Bolivia, which reportedly contains half of the world’s known lithium supply, has prohibited foreign mining and exports. If China decided to do the same — already a concern for U.S. government officials — Molycorp and companies like it might be sunk.

Seeing this possibility on the horizon, Molycorp seems to be rushing to beat the clock. Not only is it working to get its California mine up and running by the end of the year (in order to hit full capacity by 2012), it’s applying for a $280 million loan guarantee through the U.S. Department of Energy to expedite development. The company hopes its IPO will buoy its application. It expects to spend $511 million in the next two years alone.

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Tesla Motors rings Silicon Valley’s bell

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On a day when the Dow and the Nasdaq were in the red, Tesla Motors, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based electric-car startup, saw shares of TSLA climb slowly but steadily in the first trading after its initial public offering Tuesday morning. Shares were priced at $17 last night by the offering’s four underwriters, but the first trades today went for $19. The price just this second is hovering in the $17-18 range.

Tesla’s debut marked the first IPO of an automaker in the U.S. since Ford’s 54 years ago. The company’s stock priced at $17 a share last night, exceeding the expected range of $14 to $16, with the potential to rake in $226 million and value the company at $1.6 billion. After an IPO, underwriters have the challenge of matching investor demand with supply of shares to set an opening price for trading. In Tesla’s case, that didn’t register until more than two hours after Tesla CEO Elon Musk rang the bell to open the Nasdaq.

The question now becomes how Tesla will perform in the weeks and months to come. Almost universally, analysts have predicted the stock to soar during its first few days before dropping off as excitement fades and the reality about the company and where it stands with its products starts to sink in.

A key test for the company will be how investors react to its second-quarter earnings report, its first as a public company. Sales of Tesla’s sole product, the $109,000 Roadster, have been disappointing as the company has largely tapped the potential pool of superwealthy buyers. Tesla has generated some sales by expanding into new international markets, but the one-time sales generated by satisfying waiting lists country by country are unlikely to be repeated.

And Tesla’s key product, the $60,000 Model S sedan, isn’t due out until 2012 at the earliest.

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Tesla makes magic happen, prices shares at $17

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Tesla Motors is already off to a good start before its debut on the Nasdaq as TSLA tomorrow. The electric car company’s shares have been priced at $17 a pop, exceeding the expected range of $14 to $16.

With 13.3 million shares, or about 14 percent of the company, selling on the public market, the total take will be around $226 million. This is higher than the $178 million the company anticipated last week, and much much higher than the $100 million it originally filed for. The pricing sets its valuation at about $1.6 billion, beating even the company’s goal of $1.4 billion.

It looks like the analysts who predicted Tesla to be a hot stock were right. Some dissenting voices thought that the IPO might be a bust considering recent public market trends in cleantech, and lingering doubts about the company’s long-term success. But they obviously underestimated the ability for sexy sports cars to stir investors’ hearts.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Tesla not only represents a breakthrough in automotive technology, it’s also making history as the first car company to go public in the U.S. since the Ford Motor Company in 1956. With this $17 victory, it has yet again earned its halo as the plug-in car player to watch.

Earlier today, we reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk will be selling close to a million of his own shares in the company, retaining 28.4 percent and a controlling interest in the company. He stands to personally rake in close to $16 million.

After tomorrow’s sale, Toyota will be buying $50 million worth of shares, as per the two companies’ agreement that also involved the electric car maker’s acquisition of the NUMMI automotive plant in Fremont, Calif.

So it looks like it will be a good first day out of the gate for Tesla. Whether the stock price will remain at this height for long is another matter, which we’ve explored extensively in other posts.

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Kleiner throws its weight behind solar inverter maker Enphase in $63M round

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Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is one of the firms sprinting to grow its cleantech practice — keeping up with Bay Area competitors like Khosla Ventures and CMEA Capital. To do so, it’s diversifying its interests in the sector and reaching deeper into individual verticals like the smart grid, carbon accounting, and biofuels. Today, it extended its solar strategy, joining a $63 million round of funding from Enphase Energy, one of the best-known makers of solar panel microinverters.

Granted, the word “microinverter” sounds far from sexy, but this type of technology has the potential to dramatically increase solar panel efficiency why simultaneously lowering costs — a big step toward making solar competitive with natural gas and coal. Companies like Enphase could very well by the industry’s lynchpin. That fact has obviously not escaped Kleiner, which has a reputation for king-making in the green space (think fuel cell maker Bloom Energy and plug-in car maker Fisker Automotive).

