The Other Solar Energy

by Richard T. Stuebi

Ten days ago, I attended a one-day symposium on climate change solutions at Oberlin College. Speaking at the symposium was John O’Donnell of Ausra.

Ausra is a leading player in the field of concentrating solar power (CSP), which utilizes mirrors to focus sunlight on a heating element containing a fluid to produce a steam that drives a turbine to generate electricity. In other words, solar thermal electricity – a field that was highly active in the 1980’s only to experience a 15+ year hiatus – is now coming back with a vengeance. Ausra claims that its CSP technology will soon be able to enable electricity production (in sunny desert climates, such as the southwestern U.S.) for about 8-10 cents/kwh.

Moreover, Mr. O’Donnell discussed how Ausra was working on integrating its CSP generation technology with thermal energy storage approaches, so that Ausra’s powerplants would be able to produce electricity not just when the sun is high in the sky — from 7 am to 6 pm — but over a time window more closely aligned to utility peak loads, which stretch from about 10 am to 8 pm. He made the interesting observation that thermal energy storage, using oils and molten salts, is many times more efficient and cost-effective than large-scale energy storage with batteries.

With all of the hype (much of which deserved) for solar photovoltaics (PV), it’s easy to forget about solar thermal approaches, and CSP particularly. Although not as universally applicable as PV, CSP can make a big dent in national energy supply, exploiting only a relatively small fraction of otherwise unusable desert land. In many cases, the gating factor for CSP deployment — just as has been the case for wind energy — will be the availability (or lack thereof) of transmission capacity to electricity load centers.

Mr. O’Donnell made the point that building roads in the U.S. was a local phenomenon subject to a patchwork of regulations and constraints — until President Eisenhower broke down the barriers with the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950’s. He further noted that high-voltage DC technologies now readily available — such as those offered by ABB (NYSE: ABB) — could transmit large blocks of power across the whole continent with losses of only about 11% (excluding the conversion facilities at each terminal).

We in the cleantech community haven’t talked much about it, instead focusing on the sexy/cool generation/storage/consumption technologies, but maybe it’s time to ratchet the discussion about the so-called “smart grid” up to another level.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Only Renewables Gain (Week Ending 4/25) + Solar ETFs

Author: Mark Henwood

Broad market indices were mixed this week and so were Camino’s PurePlay™ indices.

The Solar index followed last week’s 7.0% gain with a small 0.2% decline. The index members were also mixed with 15 stocks increasing and 19 stocks declining. Most notable in the group was Centrosolar (C3O.DE) which gained 26.2% for the week. The stock jumped on the 23rd after the company announced provisional results that were above expectations. Sales for the quarter were up 86% over the previous year and EBITDA almost tripled. One analyst suggested the stock was undervalued.

Camino’s Renewable Electricity index managed a small 0.1% increase with 8 stocks climbing and 15 retreating.

Biofuels reversed last week’s 1.5% gain with a 1.9% loss. There were 7 advancing stocks to 8 stocks falling. Several of the ethanol stocks (AVR, PEIX, VSE) seemed to benefit from coverage by Oppenheimer whose analyst believes that overcapacity in the sector will resolve itself in the next 12 to 18 months.

Fuel Cells slumped 5.1% on 1 stock advancing and 6 stocks declining. FuelCell Energy (FCEL) reported a sale to Posco which was well received by the market resulting in a 11% price increase for the week. The sale involved delivering 25.6 MW at a contact value of USD 70 million, or over USD 2,700 / kW. Analysts believe this number is below cost but will help the company reduce its cost. After years of losses FuelCell needs to get it right and get its costs down so it can compete in a very competitive natural gas fired electric generation market.

Solar ETFs It came as no surprise that solar ETFs have been launched by Claymore (TAN) and VanEck (KWT). These two providers worked hard to differentiate their products by using slightly different company selections and weighting schemes. Unfortunately they didn’t decide to compete on cost coming out at an identical 65 basis points.

The result is indices that have a 74% overlap in their 27 constituents. Between the two indices the only company not included in Camino’s Solar index (34 constituents) is MEMC Electronics (WFR). By our computation in 2007 at most MEMC has a 25% exposure to solar so we’re not sure why Claymore included them. We don’t think they currently belong in our PurePlay™ index.

Going forward we expect these ETFs will have comparable performance and very high volatility. We routinely calculate Sharp ratios for our indices in an effort to assess the risk/reward profile of the sector. Over the last 365 days our solar index’s Sharpe ratio was 0.8 and over the last two years the ratio was 0.48, both periods measured against the 13wk T-Bill. Traditional fund managers would probably not find these values attractive particularly considering their high beta. That said, we think there are plenty of opportunities in the sustainable energy sector.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark has no positions in solar.

The Answer May Be Blowing in the Wind

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Southwest Windpower Skystream 3.7 Wind Turbine

What is it?
The Skystream 3.7 is a residential wind generator that hooks into grid-tied homes. It has an estimated energy production of 400 kWh per month (at 12 MPH or 5.4 m/s). Its rotor measures 12 feet and towers are available ranging from 34 to 70 feet.

Why is it better?
The wind industry, ranging from offshore wind projects to residential turbines, has been steadily growing. Southwest Windpower manufactures the Skystream 3.7 which is the first all-inclusive wind generator with controls and an inverter built right in.

For the average single family home, it can produce about half of all electricity needs (or course that depends both on how much electricity you use and the average wind speeds in your area). But that’s not too shabby in terms of reducing your carbon footprint.

I also hear Skystreams are quiet, easy to install (or easy to work with dealers to get them installed), run in very low winds, and are easy to maintain. All good things, for sure. I can’t wait to stop by Robin Wilson’s house in San Francisco to see hers in action.

Where can you find it?
Southwest Windpower has a network of dealers worldwide that retail the Skystream 3.7. See the website for information on where to buy. A complete ready-to-install package with a 34 foot tower costs $8,725.00.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

California High-Speed Rail

By John Addison (Earth Day 2008). Fiona Ma was nervous about getting on a train that was about to set a world speed record. Just before Easter 2007 in the countryside outside Paris, she saw the people lining the green and flowered route. The French were flying flags, waving, and cheering. Less reassuring were those of faith who crossed themselves as the new train accelerated past 200 miles per hour. The people blurred into a collage of spring time colors. The train vibrated much as when a jet plane roars down the runway and starts to ascend. Fiona hoped that this train would not leave the tracks.

At three hundred miles per hour, the train was still on the tracks, accelerating. Out the window, only one image was distinct. A plane that was filming the historic event flew along side the train. Surrealistically, Fiona and the eleven other dignitaries could see what was filmed from the plane on a screen inside the train. Another LCD displayed their world record – 357 miles per hour on a train. Everyone cheered. The train slowed over the next few miles. Fiona took a deep breath, exhaled, and smiled; she took part in history.

These days, Fiona Ma, needs to find new courage every day. As California Majority Whip, she takes on the tough issues and is a force in making things better. For every important issue, there are vested interests on all sides whether it is better health care, better transportation, stopping global warming, or keeping California’s $1.7 trillion economy moving forward. Among her many responsibilities, Assemblywoman Ma chairs the Legislative High Speed Rail Caucus.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) believe they just may have the answer — an 800 mile statewide high-speed rail system that would serve more than 32 million passengers per year by 2020. Because the rail will be powered by electricity, and because of the efficiency of moving up to 1,200 people per train, CO2 emissions may be reduced by 12 billion pounds per year by 2020, and 18 billion pounds by 2030.

If you have ever been stuck in gridlock trying to get to work between Orange County and LA, or between San Jose and San Francisco, you will appreciate that the high-speed rail would add the equivalent of a 12-lane superhighway. Express high-speed trains will take one hour and fifteen minutes between San Diego and Los Angeles, and a little over two and one-half hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

CHSRA is upgrading their 2020 forecast to 68 million, from 32 million, and 94 to 117 million passengers by 2030. As Hall of Fame baseball great Yogi Berra observed, “It is difficult to forecast, especially about the future.” 2020 annual passengers will depend on California voters approving the November bond, matching funding, and regulatory approval. CHSRA forecasts are achievable. By comparison, Europe already provides 250 million annual rides, and Japan over 300 million.

High-speed rail systems, using the new grade-separated high speed lines planned for California have not had one fatality in 41 years. Neither automobiles nor airplanes can match the safety of high speed rail.

California high-speed rail addresses a number of goals. Our current highways cannot support the planned growth to 50 million people. Only the USA and China use more oil than California. If there are more price hikes, or if supply is disrupted by war or terrorism, where will California get its needed billions of gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel? Draughts, likely caused by climate change, are already hurting California agriculture and industry. California is unlikely to meet its targeted reduction of greenhouse gases without high-speed rail. Especially damaging are the greenhouse gas emissions from short-haul air travel. The per passenger greenhouse gas emissions of flying from LA to SF are equivalent of each person driving solo in a large SUV. Carbon Calculator

Although California faces rush-hour gridlock without high-speed rail, a project with a starting price north of $33 billion is certain to face some opposition.

With HSR, it’s about money. Proposed is that Californians approve a bond of $10 billion for one-third of the cost. One-third would be matched by federal funds and one-third by private investment. Although some anticipate cost overruns, more are worried that the price of not acting will be much higher. Because California is implementing AB32, the high-speed rail may be able to sell carbon credits to help finance the project and operations.

Since high-speed rail will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 billion pounds per year, you would think that all environment groups would support the measure. While there has been some support, the Sierra Club opposed disrupting environmentally sensitive areas and areas of wildlife migration, specifically in the Los Banos area. Beyond some local opposition, however, the national Sierra Club strongly supports high-speed rail.

Southwest Airlines successfully sued and stopped high-speed rail in Texas in the 1990s. Texas is now staring at a $183 billion price for the Trans Texas Corridor as a 4,000-mile-long stretch of 10 auto lanes and six railroad tracks for high-speed freight and commuter trains. This is over twenty times higher than if they had not been stopped from implementing high-speed rail years ago. Opponents of high-speed rail carefully follow Mark Twain’s advice, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Airlines may not oppose high-speed rail. Today, Southwest cannot get the expanded gates and routes in California due to lack of airport expansion everywhere from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco. Some airlines may support high-speed rail as it will more easily bring people to SFO and be part of bringing passengers to other airports more quickly.

Most are optimistic that voters will approve a bond issue for high-speed rail. Voters are faced with record gasoline prices and concern about California’s economic future. More people are commuting longer distances as they are unable to sell their homes in today’s difficult real estate market.

The major concerns are addressed in new legislation proposed by Assemblywomen Cathleen Galgiani and Fiona Ma – AB 3034 “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century.” The governor wanted more private funding of the rail. The new bill allows for private rail funding provided by law. The Sierra Club does not want a Los Banos station. The new bill provides: “Preserving wildlife corridors and mitigating impacts to wildlife movement, where feasible as determined by the authority…” Also the bill, “Prohibits a high-speed train station between Gilroy and Merced.”

On April 14, the legislative committee approved the bill with 10 voting yes and no one opposing. It is expected to get the approval of the full Assembly and Senate and the Governor. Read the Bill and Post your Comment

Even if voters approve the bond, high-speed rail will not move forward unless there are matching federal funds. Congressman Jim Costa believes that will happen. As he states in his op-ed: “Congress has begun to take action to help make the idea of high-speed rail in California a reality. Two bills I introduced, HR 4122 the American Investment in Safe, Reliable High Speed Rail Act and HR 4123, the High-Speed Rail Authority Development and Formation Act, will help bring federal dollars to California to invest in the proposed high-speed rail system. The Senate also passed S. 294, which will help high-speed rail development in America…. Overall, for every dollar invested in this system, we will see two dollars in return.” Capitol Weekly Article

Will Californians park their cars and ride the rails? Last year, LAMTA carried 64 million riders. In the Bay Area, BART carried 47 million riders. With gasoline prices rocketing, Amtrak ridership on the Capitol Corridor is up 16% this March over a year ago; on the San Joaquins it has jumped 27%. Although Californians will not exclusively ride rails and rapid transit, but they will ride more and drive less. In fact, high speed rail will integrate with public transportation. All 25 HSR stations will be multi-modal. For example, to get to Sacramento I currently take BART to Richmond, then get on Amtrak in the same station.

As a manager covering several states, I used to travel weekly on airplanes. Point-to-point always required at least four hours to get to the airport, get thru security, taxi in the runway, fly, taxi in the runway, then rent a car. In contrast, when taking a train from Washington D.C. to New York, I found that train travel was faster than airlines and better integrated with public transportation. With high-speed rail, airline travel to cover a few hundred miles would never be a personal option.

Travel between Washington D.C. and Boston is now even faster with speeds of up to 150 miles per hour on Amtrak’s Acela, the only high-speed rail in the United States. Now you can get from the nation’s capital to downtown Manhattan in less than three hours; an impossibility with airline travel and the fastest taxi driver in New York history. Over ten million passengers road this Northeast Corridor in 2007, making it the most popular train route in the U.S. Acela is now profitable.