The core purpose of Enphase’s microinverters is actually very simple: they transform the direct current (DC) energy generated by solar panels into the alternative current (AC) energy that is used and channeled by electrical grids. They do this for each individual panel — which is actually a paradigm shift in solar architecture.

It used to be that just one of these devices would be hooked up to a series of panels in parallel. But solar power producers soon discovered that in this setup, if one panel is underperforming, it will drag down the output and efficiency of all the other panels in the same array. Attaching a microinverter to every individual panel isolates damaged, shaded or weak panels, allowing the rest to continue generating energy at top speed. The device also informs array operators of problems, allowing them to repair or replace panels that aren’t pulling their weight.

Today, Enphase’s primary customers are solar installers. It works with close to 900 across North America, according to co-founder and vice president of marketing Raghu Belur. In the last year, it released a new version of its microinverter software, allowing for a variety of applications (including allowing solar operators to monitor the status of panels from their smartphones). As it stands, Enphase’s technology is capable of increasing solar array energy output by 5 to 25 percent, Belur says.

The company’s microinverters are compatible with about 80 percent of solar modules currently on the market. In the past, Belur has been vocal about wanting to bundle Enphase’s devices with solar modules being sold to installers. This strategy hasn’t been fully realized, but the new funding should help with this.

The other major use for the capital will be to expand globally, the company says. Right now, it is active only in the U.S. and Canada, but this is soon to change.

“We are looking at expanding into Europe,” Belur tells VentureBeat. “We are not quite ready to announce a country at this time, but it’s easy to guess which ones.” Based on the information he provided, fair guesses would include Germany and Spain, the two top producers of solar equipment on the continent.

Founded just four years ago, the Petaluma, Calif.-based company is backed by Third Point Ventures, RockPort Capital Partners, Madrone Capital Partners, PCG Asset Management and Applied Ventures, and Bay Partners. And now, of course, Kleiner Perkins, which will no doubt increase the company’s visibility among major solar producers and installers, and give it a leg up on competitors like SolarEdge.

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Another low-end green IPO: Jinko Solar navigates a shaky market

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Jinko Solar, a Chinese maker of solar wafers, cells and modules, launched onto the market today at a price of $11 a share — the low end of its predicted $11 to $13 range. While solar is on uncertain ground, the close to $45 million sale may mark the most promising green sector IPO in a long time. The difference? Real profits.

Analysts have been fairly optimistic about green technology companies’ chances at lucrative IPOs. A123Systems broke the seal on the public market for the sector last September when its anticipated stock price jumped nearly 50 percent. It was followed by filings from Solyndra, Codexis, Tesla Motors, Amyris Biotechnologies and more.

But the reality isn’t as rosy as this might make it seem. A123Systems has experienced major declines since its market debut, and Codexis’ IPO last month also scraped the bottom of its expected stock price range, and it has also yet to break into the black. Combined, these events have dampened green’s public sale hopes.

Thought clearly not entirely, considering that Jinko made it at all, against fairly steep odds. In fact, it had already taken a run at the IPO market earlier this year, planning to sell 10.6 million shares at between $6 and $8 apiece. But it was turned back by the saturated solar market (and resulting depressed prices), and a general lack of liquidity.

Jinko’s lukewarm success today (it closed at a share price of $11.01) may not be a positive sign for the green sector in general, but rather the companies that are actually turning a profit. Even though the solar module maker’s net income dropped from $32 million to $12.5 million over the course of 2009, it’s still out of the red. Basically, the market’s love affair with cleantech companies despite losses may be coming to an end, hastened by A123’s lackluster performance.

Like the bulk of green sector companies looking to go public, Jinko says it plans to use the money raised from the sale to expand its manufacturing capacity. Only about $5 million will go to research and development of higher-efficiency solar products.

Both Solyndra and Tesla, waiting to go public as soon as possible this year, need the money to help with capital-intensive production expansion. These projects generally cost too much to be covered by an average funding round. But with investor attention shifting toward the more capital-efficient plays in cleantech, will there be any momentum for big industrial solar, wind, biofuel and transportation companies to file for IPOs going forward?