In 12 years, 32 to 68 million passengers may be riding on an even faster system in California. The high-speed rail will keep California’s economy moving forward, with more jobs, more energy security and far less emissions.

Copyright (c) 2008 John Addison. This article may be reproduced if it preserves this copyright notice. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

The Best Fuel Cell Company You’ve Never Seen

I had a chat with Dr. Peter Podessor this week. He is the CEO of Smart Fuel Cells (XETRA: F3C.DE), the best fuel cell company that most Americans have never heard of. Cleantech Blog did an article on the problems with micro fuel cells last year, but we have never written much on the larger size methanol fuel cells that Smart Fuel Cell is developing. SFC is one of the longest running direct methanol fuel cell companies in Europe, but never has made much press in the US, despite the fact that the US is one of their largest markets.

It has been nearly five years since I last had the chance to speak with Smart Fuel Cell founder and then CEO Dr. Manfred Stefener, and a lot has changed. That is to say, unlike almost every other fuel cell company I know of, they have actually done what they said they would five years ago.

The technology is direct methanol, where methanol mixed with water is fed directly into the fuel cell. Their products are medium power range systems, mainly for APU type applications. An interesting tidbit on the technology, the classic problem in DMFC has always been the crossover problem, where methanol seeps through the membrane, reducing efficiency and performance, among other things. SFC uses a patented water management and active control system that has permitted them to deliver commercial products using membranes from a range of suppliers, including Johnson Matthey, DuPont and Cabot Industries, apparently relatively indiscriminant of the membrane itself.

These results (the combination of good performance, long life, and a range of membranes) are certainly interesting enough that I asked them after the interview to comment in more detail on what they mean by active crossover control, and share what they can about how it works:

“SFC has patented a method of converting energy using fuel cells that allows for miniaturization by focusing on simplified fuel intake, sealing and electrical configuration. We have also used low-cost materials and mass production techniques to lower the cost of manufacturing fuel cells. “Active Crossover Control” by SFC permits active monitoring and minimization of the negative methanol crossover effect, thus upping the fuel cell’s performance. The result is an extremely short startup time and highly efficient fuel cells by SFC. A mixture of methanol and water is introduced to the anode side by a patented internal water-management system. This enables us to employ 100% pure methanol in our fuel cartridges.”

Our technology is an “active” style DMFC with water and air management by pumps and crossover control permitting the use of various types of membranes. The fuel cell uses 100% methanol supplied in convenient, safety-tested and certified cartridges and dilutes it to the mix ratio required for power production.

Is there a simple summary on how the water management & active crossover control works? Active crossover control means advanced algorithms that manage fuel crossover and adapt it to the particular situation’s needs. When fuel crossover is not desired, it is reduced to about 2 per cent. In situations when fuel crossover is beneficial to the product, it is deliberately increased. – SFC’s water management submodule regulates the water balance of the product by matching water emissions and water recirculation. This process and the device performing the functions work reliably in a very wide window of operating conditions and are protected by several patents.”

They have over 7,500 fuel cell units sold. The products range from 600 to 1,600 watt hours per day in size (25 to 65 watt nominal power), with prices ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 euros. The system efficiencies are rate at 30%. A bit over 40% of revenues are from the recreational market, predominantly including APUs for RVs, including major manufacturer names like Hymer and Concorde, and 40% of the total revenues are into the US and European military customers for remote power systems and mobile power packs. Among the other intriguing applications they have developed include solar / battery / fuel cell hybrid power systems for off grid power solutions. They have also begun making initial inroads into the EV and hybrid vehicle market for light vehicles as well. SFC warranties a 3,000 hour life of the system (they estimate roughly 6 year life expectancy in a typical recreational vehicle application), though they cautioned me that many of the systems see several times that in practice.

SFC’s private equity backers included leading European private equity group 3i, strategic investor DuPont, and institutional backing from Deutsche Bank. SFC is publicly traded now, and after a fairly fast run up from 37 euros to north of 50 euros when it first went public in 2006, the stock has dipped back into the low to mid teens. That gives it a current market capitalization of around 100 mm euros, with around 50 mm euros of cash and 14 mm euros in revenues (including 70% from product sales) with a loss in 2007 of less than 5 mm euros. Possibly even more impressive, according to Dr. Podessor they have given guidance that they expect to break even in 2008. Aside from the technology, at an enterprise value to trailing revenues of 3.5x, plenty of cash, and projecting a near term breakeven, it is hard to see how SFC is not one of the cheapest fuel cell stocks out there, as well as with 7,500 units sold, one of the most mature. For someone who has been a long time skeptic of fuel cell companies, Smart Fuel Cell is a refreshing story.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of, and a blogger for CNET’s Greentech blog.

Battery Breakthrough?

by Richard T. Stuebi

I recently was sent an article about electric cars. It profiles the Lightning GT, a 700 hp electric sports car that can accelerate to sixty mph in four seconds. To me, the news is not so much about the Lightning GT as it is about the batteries being used in the car.

The claim is that the battery, a Lithium-ion (Li-ion) type called Nanosafe being developed by a company called Altairnano, is able to provide a useful operating range of 250 miles, a full recharge time of 10 minutes, and a useful life of 12-20 years through 15,000 charge/discharge cycles.

If a battery can produce this kind of performance, and if large-scale production can enable the battery pack to be profitably sold at a few thousand dollars, mass adoption of electric vehicles cannot be far behind. This is because recharging an electric car from an socket produces a “fuel” that costs about the equivalent of $0.60 per gallon — about 1/6th the current cost of gasoline at the pump.

That’s a game-changer that could end our addiction to oil. While potentially a big threat to the big petro-companies, such a development would be a huge boon to electric utilities, which all of a sudden would have a major overnight load to soak up off-peak excess capacity.

And, the big long-term winner would be the environment. Even if the electricity comes from coal, the emissions profile of an all-electric car is much better than even a highly-efficient gasoline or diesel car. If the electricity is produced by renewables such as solar and wind, then we’re talking about virtually a zero-carbon car.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

All Ships Floated (Week Ending 4/18)

Author: Mark Henwood

All broad market indices rose this week. All of Camino’s PurePlay™ indices rose also.

The Solar index followed last week’s 4.7% decline with a solid 7.0% increase. The advance was broad-based with 28 stocks increasing and 6 stocks declining. ReneSola Ltd (SOLA.L) led all gains increasing 32.1% for the week. On April 17 the company announced it was increasing its 2008 guidance for revenue and production. It now expects wafer production to be between 310 – 320 MW and sales to be between USD 530 – 550 million. With silicon at about 75% of the COGS for panels, ReneSola’s sales/production numbers translate into a panel cost to installers of over USD 3,000 /kW. This doesn’t represent any improvement in the grid-parity equation and signals continuing industry dependence on regulatory incentives and “friendly” tariffs. I’ll talk more about what I mean by “friendly” tariffs in another post.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index advanced 2.0% with 15 stocks climbing and 8 retreating. Most notable in the group was the 17.0% decline suffered by Energy Developments (ENE.AX). On April 14 the company announced it had difficulty with a capacity test for its Broome plant and that, in combination with some other adjustments, cause it to lower its EBITDA guidance AUD 7 million to between AUD 100 – 105 million. The market reaction to this 7% lowering was an immediate 30% price reduction wiping out AUD 100 million of market cap. Some traders saw this as a significant over-correction and bid the stock back up 18% by the end of the week.

Biofuels reversed last week’s 7.5% decline with a 1.5% gain. There were 9 advancing stocks to 6 stocks falling. In the US ethanol group, Pacific Ethanol (PEIX) continued its downward trend with a 9.5% decline. With 100 MGY of operational capacity and 100 MGY coming on line this year the company is valued at USD 0.74 per gallon of production capacity, in line with VersSun (VSE). These stock prices are very sensitive to margins and are being valued on earnings, not growth.

Fuel Cells also reversed last weeks decline with the index rising 3.2% on 4 stocks advancing and 2 stocks declining.

Why are so many of the companies mentioned in these posts traded outside the United States? First, the sustainable energy business is global. With the US a declining percentage of world market cap investors need to be looking at all markets. Every advisor that I know recommends investors put at least a portion of their equity holdings in international markets. Sustainable energy is no exception and the Camino database covers all markets.

The companies selected for the PurePlay™ indices have to meet a series of screens ranging from minimum sustainable energy activity, market cap, liquidity, exhange, and several others. So the companies in the indices are real businesses pursuing real strategies consistent with the definition of sustainable energy. Of the 79 companies currently in our four indices, 31 are traded on US exchanges representing 39% of the index market cap. With 61% of the index outside the US it’s no surprise that many of our comments are about companies from other countries.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark has a position in ENE.AX

Biokleen: Makes the 3-Second Rule Obsolete

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Biokleen All Purpose Spray and Wipe Cleaner

What is it?
Biokleen Spray and Wipe is a concentrated cleaner made with surfactants, wetting agents, and degreasers from coconut and/or corn, grapefruit seed, and pulp extracts, cold-pressed Valencia orange oil, linear sulfonate, and filtered water. It works on any water safe surface, including stainless steel, desks, kid toys, and more.

Why is it better?
First of all, it’s a solid cleaner – I’ve tried it on a variety of surfaces, including my desk, the inside and outside of a microwave, the top of the toilet tank, my car trunk and window (and my car’s pretty dirty). In comparison to conventional cleaners, it doesn’t have any noxious smell (in fact, it doesn’t smell like much at all except for a hint of citrus).

But beyond those cleaning basics, it’s biodegradable and non-toxic. There’s no animal testing involved (and no animal ingredients). And as it says on the bottle, “concentrated = fewer fillers = less waste = less packaging = less energy used in shipping = more value for everyone.” And that equation rocks my socks.

Also, in terms of human/plant/animal/environmental health, it contains no phosphate, cholorine, ammonia, petroleum solvents, alcohol, butyl, glycol ether, SLS or SLES, EDTA, DEA, SARA Title III/CA 65/EPA priority pollutants, or materials listed by the ACGIH as hazardous. I don’t quite know what all of those acronyms stand for…but I sure like not having them around!

Where can you find it?
Check out the Biokleen website for a store locator. One 32 oz. bottle costs $5.50.

But you can get it for free! (Once again, here’s a little shameless self-promotion to start your day.) If you head on over to the Green Home Huddle, you can enter a contest to win Biokleen Spray and Wipe plus a bunch of other cool stuff, by sharing your green product knowledge with the world!

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

General Motors Looks Beyond Oil

By John Addison. “One of the most serious business issues currently facing General Motors is our product’s near total dependence on petroleum as a source of energy. To address this issue, we have been implementing a strategy to displace petroleum through energy diversity and efficiency,” explained Dr. Larry Burns, Vice-President of Research and Development for General Motors, during his keynote speech on April 2 at the National Hydrogen Association (NHA) Conference.

When Dr. Burns speaks, the industry listens because he directly influences the future of General Motors and of the auto industry. March was one of the worst in years for all vehicle makers. GM and Chrysler saw a 19% drop in sales; Honda a more modest 3% drop. There was a direct correlation in sales loss and fuel efficiency. GM and Chrysler fleets gulp oil refined fuels; Honda’s takes large sips.

Make no mistake, GM is determined to be less dependent on oil as Larry Burns clearly stated, “We view renewable biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen as the most promising alternative energy carriers for automobiles. We are working very hard and fast on all three fronts to develop and implement meaningful technology solutions that provide our customers with a range of choices from “gas-friendly to gas-free” vehicles.” Next generation biofuels, however, will likely take years to get from labs to large scale production. When available, they will primarily be blended with gasoline and diesel, rather than requiring new stations. GM, and other auto makers, is frustrated to see hydrogen in only a few dozen stations globally.

Electricity is the most promising alternative fuel for GM and most auto makers. Electric motors are far more efficient than gasoline engines. Electric motors are used in hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. In late 2010, General Motors will start selling the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid that will give many drivers 100 miles per gallon of gasoline, because it will primarily run on electricity. In three years, consumers may have multiple plug-in choices including Toyota’s planned offering.

The Volt is an implementation of E-Flex. GM’s E-Flex is an electric drive system centered on advanced batteries delivering power to an electric motor. Additional electricity can be delivered by a small engine coupled to a generator, or by a hydrogen fuel cell. In the future GM could elect to implement E-Flex in a pure battery-electric vehicle.

Over two million vehicles now use electric motors and advanced batteries, thanks to the early success of hybrids. Electric drive systems will continue their strong growth as they are implemented in battery electric vehicles, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The plug-in hybrids’ big competition will be battery electric vehicles (EV). London’s congestion tax is cascading into a growing number of cities that will require zero-emission vehicles. Announced EV offerings are coming by 2010 from Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and emerging players such as Smart, Think, Tesla, Miles, and a host of Asian companies that will display at the upcoming China Auto Show. With the average U.S. household having two vehicles, these EVs would be perfect for the 80% of U.S. driving requires far less than 100 miles per day.

Where does this leave hydrogen? Fleets. Hydrogen’s fleet use continues to grow, especially in public transportation. Three factors are contributing to the growth of hydrogen vehicles: energy security, success of natural gas vehicles, and the growth of electric vehicles.