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Biofuel maker Codexis IPOs — but for less than hoped

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Less than six months after filing to go public, Codexis, one of several makers of microbes and catalysts used to generate green fuels and chemicals, debuted on the Nasdaq this morning under the symbol CDXS. But the news is bittersweet for the cleantech sector. Yes, the company made it to market — but it only fetched $78 million in what it expected to be a $100 million sale.

Based in Redwood City, Calif., Codexis sold 6 million shares to its existing investors for $13 each (instead of $15). Its most significant backer, Royal Dutch Shell, is holding on to its sizable stake. Today’s IPO is the culmination of a long journey for both the company and its investors, who had originally planned to take it public two years ago before the economic downturn set in.

While it may not have performed as hoped, Codexis still marks the first IPO of 2010 for the green sector, which could open the floodgates for more. And at least it beat biofuel competitor Amyris Biotechnologies, which just filed, to market. Both cylindrical solar module maker Solyndra and electric car darling Tesla Motors have filed to go public as well this year. And Smart Grid networking company Silver Spring Networks has retained underwriters for a prospective IPO.

There are concerns attached to all of these companies waiting in the wings. Solyndra has run into roadblocks as auditors have called attention to its avalanche of debt. Tesla Motors has yet to break into the black for any length of time, and Silver Spring Systems could be acquisition bait for bigger players like Cisco Systems. Codexis’ modest success today could be a bellwether for these deals to come.

The sector is also tinged by the lackluster performance of last year’s big green IPO, A123Systems. Mere months after its blockbuster sale, the company’s net loss for 2009 reached $85.8 million, an increase over the $80.5 million lost in 2008. Yes, revenue is growing, fast, jumping 33 percent between 2008 and 2009, but it still has investors on the edge of their seats.

Compared to that, Codexis is doing reasonably well. It reported $82.9 million in revenue for 2009, a 64 percent spike from 2008. And it narrowed its losses by 55 percent, to $20.3 million. At this rate, it could hit profitability by 2011. This sounds harrowing, but green shareholders don’t seem to be deterred by long roads out of the red — at least so far. If A123 and Codexis fail to pull up on schedule, they could doom the cleantech companies following in their footsteps.

Codexis also benefits from a healthy green chemicals and pharmaceuticals business. Sure, its major investors Shell and Chevron have their eyes on the fuel opportunities, but the company also counts Pfizer as a big supporter, as well as CMEA Capital. The process the company uses to engineer microbes’ DNA can be applied to manufacture a variety of substances.

Codexis says it will use the funds generated by the sale to expand its production volume of biocatalysts. It also lists turning Shell into a major biofuel distributor as a primary goal.

Here’s a copy of the SEC filing for today’s CDXS debut.

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Amonix raises $129 million for concentrating photovoltaic technology

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Southern California-based Amonix has scored a major round of funding for its concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) systems. The company has raised $129.4 million in a funding round led by Kleiner Perkins, according to the New York Times.

Concentrating photovoltaic systems offer many benefits over traditional solar technology. CPVs are more efficient, since they use lenses to concentrate sunlight into high efficiency solar cells, which can generate more electricity than standard photovoltaic technology. Amonix’s multijunction cells are also vastly different than average silicon cells — they were first built for satellite use and utilize cheaper semiconducting materials.

CPVs  also require less land than other solar technologies and don’t need water to generate electricity, according to Nathaniel Bullard, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst. In short, CPVs solve some of the major issues usually associated with solar technologies.

Amonix’s CEO, Brian Robertson, said that the company has managed the difficult task of making CPVs cost-competitive and has demonstrated the effectiveness of its technology at small solar farms in the U.S. and Spain. He also said that its CPV units are easy to deploy — they’re shipped to sites in 12 pieces and can be assembled in a few hours. Each unit is 77 by 50 feet and can generate 72 kilowatts of electricity by tracking the sun.

The company plans to build solar farms in the Southwestern U.S. desert that could connect to existing power transmission infrastructure and would generate 1 – 20 megawatts of electricity. SolFocus, a competing company, began construction last month of a one megawatt CPV plant for a community college located in a desert northeast of Los Angeles. Another company, Concentrix Solar, is building a one megawatt plant at Chevron’s molybdenum mine in Questa, N.M., according to the NYT.

Adams Street Partners, PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund, Angeleno Group, Vedanta Capital, New Silk Route, The Westly Group and MissionPoint Capital Partners joined in on the funding round. Amonix previously raised $40 million from Lazard Freres and Company.

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