Hydrogen delivers energy security by being available from a wide range of sources including waste hydrogen from industrial processes, electrolysis of water, biosources, and steam reformation of natural gas. Where truck delivery is avoided, all of these approaches significantly reduce greenhouse gases, source-to-wheels, in comparison to diesel, gasoline, and current biofuel alternatives. Emission Comparisons from LCFS

In transportation, hydrogen may be the long-term successor to natural gas. There are about five million natural gas vehicles in operation globally. Over 90% of the natural gas used in the USA is from North America. Transportation use of natural gas has doubled in only five years. Natural gas vehicles are popular in fleets that carry lots of people: buses, shuttles, and taxis.

Natural gas is primarily hydrogen. The molecule is four hydrogen atoms and one carbon. Steam reformation makes hydrogen from CH4 and H2O. Hydrogen is used in fuel cell electric vehicles with far better fuel economy than the natural gas engine vehicles that they replace. For example, at Sunline Transit, their hydrogen fuel cell bus is achieving 2.5 times the fuel economy of a similar CNG bus on the same route. Specifically 7.37GGE to the CNG vehicle’s 2.95GGE. Sunline has a new fuel cell bus on order with even great expected gains. NREL Report

Most early adapters of hydrogen vehicles are natural gas fleet owners with vehicles that use compressed natural gas. Some fleets are mixing hydrogen with natural gas and running it in the existing CNG vehicles. A common approach is a 20% blend with minor changes such as timing in existing engines.

Public transportation is hydrogen’s biggest success. The San Francisco Bay Area is now upgrading from six hydrogen fuel cell buses to twelve. The area will grow from carrying two thousand passengers a day on hydrogen, to five thousand, using lighter next generation drive systems with fuel cells whose warranties have expanded from 1,000 hours to 12,000 hours.

For the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler will use twenty hydrogen fuel cell buses which will transport over 100,000 visitors during the games, then continue as the majority of Whistler’s fleet.

Although hydrogen will grow in fleets that can install the fueling and the vehicles, it will be many years before average consumers consider hydrogen vehicles. Outside of Southern California there is a lack of public infrastructure. To achieve a range of 300 miles, most auto makers want high pressure (700 bar). In California, only Irvine offers the higher pressure. GM is putting nine temporary 700 bar fuelers in Southern California. GM is also putting another 100 hydrogen vehicles on the road. Project Driveway Article

Honda is ahead of all other hydrogen vehicle makers in offering its acclaimed FCX Clarity for $600 per month. It does fine with the 350 bar pressure offered at California’s 24 hydrogen stations and delivers a 270 mile range. The vehicle will probably only be offered to select individuals in California communities where public stations are available such as Irvine, Torrance and Santa Monica. Even for Honda, Fuel Cell Marketing Manager Steve Ellis observes that “Success with hydrogen is more like a marathon than a sprint.”

To succeed, all businesses must monitor their industry, looking for points of inflection that lead to a new paradigm. In talking with Larry Burns at the NHA conference he told me that he has seen the signs since 2001. 9/11, Katrina, and oil prices have signaled major changes. All the world’s major economies from the USA to China are highly dependent on imported oil. Dr. Burns now concludes that in 2008 we are at a tipping point.

He stated, “We truly are at a defining point in the development of the technology. What and how we execute over the next 5 years will shape the next 50 years!…Together, we must act rather than debate, create the future rather than try to predict it, and solve the challenges we face now rather than handing these challenges off to future generations.”

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He will be leading a panel about PHEV and EV at the FRA Renewable Energy Conference and presenting “The Great Fuel Race” at Fuel Cell 2008.

Is Ethanol’s Carbon Footprint Bad? It Depends.

In the cleantech and carbon worlds, the carbon footprint of ethanol, whether from corn or sugar feedstocks and fermentation processes, or enzymatic or thermochemical cellulosic sources, is always good fodder (or perhaps, “fuel”) for debate.

And depending on which process and which study you personally ascribe to, the answer on how carbon clean ethanol looks depends. In most debates centering on corn fermentation, for example, the studies cite a range from say, 20 to 30% less carbon intensive than gasoline, to 20 or 30% more. This begs one very big question in my mind, what’s the difference? How does the same ethanol in my car have a possible carbon footprint range that wide?

The true answer lies in the ground we walk on. When I started to read a few of the studies and articles about them, an interesting fact emerges, the difference depends in large part on which land gets counted. Most of ethanol’s carbon footprint falls into one of several categories, in roughly ascending order (depending on the source and process), the fuel used to make it, the fuel used to grow the feedstock, the carbon content of the fuel itself, and the lost carbon not sequestered in the vegetation that would have been on the land used to grow the feedstock.

The last one, land use change, is the bugaboo. For example, if you assume that all the land used to produce the ethanol feedstock is already in production, you tend to find a carbon footprint at the low end of the range, since there is little net reduction in the carbon sink, and ethanol looks pretty good. If you assume that all the land used to produce the ethanol feedstock came from forests that had been chopped down, or marginal land that produces very low yields, you tend to find a carbon footprint at the high end of the range, and ethanol looks bad. Thought about another way, ethanol made from corn or sugar that displaces human or animal food production is likely to be relatively greenhouse gas friendly comparedd to ethanol made from corn or sugar that comes from new land put into production just for ethanol. The same logic applies to cellulosic ethanol sources, though not quite to the same degree. Interesting conundrum.

As usual, the devil’s in the details, and people tend to use the case that best addresses their agenda. Personally, I’m buying all my ethanol from land that is already in production, so my carbon footprint must be good. The rest of you can buy the OTHER ethanol with all the bad carbon footprint.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of, and a blogger for CNET’s Greentech blog.

Plug and Play PV

by Richard T. Stuebi

It’s notoriously the case that most photovoltaics installations are custom-tailored — designed, engineered and installed — specifically for each application. This, of course, dramatically increases the cost and hassle factor for a customer to implement PV. For awhile now, PV pundits have stressed that the technology needs to become “plug-and-play” in order to make it much easier and cheaper for customers to buy.

Recently, Cincinnati-based Melink Corporation released a 500 watt ground-mounted PV system with an embedded inverter and a 3-prong electrical cord that plugs into an outside socket, allowing anyone to generate electricity from the sun and use it to help power their house. Called “INGRID” (get it? “In-Grid”), this system costs less than $5000, and can be hooked up virtually immediately without any engineering. All you need (just like a satellite dish) is a clear view of the southern sky.

It’s so simple, basic and obvious that it’s a wonder that Melink was first to market (or at least claims to be first to market) in the year 2008 with such a gizmo. Innovation comes in all sorts of flavors.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Green Ratings

Food prices have rocketed 83% in the past three years. The World Bank just released the figures. If you are trying to raise a family in much of the world, you are already painfully aware of the crisis. There are a number of causes that are likely to be linked to a climate crisis caused by increased greenhouse gases: draught, groundwater scarcity, eroded soil, disease, and food being used to make biofuel.

People ask if I could provide guidelines on green ratings. There are a number of wonderful organizations with helpful guides to reduce our emissions, often saving money in the process. The following are excellent:

Carbon Calculator & Going Carbon Neutral

Green Guides

Energy Efficient Homes, Appliances, Lights

Buildings and Communities

Fuel Efficient Cars and Transportation

Consumer Products

Food and Water


U.S. Cities

Enjoy Earth Day,

John Addison

Only Renewable Electricity Stocks Advance (Week Ending 4/11)

Author: Mark Henwood

Sustainable energy stocks followed the broader markets down this week with only Renewable Electricity able to show a gain.

The Solar index followed last week’s 14.5% advance with a 4.7% decline. The retreat was broad-based with only 4 stocks increasing and 30 stocks declining. Aloe Solar SG (AS1.DE) led the declines falling 13.1% for the week despite positive news on April 3 that it’s production expansion was on track and it had received orders in 2008 for EUR 150 million. With First Solar (FSLR) also falling 3.5% the decline was not limited to the silicon world as some commentary alluded to. Without extraordinary news to push the sector down the relatively modest change for this highly volatile group seems to be primarily driven by broader market movements.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index advanced 0.3% with 14 stocks climbing and 9 retreating. German wind farm developer Planbeck Neue Energien Ag
(PNE3.DE) led all increases with a 13.1% gain. On March 31 the company reported on 2007 results and conducted a press and analyst conference. The company reported a solid pipeline and positive news about its wind blade subsidiary SSP Technology. While the stock price didn’t react for a few days it looks like this week’s price gain is a reaction to the recent news.

Biofuels reversed last week’s small gain with a 7.5% decline culminating in a YTD decline of 32.4%. There were 3 advancing stocks to 12 stocks falling. Aventine (AVR) led the way down lowering 23.1 % for the week. 9.5 % of the decline occurred Friday after a USB analyst lower their target price due to concerns over corn prices and shrinking margins. Aventine is now valued at USD 0.97 per gallon of production capacity. This compares favorably with VeraSun’s (VSE) value of USD 0.67 per gallon of production capacity (after this year’s 5 new plants start-up). If it is possible to make any money producing ethanol, the company valuations have to be getting low enough to be attractive.

Fuel Cells also reversed last weeks gain with the index falling 2.2% on 1 stock advancing and 6 stocks declining. Ceramic Fuel Cells LTD
(CFU.L) kept the index from falling further with its 13.6% gain for the week. We found no public news that would explain Ceramic’s being able to move counter to the market unless these are second reaction to the company’s Feb 28 order announcement. ITM Power (ITM.L), on the other hand, continued to lose ground with a 12.4% decline. I share the market’s skepticism about the impact of the company’s recent electrolyzer development.

Solar continues to move with the broader markets, all of which were down for the week. With its high beta over any period during the last 500 days the index’s performance this week is to be expected. Biofuels continue to be plagued by questions regarding profitability. Clearly, getting bigger, like VeraSun did with it’s acquisition of US Bioenergy, isn’t perceived as materially helping the basic operating cost issue. At some point stock prices for Biofuel companies will get low enough to present a compelling price / cash flow return and investors will start taking positions.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark has a position in PNE3.DE

A Beautiful Electric Blur

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Tesla Roadster

What is it?
As John Addison mentioned in a Cleantechblog post last year, there are quite a few electric cars on the horizon. The Tesla Roadster is one of them. Now, finally in its regular production page, the Tesla shows that the electric car can be one sexy ride. This little number isn’t just nice to look at, it’s fast too – it goes 0 to 60 MPH in under 4 seconds.

Why is it better?
According to one of Tesla Motors’ white papers, the Roadster has a well-to-wheel fuel efficiency of 1.15 km per megajoule (that considers the entire life cycle of the fuel, from its state as a raw fuel to the point when it rotates the wheel of the car). Those units might not make sense to you right off the bat, but when you compare that to the well-to-wheel efficiency of a conventionally run sports car (take the Porshe Turbo with a 6 cylinder gasoline engine) which comes in at 0.22 km per megajoule, it’s clear that the Tesla wins. If you prefer thinking in miles per gallon, try this one on for size. The Tesla gets the equivalent of 135 MPG.

What about the carbon dioxide? As with the Vectrix, I’m sure there are folks who know that electric cars that take electricity from coal-fired grids still have some emissions associated with them. Well, based on the typical electricity source mixture, the Tesla Roadster emits one seventh of the CO2 emissions from that little Porshe (again, that’s well-to-wheel).

But on top of that, I’ll tell you one of my favorite things about the Tesla. It’s not its sweet design (created with the help of Lotus). It’s not that great quiet electric whirr. It’s the car company’s relationship with SolarCity. SolarCity is working to offer Tesla customers photovoltaic panels for their roofs to power their vehicles.

The first time I saw a Tesla Roadster, I cried out with sheer joy (yep, out loud). And then I was a real nerd and took some pictures on my cell phone. But, oh, it was worth it.

Where can you find it?
After a few delays, the Tesla is finally in full production. Unless you’re already on the list, you’re out of luck for getting any of the 600-ish 2008 models, but Tesla Motors has started a wait list for the 2009 model year. If you want to get on that list (behind folks like the Google founders and George Clooney), be prepared to shell out $5,000 to start and end up with a final cost somewhere around $98,950.

If you’re in Europe, you’re in luck. Yesterday, Tesla announced that reservations are now being taken for European customers who want their Teslas delivered as early as the spring of 2009 (for more details, see the press release below).

Otherwise, if you’re like me, you can admire them from afar as soon as the showrooms open in Los Angeles and in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products. She is shamelessly self-promoting a contest in which a few product reviews could win you cool green stuff, not a Tesla, but still cool.

Press Release:
Tesla Motors Initiates European Sales

Source: Tesla Motors

Date: April 9th, 2008

The Tesla Roadster, a groundbreaking electric car that delivers super car performance with zero emissions and extreme energy efficiency, can now be reserved by European customers for delivery starting in the Spring of 2009.

Production of 250 special edition euro-spec Roadsters will be allocated for the entire EU region for 2009. This special edition, fully loaded car is priced at 99,000 Euro (excluding VAT) and will be offered on a first come, first served basis. Residents in the EU and UK can reserve a car by contacting Tesla at or calling +1 650-413-6200.

The Tesla Roadster went into production in the U.S. on March 17, 2008. Over 1000 U.S. customers have reserved a Tesla Roadster. While U.S. demand is likely to exceed production capacity in 2009, this special allocation of 250 euro-spec roadsters will be reserved for the first European customers.

Tesla Motors Vice President of Sales, Marketing & Service, Darryl Siry, talked about Tesla’s expansion plans and the attractiveness of the European market on the company blog at , stating “since we launched the Tesla Roadster in the US, there has been extraordinary interest from European customers and media. Now that we are in production, we are excited to offer this groundbreaking car to Europeans who want to be the first on the continent to drive a car with extraordinary performance, beautiful styling, and zero emissions.”

The first official display of the Tesla Roadster in Europe will be at the Top Marques Monaco event from April 24th through April 27th. Information on the event can be found at Tesla officials will be on hand to greet customers and media.

My aura is…

by Heather Rae

One of three dealers of Benjamin Moore paint in my travel distance (which is getting shorter and shorter with the increase in gas prices) carries the new Aura line, as well as the EcoSpec low-voc line of paints.
Farther north, along Route 1, another dealer is weighing the costs of the investment in the new machines needed to carry the Aura line against the sales potential; this dealer carries the EcoSpec line and, as evidenced by the dust on the paint can, it’s not a fast moving product. (And the sales guy told me so.)
Inland a bit and north, the third does not carry Aura or the EcoSpec line. For those unfamiliar with Maine, the progression up the coast and inland is an economic transition as much as geographic one. It’s also a transition from areas where “green” products are known, respected and carried…to one where they are not, or not so much.
What’s got my goat in making the decision to try the new Aura line is the marketing. I sat in my car outside the paint store down south and stared at the promotional poster for some time. The marketing is clearly aimed at women …“What Color is Your Aura.”
It took some sleuthing on the part of the paint dealer to tell me the VOC content of the paint (pre-colorant). To my surprise, the Aura paint line is backed by GreenGuard and qualifies for LEED credit. The dealer printed out the product information buried somewhere on their website where I couldn’t find it.
Aura, which uses only waterborne colorants for tinting, comes in at 47 Grams/Liter of VOCs.
By comparison, the Regal line (the standard line I’ve been using) comes in at nearly three times that amount of VOCs. (“Unthinned, this product is formulated not to exceed 150 Grams/Liter.”)
I can’t bash Benjamin Moore for putting the eco-benefits of this paint low on the list — number seven out of eight in the list of attributes of Aura paint with ColorLockTM.
In marketing home performance, our limited market research indicates that homeowners follow-through with making significant energy-saving improvements to their homes not because it’s “green” or “the right thing to do,” but because the improvements make the home more comfortable, healthier, safer and/or increase the value of the home. The checks get written to tighten up the house to get the bats and the squirrels out of the attic, not necessarily because they reduce carbon footprints.
Here in Maine we market home performance as an investment-grade evaluation. The energy and money savings, the innoculation against rising fuel costs…while these are the measurable goals we seek to obtain, these have not been the messages used to sell home performance services. I’ve been monitoring comments submitted by homeowners seeking these home performance evaluations. It’s a mixed bag of desires.

So, if Benjamin Moore wants to appeal to my feminine aura with the simplicity, freedom, versatality, harmony and great design ideas found in this paint, have at it. I just wish somewhere on that promotion was a mention of GreenGuard or LEED compliance.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, is a consultant in sustainability. She currently manages a home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built out a biobus using green building materials and wrote on cleantechblog of her drive from Colorado to Maine and her quest for biofuels. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Ethanol Under Pressure

by Richard T. Stuebi

A good friend of mine sent me a provocative email the other day:

“Last year, your government spent more than $8 billion of your tax dollars to achieve the following results:

  • Dramatically increase the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
  • Accelerate the destruction of the Amazon rainforest
  • Raise the price of milk, bread, beef and other grain-dependent products by more than 20%
  • Increase world hunger

How did they do this? Two words: ethanol subsidies. Did I mention that the amount of corn it takes to produce enough ethanol to fill the tank of your typical SUV one time could feed the average person for one year (350 days)?”

This is one person’s “grabber” for an April 7 article by Michael Grunwald in Time magazine entitled “The Clean Energy Scam”. It presents yet another negative portrait of corn-based ethanol as a flawed technology — and flawed policies to support it.

However, to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it’s important to emphasize to the phrase “corn-based”. While it’s increasingly clear that corn-based ethanol is of dubious merit except to the major agri-businesses like ADM (NYSE: ADM) and Cargill that benefit from the government’s largesse, that’s not to say that the potential future emergence of cellulosic ethanol wouldn’t be a good thing all-around.

The only debate is whether the current push for corn-based ethanol is really a useful bridge to — or even a propelling force for — the advancement of cellulosic ethanol. Certainly, ethanol proponents like uber-VC Vinod Khosla (see some of his papers and presentations) think that corn-based ethanol is helping pave the way to a cellulosic future, by helping change the fueling infrastructure from gasoline to ethanol. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of contrary voices doesn’t see the cellulosic promise at all, and focus their angst on the real and present problems generated by corn-based ethanol.

If cellulosic ethanol never makes it out of the lab and into the market, then the rush for corn-based ethanol will indeed have been an expensive dead-end — and will provide more food for the fodder of those who claim that government policy involving preferential subsidies should not pick technology winners.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Solar Again Leads Sustainable Energy Stocks (Week Ending 4/4)

Author: Mark Henwood

Sustainable energy stocks rewarded investors again this week. All of the Camino indices advanced, one significantly.

The Solar index followed last week’s 19.6% gain with another big advance of 14.5% paring the YTD decline for the sector to –24.6%. 28 stocks increased and 4 decreased. The index increased 7.1% on Friday alone, apparently responding to the introduction of the Clean Energy Stimulus Act in the US Senate. LDK Solar (LDK) led the way with a 25.6% rise. On Friday LDK announced is had sold 83 MW of wafers and lined up supply agreements for much of the order period…….two-thirds of the weekly price increase occurred Friday. Yingli (YGE), the second largest gainer at 24.8%, also reported sales contracts covering 3.3 MW of modules to Korea. For Yingli that comes out to about USD 100 million of market cap increase per 1 MW of sales.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index advanced 0.9% with 13 stocks climbing and 5 retreating. The index was weighed down by Goldwind’s (002202.SZ) 22% decline culminating a 71% price decrease from its February 21 peak. The Shenzhen Exchange reports a P/E figure for the company that even after these declines is still a lofty 65. In our view this price level may now be sustainable if the company is able to maintain strong growth.

Biofuels gained 1.1% with 10 stocks rising and 5 stocks falling. Gushan (GU) held on to last week’s huge increase with a gain of 2.9%. The sector leader was CropEnergies (CE2.DE) with a 10.3% gain. The company issued a statement expressing its view that the regulatory environment continued to be generally supportive and reporting on its capacity plans.

Fuel Cells also had a positive week with the index increasing 2.3% on 4 stocks advancing and 3 stocks declining. FuelCell Energy (FCEL) led the group with a 16.6% gain. We scoured the news but didn’t see any information that would drive this increase. We also looked a variety of analyst recommendations and didn’t see any significant company specific news this week. Maybe the company will have some information at the 2008 Green CA Summit where I’m moderating a panel on the Green Gold Rush: California’s New Economy.

Over the last 100 days Solar has maintained the highest beta (.95) of all the Camino indices (which ranged from 0.18 to 0.55). Solar has now regained about one-half of the declines from its peak on December 27 to its low on March 10. While some of the gain is driven by broader market gains and enthusiasm about legislation in the US, I’m sure investor’s will be starting to assess whether the growth news can support further price gains.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks

LED Your Light Shine

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: EarthLED CL-3 LED light bulb

What is it?
How many Cleantechbloggers does it take to change a light bulb? If it’s changing an incandescent to an LED, only one – because we all know LEDs are the way of the future. The EarthLED CL-3 is a 3-watt LED replacement bulb, which is equivalent to a 45-watt incandescent bulb. It can be used anywhere you use a traditional bulb – even under lampshades (but then you can’t quite as easily make them conversation pieces).

Why is it better?
The CL-3 is not only energy efficient, it also has a life span of more than 50,000 hours. According to EarthLED, that means you’ll have an 11 year relationship with your LED (while in that same time frame, you’d have meaningless flings with at least 50 incandescent bulbs).

Of course, the initial cost of an LED is much higher than for a compact fluorescent light bulb or an incandescent. But have no fear. Over the LED’s entire life, it will only cost you $35, including the cost of the bulb itself and operational expenses. EarthLED compares that to “a traditional fixture using an incandescent bulb [that] will cost nearly $230.” And those costs don’t even take the positive environmental externalities into account like the carbon dioxide saved from all that unused electricity!

These LEDs are also RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive) compliant, so they don’t have any hazardous materials you need to worry about. And because they last so long, you send far less waste to the landfill.

Where can you find it?
You can buy CL-3 bulbs and a variety of other LEDs from the EarthLED store. They are available in warm white and cool white. One CL-3 costs $29.99.

But here’s a little shameless self-promotion. The Green Home Huddle just launched a contest running through Earth Day in which you could win a CL-3 (plus a bunch of other cool stuff) just for writing some green product reviews or wiki articles.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

Cellulosic Ethanol – Always the Bridesmaid?

I have a new set of predictions for ethanol technology, and so far my predictions on ethanol have been dead on. Cellulosic ethanol has been the thin film of the ethanol industry, always the bridesmaid. But perhaps, like with the breakthrough by First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), it’s time is coming.

I have written extensively on the topic of ethanol and biofuels, including an early 2006 analysis of the VeraSun (NASDAQ:VSE) IPO right before its pricing that predicted an appropriate price at the time in the range of $2.77 to $8.82 share. The business has grown since then, but EBITDA margins have slipped even farther than I predicted they would, but the forward PE has come right into line with my predictions way back then. After listing well above my range, the stock hit a high north of $30 before pulling back until it is finally in my original lrange, trading in the $7-8 per share range.

Nearly two years ago in mid 2006 I did another article on predictions for cellulosic ethanol:

My Predictions on the Ethanol Market:

  1. The corn market will likely be able to handle significantly more corn based ethanol production through substituting corn from the animal feed market than is currently anticipated.
  2. Cellulosic ethanol will come on line to replace a lot slower than anticipated – even when the technology arrives.
  3. The early cellulosic plants will likely be residual based, perhaps corn stover from fields already producing for corn ethanol – NOT purpose planted fuel crops.
  4. Cellulosic technologies that allow fuel switching and co-firing will have an advantage.
  5. Because of the transport issues – cellulosic ethanol will be relegated primarily to vertically integrated plants like the biomass power industry for the near future (where the operator owns its own fuel supply). They will struggle to compete on price with corn based ethanol.
  6. And if ethanol succeeds like DOE expects, our beef prices are headed up.”

And then I wrote an article in late 2006 entitled “Are Ethanol Companies Risky Investments?” for The conclusion – yes, of course.

“In the short run ethanol stocks are in a land grab phase ramping to meet demand, and some of these stocks may do well while demand still outstrips supply and the industry is still small, but when this dynamic changes – watch out as the margin pressure will be brutal, and could turn already aggressively valued stocks into a dot bomb style free fall as per gallon profits get crushed. So, make your profits while you can!”

So here are my new cellulosic ethanol predictions:

Prediction #1 – Both market entry and market share for the next several years in ethanol will roughly be governed by this ranking on preferred processes (with some allowance for process that involve more than one), and given feedstock, scalability, yield, and transport issues, sugar cane and corn fermentation will remain the market and cost leaders for some time.

  1. Fermentation
  2. Thermochemical
  3. Catalytic
  4. Enzymatic
  5. Wildcards

Roughly the farther down we go on this ranking the higher the risk of failure, the higher the current cost, the more difficult the scalability (if you swap #1 and #2), the higher the reliance on future technological advances, and the higher the requirements for vertical integration to make the economics work.

Prediction #2 – As ethanol and biofuels scale into significant portions of our fuel supply chain, most of the profits will be made by energy, refining companies, and Ag companies, who are more likely to build rather than to buy when it comes to expansion.

Prediction #3 – Despite all protestations to the contrary, ethanol and biofuels will continue to be our highest cost liquid fuel for at least a decade, though at $100 crude oil prices, even a high cost fuel can be competitive. Note: As I have said many times before, on a fully integrated direct cost basis, gasoline from oil can be profitably found, manufactured and distributed down well into the sub $0.50/gallon range, depending on the nature of the resource base in question, where as even the lowest cost forms of ethanol today are well over double that. Just because crude oil prices are north of $100 per barrel, does not mean that the COST of gasoline is higher than that of ethanol, it means that the PRICE of gasoline is high enough that the higher cost ethanol can be economically produced and sold. The implication is obviously that he who owns the reserves (either oil in the ground or corn in the field) will continue to do well.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of, and a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog.