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Joule Biotech Sun-Powered Fuel – Biofuel Vs Solar PV

There was much furore recently surrounding the story ‘Joule Biotech comes out of stealth with sun-powered biofuel’.
The premise is that the technology can take solar energy and use it to convert carbon dioxide directly into fuel. A one stop-shop to soak up carbon dioxide and produce a biofuel.
Having dug into it a little, the conclusion I came to is that its not as radical as it sounds. Its basically directed photosynthesis : same principle as oil from algae, or biofuels. The overall efficiencies are likely to be 10 times lower than solar PV processes, but, it in terms of where biofuels are heading, its on the right track…..

The press release included the following:“The SolarConverter captures the sun and is fed carbon dioxide and combine inside where a solution of brackish water and nutrients exist with photosynthetic organisms—secreting the SolarFuel,” Joule’s CEO Bill Sims said, describing the end-product as a hydrocarbon-based fuel, not a biofuel.

Points to Note:
1. This is a solar powered system
2. It’s a Biological system
The input energy into this system is incident solar radiation. This varies from place to place but in North America, a reasonable average year round figure would be 200 Watts per m2. That’s what you have to work with. That is what is referred to as Primary energy. Solar panels are about 15% efficient, so you get 15% of that 200 Watts of incident power as useful energy, converted into electrons, which is the energy carrier. Electricity is a verstaile energy carrier, but difficult to store. Hence why high energy density liquid fuels are so good in transportation. They are an energy carrier, or ‘Secondary energy’. What is described here is the production of a secondary energy carrier via photosynthesis.This is exactly what Oil from Algae is. Algae are fast growing unicellular organisms, certain species of which produce large quantities (50%) of oil as a percentage of the total cell weight. The algae oil is very like diesel, so you can get biodiesel. The Joule Biotech system is using a photosynthetic organism also. They don’t say whether its an algae, plant cell cultures, or some new genetic hybrid, but either way, I dont think they will have improved on millenia of evolution in terms of the net efficiency of the photosynthesis process, i.e. how much of the solar energy the living organism is capable of capturing.
Compared to other plants, the photosynthetic efficiency of algae is very high – almost 3 times that of sugar cane for instance. Compared to solar energy, however, the energy efficiency of algae is very low – around 1 percent, while solar panels have an efficiency of at least 10 percent, and solar thermal gets 20 percent and more.
So the absolute efficiency of the Joule Biotech system at converting solar energy into chemical energy is likely to be similar to algae or other high yield plants.

So why go with Joule Biotech Vs Solar PV?

1. Carbon sequestration – this could be the tail wagging the dog. There is business to be made in tieing up CO2. Overall this is carbon neutral, however, if you take the CO2 from a coal power station stack, there may be some credit to be had.

2. There is a demand for alternative liquid fuels
Even if Solar PV is a more efficient method of capturing solar energy, it produces electricity and we still run our transport fleet on liquid fuels. You could take Solar PV and use the electricity produced to synthesise hydrogen or other chemical fuels such as methyl hydrate, but the overall accumulated losses might make a Joule Biotech type option more favorable.
3. The alternative chemicals produced are likely to be a higher value than the fuels produced.

What Joule Biotech may have, and this is one of the challenges with oil from algae, is engineered a system which works. The challenges are maintaining a pure cell culture on an on-going basis. If you want high yield of a certain product, you need pure cultures. That raises challenges when you try and do it on a large scale, particularly if you need to expose it all to sunlight.
The other way to go is low yield open ponds. It’s a mixed culture, low efficiency, low yield process. You accept you get a lower yield but its cheaper to build. So on a cost per unit of fuel produced it may be the same. Its like the debate between high efficiency PV solar and low efficiency solar. What matters is the unit cost per Watt of capacity. The fuel is free, so low efficiency is fine, the capital cost per watt of installed capacity is key. The other challenge with producing fuel from photosynthetic bio-organisms, is getting the fuel out afterwards. The extraction and purification process. You have cells and what you want is pure fuel. So maybe Joule Biotech have something unique to offer in this regard as well.
Overall in terms of where the biofuels market is heading, Joule Biotech appear to be on the right track. The ability to be able to produce multiple different products, different fuels and different chemicals is key. This allows you flexibility. As the demand or price of one product increases, you can alter your output to match market demand. The future of biofuels appears to be the interlinking of technology platforms to allow the use of multiple feedstrocks, to produce multiple products. Vinod Khosla has invested in a large number of Biofuel companies which all synergise and interlink. In terms of feedstock, Joule Biotech are using carbon dioxide and sunlight. It’s a biofuel with an accelerated path, less steps, from biology to fuel and the option to tailor it to produce different fuels.
Joule’s CEO Bill Sims says that the end-product they produce is a ‘hydrocarbon-based fuel, not a biofuel’. I think that is semantics. They still use a living organism to carry out the chemical synthesis to produce the fuel product.
This means that they have some of the same issues and challenges as other bio-based processes.

Challenges:
1. Cells need phosphorus
I wrote about Peak Phosphorus in a previous blog. This is a big issue. The cells used by Joule Biotech will need nutrients. Phosphorus is a non-renewable resource and one of the challenges for biofuels, first generation and 2nd generation, is that if you are growing a crop, be it switch grass, sugar cane or algae, you need phosphorus. Now in the case of Joule Biotech, they may be able to keep recycling this back into the system and keep a closed loop going, if so, that would be great.
2. Water is required
All living cells need water. Sure, they may be able to function on wastewater, brackish water or saltwater, but you need to provide them with water.
Check out Leave the Algae Alone for an excellent piece on this.
The idea of converting solar energy into chemical energy is an excellent one. Biofuel based processes are one way of doing this. If one could avoid the biology altogether that would be even better. Check out Blue Fuel Energy for some interesting ideas on how to chemically synthesise a chemical energy carrier, or ‘liquid electricity’ using renewable energy. Its still at a very nascent stage, but it stacks up very well as an overall concept.

This post was written by Paul O’Callaghan, founding CEO of the Clean Tech consultancy, O2 Environmental Inc. and lecturer on Sustainable Energy at the BC Institute of Technology.

The Efficacy of Biofuels from Algae on Cleantech.org

I usually don’t do this, but a couple of days ago we had a post on Cleantech.org’s Linked In group around algal processes, feedstocks, and the recent DOE solicitation, that engendered a lively discussion, in part taking off from the recent demise of Green Fuels.

While many of you know I am not personally a fan of algal fuels, I have posted it en masse, unedited, so enjoy, as the discussion ranges across a decent chunk of the issues facing algae processes and provides some food for thought.

Urgent – Algae Oil Production or Algae Methane Production Needed!
We are completing a DOE grant application design to meet our Notice of Intent by next Friday and need to find one or two companies with a process to make Algae Oil or Algae Methane, or either, for our process. Please email any information or contacts as our time line is running short for this grant. We believe we have lined up most all other pieces for this proposed biorefinery!

Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Make featured Delete discussion

Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur

See all Walter’s discussions »

Comments (24)
Poly Endrasik Jr.
Video/Web Conferencing & Teleworking Consultant
Hi Walter, Maybe you could pick up this technology for a song and take it somewhere:

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/greenfuel-technologies-closing-down-4670/

http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/2747/70/ – both these are the same story!

Good Luck and God bless
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Hi Poly,

That is why we turn down all VC investments into our company. They are best left to Universities and University students who manage a lot of deals that once one folds they can jump to the next one without a lot of pain. Where I come from we don’t throw other people’s money at deals…unless those investors who came in early can support those who come in later. Most VC deals are so ugly after the first and second round that who would ever want to support a technology with those types of “investors”. Not me!

Walt.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Neil Farbstein
President of Vulvox Nanobiotechnology Corporation
Algae have several problems that make them untenable. Algal production systems use so much water that they will damage the environment,competing with city municipal reservoirs, agricultural water and they will drain rivers that support wildlife. CSP solar thermal uses a lot less water and some designs use no water to generate clean cheap electricity.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Neil – I would suggest that is myopic. There are many alternatives and many end products. Saying that electricity is the only solution is impractical since electricity does not give us any near term solutions for the vast network of spark and compression based ignition systems.

Walter asked for support on algae, stick to the topic. Walter, I dropped you a parrallel note… As one of the areas I am working on is a non-proprietary solution to put algae farming in the hands of who better? Farmers. My part in the process is the development of a low cost photo bioreactor and trying to engage the agricultual extension service in the mix. If that is a help to you or others, please connect.

There are still realistic challenges like best lipid extraction mechanism. Final protocols for maximizing lipid production are also in order. Some parrallel gadgets to be built include the PBR, a low cost easy operation lipid fraction meter, an oil/lipid extraction gizmo, etc.

The more we share the more likely we are to win/win…

Leif
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Leif/Neil,

Our process produces water from the production of the methane. We could use that excess water for the algae systems if that would be helpful. We also produce near pure CO2 and we understand this could also be helpful. At this stage we just want methane sources without the algae oil if feasible. My background is oil & gas so I know methane, ethane and propane down the chain. I am not, nor my engineers, familiar with the bio/algae world as experts. We have lots of engineering firms contacting us to help us, but we really are just looking for designers who understand the algae space to complete this DOE grant. We have until next Friday for the Intent and our budget is around $25 million. We think we have a very strong chance to win this grant…but we need the CO2-algae-methane piece…or part of it to be proven. I know, contact Bill Gates and Sapphire Energy but it appears DOE grants are not going to impact their $100 million last funding round! :)

Walt.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Not sure I follow the direction of your need. I am not clear whether you are making methane, or consuming methane. I take it is making… I would assume you could decompose the algae to create a methane source, but like most methane sources, it wouldn’t be clear. Temp conversion/pyrolysis could be an option but certainly you know that.

Given that I am not tracking where you are heading, I am unlikely to be of help.

And I thought that while DOE expected to award some large, the easy high end was $5M and 24 months…

Leif
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Lief,

Sorry I was not clear. We need methane for our process to make methanol.

Walt.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Yep I am of no help to you. I don’t have a good way for a clean source of methane. Lots out there, but not sure of metabolic pathway from the algae I work with.

Good luck.

Leif
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
I assume you are doing this against ARPA-E – did you catch the updated amendment on that?

Leif
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Lubo Morhac
Technology Management Consultant
Hi Walter,

I have several links for you to research relating to algae to fuel. I don’t think the following outfits have algae cultures that are capable of CH4 production, but fatty acids for sure:
This one is my favourite in terms of equipment:
http://www.algaelink.com/

also check these:
http://www.solixbiofuels.com/html/company.html
http://www.petroalgae.com/
http://www.greenfuelonline.com/
http://www.livefuels.com/

Landfill sites are an excellent source of CH4.
Some gasification systems may be of interest with Methanization back end.
but of course, best of luck with algae,

Lubo
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Lubo Morhac
Technology Management Consultant
Walter, I re-read the thread and I think this may be of interest as an alternative for turning CO2 into energy:
http://www.uafsunstar.com/20090317/sandia-technology-turns-sunshine-petrol
http://www.carbonsciences.com/

L.
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Wow, thanks for the information guys. We need methane…that is what we need. We can work with Algae oil to make biodiesel since methanol is used in the biodiesel, but right now we want the most simple system. CO2-Algae-Methane-Methanol…we will recycle our water and CO2 nicely.

Poly, I spoke to my licensing friend at MIT and article you posted, “GreenFuel Technologies Closing Down” was just searched and there is no reference to that project at MIT. He called Harvard for me and they have no mention of it, but they have heard of it. They believe it was something a student started on the roof, and MIT says that any student who develops anything at their University is the owner of the IP. Thus, the article says it is an MIT-Harvard algae project that crashed, but my friend said there is no record of the project he could find, nor at Harvard…so maybe the author was mistaken…

Yes, finding Algae to Methane is not so easy!
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
The problem in part is that your target their is “swamp gas” from algae rather than the oil output. My challenge is that is a different species, in fact I have no clue what species that might be, vs the standard oil rich species e.g. chlorella …
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Leif,

Here is the acceptable feedstocks from the grant…consider we need methane:

“Using the definitions of “renewable biomass” as stated in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007), and the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, Title IX, Sec. 9001, as guidance, for the purpose of this FOA, the acceptable feedstocks will be those listed below:
(A) materials, pre-commercial thinnings, or invasive species from National Forest System land and public lands (as defined in section 103 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1702)) that –
(i) are byproducts of preventive treatments that are removed –
(I) to reduce hazardous fuels;
(II) to reduce or contain disease or insect infestation; or
(III) to restore ecosystem health;
(ii) would not otherwise be used for higher-value products; and
(iii) are harvested in accordance with –
(I) applicable law and land management plans; and
(II) the requirements for
i. old-growth maintenance, restoration, and management direction of paragraphs (2), (3), and (4) of subsection (e) of section 102 of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6512); and
ii. large-tree retention of subsection (f) of that section; or
(B) organic matter that is available on a renewable or recurring basis from non-Federal land or land belonging to an Indian or Indian tribe that is held in trust by the United States or subject to a restriction against alienation imposed by the United States, including –
(i) renewable plant material, including –
(I) organic material grown for the purposes of being converted to energy; and
(II) algae; and
(ii) waste material, including –
(I) crop residue (including cobs, stover, bagasse and other residues);
(II) other vegetative waste material (including wood waste and wood residues);
(III) food waste and yard waste.

No plant based material that is generally intended for use as food can be employed as a feedstock except as noted below under “Additional Feedstocks Acceptable For Topic Areas 5 and 6.” Hence, sugars derived from sugarcane or beets and oils derived from soy, canola, sunflower, peanut, etc. normally recovered using conventional food processing methods will be excluded from eligibility for this FOA. The determining factor will be the typical use of the material in commerce. Use of excess oil production of food-grade oil also does not constitute an acceptable feedstock. Distillers Dried Grains with Soluble (DDGS) is also excluded. Additional information regarding the use of algae as a feedstock is included in Appendix J.

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is not an acceptable feedstock. However, biomass as defined in EPAct 2005 (Public Law 109-58) Section 932(a)(1-2) that is segregated from the MSW as a separate stream, could be employed as a feedstock with appropriate considerations for the costs of such segregation, collection, processing, and transportation. Hence, post-sorted MSW, where all recyclables and non-biomass components have been removed, would qualify, but only the remaining dry material that meets the above requirements would qualify as a feedstock for purposes of this FOA. Allowable costs include processing (such as, chipping or grinding) the feedstock into a form that can be fed into the reactor. Processing costs for MSW are restricted to post-sorted materials.”

That is not an easy list to find methane…except here:

“A new method for converting algae into natural gas for use in pipelines and power generation has been transferred to the marketplace under a license between Genifuel Corp. and Battelle. Genefuel is based in Salt Lake City, and has an exclusive license for the technology.”

http://www.genifuel.com/ – maybe this is the only one?
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Karel Beelaerts van Blokland
Dutchmen Absolute Return F: 07-37% /08-100% /09- 5,4% – dutchmencapital.web-log.nl / kacobeelaerts@zonnet.nl
AlgaeLink N.V. is a Dutch Company that designs and manufactures algae growing equipment. Algaelink are building a world-wide supply chain and network that is sustainable and delivers value to our global customers . Our operations cover algae production, equipment, consultancy, installation support and training.

Fuel Green energy, biodiesel, bio-ethanol, bio-gas, bio-oil, and jet fuel (JV with AirFrance-KLM).
www.algaeLink.com
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Walt – my point is in part to explain the tangential answers. Most of us (with all the negative broad brush implications that implies) are focused on the extraction of the large lipid fraction from algea and therefore area focused on microalgae – commonly Chlorella, and other variants of the small motile buggers since lipid fractions can reach 50% in some claims. That oil then become the feedstock for a biodiesel process.

The algae you are after are just different. You are looking for a swamp/march algae (or pnd scum), likely long strain clumpy stuff most people try to kill. A source would be https://ccmp.bigelow.org/ which is a national repository for many such things.

My issue is I just haven’t focused on it. You might be able to find help and support in the reverse from your local agricultural extension agent.

I think I had misread the feedstocks grant to assume it precluded algae – not 100% which one you are pursuing.

Given the time and the inclination, you or I could come up with the right kind of algae and the people involved. You are looking for the swamp biology professor – not anyone talking about algae for biofuels. Not a bad thing, just a different thing.

You are welcome to call me if it would help – 540 847 5343.

Leif
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Leif,
I will see if I can get my engineer to call you as he is just now getting started on all these calculations. We know how much methane we need to produce methanol. We know how much methanol is needed to produce biodiesel. We know how much oil is needed to produce biodiesel. We will likely need 5-10 times more oil-algae than methane-algae to have a tight, packaged CO2-to-biodiesel system. We wonder if that amount exists already in stable systems (i.e. before they go in and kill off the “bad” algae)? Interesting dilemma…I’m sure the answer is out there at some of these Universities and DOE labs who get all the “fun money” to do the R&D.
Walt.
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
That is part of the dilemma – there is much talk and speculation, but other than a haxane oil extraction standard, the only thing that is talked about is pyrolysis to derive a clean oil residue and that is a piss awful waste of energy. Ultimately that is why I think that is why some folks are tanking, because without extraction mechanisms, algae is a tough nut.

The one I am holding out for is algae ‘milking” to extract the oil while the algae is still alive. But I fear that may turn our processes from open to proprietary.

To be fair from your earlier post, you can decompose algae, food, and other wastes that aren’t muni solid – so you should be able to leverage sewage or other feedstocks. I think those folks are really your targets and the organisms in the Archaea group are the metanogens you seek…

Leif
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Matt Sloustcher
Account Executive at Peppercom Strategic Communications
Walter,

Nobody has mentioned the heterotrophic “in the dark” method of algae oil production Solazyme employs. I suggest you review the following blog post, and check out Greentech Media’s analysis of the industry.

http://www.oilgae.com/blog/2009/02/advantages-of-heterotropic-algae-for.html
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Christine Harmel
PR
I would suggest OriginOil http://www.originoil.com/
Posted 22 hours ago Reply Privately Delete comment

Comments (24)
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Has anyone studied the cost accuracy associated with this Algae-methane process? Everything boils down to CAPEX and OPEX in these models, and this looks interesting.

http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/pdf/algae_salton_sea.pdf
Posted 20 hours ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Big picture you are still decomposing the algal as the methane creation process with techniques not 100% clear to me and combine with complicating compounds in the decomposition gases, sulpher containing mercaptans etc. Which still leaves you with the need for a decomposition specialist…
Posted 17 hours ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Frédéric Vogel
Research group leader at Paul Scherrer Institut
Dear Walter,

I know that I’m too late for your grant application. Nevertheless, you might be interested to know that we are developing a process similar to the one Genifuel has licensed from PNNL. The strong feature of our process is the recovery of all nutrients in a concentrated brine, besides the efficient production of methane. We have recently published a paper accessible to anyone:

http://www.rsc.org/Publishing/Journals/EE/article.asp?doi=b819874h

Feel free to connect if you think some further discussion might be of interest.

Frédéric
Posted 1 hour ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Frederic,
Thank you for the very interesting information. We have not reached any agreement with Genifuel yet, but I have had one brief discussion and a couple email exchanges. I get the feeling they are at the top of their game and have their own uses for methane from their website. I’m not convinced as I know the methane markets extremely well and not a day passes that I don’t hear of another methane technology that will be “easily converted to liquids”. I’ve traveled the world on researching and studying methane conversion, and it just is not as easy as some would have you believe. Therefore, I would be most interested in your technology. We remain open and ready to do business with anyone that can integrate their value chain into ours. Further, the grant is not due until June 30 (so you are not too late) while the Notice of Intent is due by next Friday. We remain committed to find some help in Algae to Methane technologies. We think we can add value to whatever is the methane source.
Walt.
Posted 42 minutes ago Reply Privately Delete comment

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners and Chairman of Carbonflow, Inc. and Cleantech.org.

Biofuel Industry Hopes to Recover with Next Generation Fuels

By John Addison. Scientists know how to make fuel from prairie grasses growing on marginal land. They know how to make fuel from fast growing trees with root systems that extend 25 feet into the ground, sequestering carbon emissions and enriching the soil. They even know how to make fuel from algae. They do all this in their labs every day. The problem is making cellulosic and algal fuel in large quantities at costs that compete with fuels from petroleum such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

This is my second article (previous article) from the 31st Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals sponsored by NREL. 800 global bioscientists gathered in San Francisco to share their research and showcase their progress.

Their progress with biofuels from cellulosic sources is important. Some corn ethanol plants have closed. Once promising corporations, such as VeraSun, are now bankrupt. Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for fuel-from-food are being scrutinized. Industry would benefit from biomass that can be grown at much higher yields per acre than corn. Industries such as agriculture, wood, and paper would benefit from making money from waste and from having added revenue sources.

At the conference, Verenium (VRNM) shared their progress. In Jennings, Louisiana, they are producing 1.4 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol. The fuel can be mixed up to 10 percent with our current gasoline, saving us from needing almost 1.4 million gallons of foreign oil each year. Some might be delivered as E85. Instead of using corn, which requires high inputs of energy, nitrogen, fertilizer, and water to produce, Verenium is using a crop that produces eight times the energy required to process it – energy cane, a hybrid of sugar cane optimized as a fuel source not a food source.

Sugarcane and energy cane are part of Brazil’s energy independence, being the source of over 40 percent of their fuel. Now energy cane is being grown in some of the more tropical places in the United States. At a time when project financing is difficult, major partners are critical to financing larger commercial plants. In a joint-venture with BP, Verenium plans to build a 36 million gallon per year plant in Florida.

Dr. Stuart Thomas with DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DD, DNSCY.PK) outlined their plans to bring a 20 million gallon per year plant on line in 2012. They are evaluating non-food feedstocks with much higher yields per acre than corn, including switchgrass and sorghum. DuPont Danisco anticipates reaching parity with $60 to $100/barrel oil by 2015. The pilot plant will be in Tennessee which is providing $70 million of funding for ethanol from switchgrass.

The long-term potential for biofuels may not be in ethanol, but in renewable gasoline, biodiesel, bio-jet fuel, and biocrude. All contain more energy than ethanol, which only delivers 84,000 BTU/gallon. Gasoline delivers 114,000; biodiesel 120,000.

With better microbes and fewer process steps, Chief scientist Dr. Steve del Cardayre with LS9, presented plans to produce industry standard biodiesel from energy cane. The plant should be able to compete with oil at today’s prices by also producing other valuable outputs, such as chemicals which can be used to make detergents. Synthetic biology competitor, Amyris, is moving even faster in building process plants to convert energy cane into renewable hydrocarbons and bio-jet fuel.

Indeed, creating multiple products from a process plant is likely to be critical to having a profitable industry. Oil refining is profitable because fractional distillation creates many valuable products at one refiner:

· Naphtha which can be processed into chemicals and plastics
· Gasoline
· Jet fuel
· Diesel
· Heavy oils which can be processed into lubricants and asphalt

Gevo will build plants with mass efficiency of over 40 percent that can produce multiple products including:
· Bio-jet fuel
· Bio-diesel
· Isobutanol for other products

Gevo sees opportunities to buy existing moth-balled ethanol plants and retrofit for $30 million per plant, a fraction of building a cellulosic plant from scratch. Gevo’s yeast fermentation process produces heat and steam which would be valuable if co-located with industrial processes that benefit from combined heat and power.

By converting wood waste to next generation fuel, Mascoma has a significant potential to co-locate with existing paper mills and wood processing operations. The same is true for Range Fuels.

Enerkem is being paid to covert municipal solid waste into fuel as it targets 2011 to bring live a 9.6 million gallon per year plant in Edmonton, Canada, and a 20 million gallon per year plant in Pontotoc, Mississippi.

Beyond the cellulosic sources for fuel, covered in this article, is the potential for fuel from algae. A future article will examine the near-term challenges and long-term potential of algal fuel.

As this Symposium took place in California, in Copenhagen, Greenpeace protesters stopped all buses because they use biofuel from food sources. In the future, they may welcome biofuel from wood and waste sources as an alternative to gasoline from tar sands and jet fuel from coal.

This December, the leaders of the world will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, to develop a framework for a more promising sustainable future. In Denmark they will be able to visit a new cellulosic ethanol plant developed by Inbicon. The feedstock will be an agricultural waste product – wheat straw. The plant will process 24 metric tons per day of wheat straw, ten times more than a demonstration plant that Inbicon only a few years ago. The plant will be more efficient and come closer to competing with refined oil because the operation will have three products creating three revenue streams:

1. 5.4 million liters ethanol year
2. 8,250 MT biofuel which will displace some coal used by a power plant
3. 11,250 MT of molasses which will be used to feed cattle

Can such operations displace all our need for petroleum? No, but in five years we will see commercial scale next generation biofuel operations. If oil is selling for $100 dollar per barrel, then cellulosic biofuels may lower our cost of fuel. In ten years, all such operations could displace 20 percent of our petroleum use and represent an important step towards energy independence.

Cellulosic ethanol is not the only sustainable solution that world leaders will see in Copenhagen. They will see at least 40 percent of the population commuting on bicycles, demonstrating an immediate and very cost-effective way to reduce our need for oil. Many delegates will ride on electric light-rail from the airport and notice the wind farms that deliver the electricity. Some will ride in electric cars that further demonstrate transportation that uses renewable energy.

Next generation biofuels promise to be part of a portfolio of solutions to our current climate and energy problems.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

Biofuel Industry – No Money, No Respect

For the moment, the price at the pump is reasonable. A spike in demand or a terrorist disruption, however, will quickly remind us that we are desperately dependent on oil as we continue to consume 140 billion gallons of gasoline per year. Even in these recessionary times of moderate demand, we are running out of easy to extract oil from dessert sands. We are turning to sources of unconventional oil, such as tar sands in Canada, to produce oil with ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

For a while corn ethanol looked like a promising way to end our addiction to oil. Now we are like the character in a Woody Allen comedy who explains, “I used to be a heroin addict; now I’m a methadone addict.” At a time when a billion people go hungry, many as a result of disappearing water on this heating planet, fuel from food is not the answer.

Needed is fuel from wood and waste, not food and haste. Some of the world’s best minds are focused on fuel from cellulosic and waste sources, in some cases from biological sources that remove CO2 from the air and enrich depleted soil. I am writing this article from the 31st Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals sponsored by NREL. 800 global bioscientists have gathered in San Francisco to share their research and showcase their progress.

Many at the conference expressed concern and discouragement. Companies that were once darlings of Wall Street have gone bankrupt. Dozens of ethanol plants have closed as oil prices dropped. Many promising second generation plants cannot get built due to lack of project financing. People with the money see the risk as too high.

There continue to be zero commercial scale (20-million gallon per year and bigger) cellulosic ethanol plants, despite past glowing press releases that declared that they would now be running.

The biofuels industry is also under attack due to food-from-fuel and land use issues. Over one billion people are hungry or starving. Agricultural expert Lester Brown reports, “The grain required to fill an SUV’s 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year.” Scientific American: Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

Europe, now California, and soon many U.S. states, now insist that land use must be considered in evaluating biofuels.

During the middle of the conference, a workshop for the media was held. The theme of the workshop quickly became clear – the industry problems were the fault of regulators and we the press.

Professor Bruce Dale, Michigan State University, dismissed corn/soy land use change as an “emotional issue.” He continued, “The California Low Carbon Fuel Standard is intellectually bankrupt.” To demonstrate the flaw of land use, he stated that replacing a gasoline powered vehicle with an electric vehicle would only increase the demand for coal power and therefore do nothing to reduce greenhouse gases.

The example is quite flawed. Automakers consistently tell me that their gasoline powered vehicles are about 15 percent efficient and their electric vehicles are 60 to 70 percent efficient. EVs need much less energy. Even if you could find an EV powered purely with coal, it would produce less lifecycle emissions than a comparable gasoline or corn ethanol fueled vehicle. According to the latest figures published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), non-hydro renewable sources of electricity enjoyed double-digit growth during the past year while coal was down by 1.1 percent. Incremental demand for electricity is bringing more renewable energy on-line.

In fact, the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is based on the peer-reviewed work of scientists using Argonne National Labs GREET model. The work, industry comments, and findings are all available at http://www.arb.ca.gov/fuels/lcfs/lcfs.htm

The LCFS encourages the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy delivered to the wheels of vehicles. The scientific analysis behind the LCFS includes these examples of grams of CO2e emissions per mega joule of energy:

Ø Gasoline Oil Refined 92
Ø Diesel ULSD Refined 71
Ø Diesel Coal-to-Liquid 167
Ø Biodiesel Midwest Soy 30
Ø Ethanol Corn with Coal Electricity 114
Ø Ethanol Cellulosic from Poplar Trees -12
Ø Electricity California Average 27

If the biofuels industry sees a future in biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol, the industry should be encouraged by the findings of the scientists contributing to the LCFS. On the other hand, if the industry is only betting its future on corn ethanol, then the regulation is a threat.

LCFS will not help the expansion of E85 stations for flexfuel vehicles. For the 2009 model year, the best rated car running on E85 in the United States was the Chevrolet HHR, with a United States EPA gasoline mileage rating of 26 miles per gallon, and an E85 rating of only 19 miles per gallon – and that’s the best from Detroit with mileage on all other U.S. flexfuel vehicles being worse. In other words, if you passed on using E85 and drove a hybrid with good mileage, you would double miles per gallon and produce far less greenhouse gas emissions than any U.S. flexfuel offering. Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Four-Door Sedans for 2009

While the press was being scolded and air regulators were being metaphorically burned at the stake, most conference attendees had an afternoon to enjoy San Francisco. Many traveled using electric-powered buses and the hydro powered BART rapid transit system that carriers 100 million riders annually. So much for the press conference dismissing electric powered transportation as not being feasible.

Although attacking regulators, environmentalists, and advocates for the hungry will not save the biofuel industry, the federal government may save it. As the conference unfolded in California, a major announcement was made in Washington, DC, by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu when he announced that $786.5 million would be made available to accelerate advanced biofuels research and to help fund commercial-scale biorefinery demonstration projects.

One irony for the biofuel industry is that as oil prices increase, their economic model improves, but consumer demand for fuel moderates as consumers drive fewer miles, use more public transportation, and soon switch in growing numbers to electric vehicles. For decades, however, fuel will be in demand for many passenger vehicles, heavy-vehicles, long-distance goods movement, ships and airplanes. The opportunity is ripe for delivering fuel with lower lifecycle emissions. Promising cellulosic biofuel companies will be covered in my next article.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He is the author of a new book about the future of transportation – Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Energy Versus Water

There is a growing awareness that there are two convergent crises facing the world: Energy and Water. Scientific Amercican just launced a dedicated environmental publication this month, Earth 3.0 and the cover story? … ‘Energy Vs Water’.

The article explores the dichotomy between the fact that we need energy to produce water and we need water to produce energy. Both resources are running out. As we are reaching Peak Oil, we also appear to approaching Peak Water. This creates a very interesting dilemma and one which will require no small amount of innovation to solve.
Biofuels, cited as one option to wean us away from petroleum, can consume 20 or more times as much water for every mile traveled than the production of gasoline. Not all biofuels are created equal however, some are worse offenders than others, and the US National Research Council addresses this very well in ‘Water Implications of Biofuels Productions in the United States’.
Electric hybrids are another solution to get away from imported gasoline. But if we switch to electric cars, we will need more electricity and at the moment 90 percent of electricity in the US is generated at thermal power plants, – those that consume coal, oil, natural gas or uranium, and these plants are water hogs. They use vast quantities of water for cooling. The US Army Corp of engineers is currently trying to find a middle ground in an interesting water drama unfolding between the states of Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Part of the problem is that both Georgia and Alabama have come dangerously close recently to having to shut down their nuclear power plants due to lack of water.
The Energy Vs Water article goes on to say that ‘any switch from gasoline to electric vehicles or biofuels is a strategic decision to switch our dependence from foreign oil to domestic water’.
The Concept of Virtual Water
To help assess issues relating to water use and water balance, Professor John Anthony Allan from Kings College London, developed the concept of ‘Virtual Water’. He was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize this year for his work in this area. The idea is that you can calculate how much water there is in, say an apple, not just physically in the apple, but on a life cycle basis, how much water went into growing it, transporting it etc, By doing this with various food items or other commodities, a country could take a view to import ‘water heavy’ items, as a kind of a virtual way of importing water. For instance behind that morning cup of coffee, are 140 litres of water used to grow, produce, package and ship the beans. The ubiquitous hamburger needs an estimated 2,400 litres of water. Put simply, it may be more cost effective to import oranges from a region that has plenty of water than to try and de-salinate water at home to irrigate an orchard. Now that doesn’t always work though, you can’t grow things like oranges in wet damp countries like England.
And herein lies one of the fundamental problems. There is a reason why it is easier to grow 50% of the nations fruit and vegetables in California – it’s warm and sunny. And for this same reason, populations have been moving to the sunshine belt. If we could all live in California and import melons and oranges and strawberries from England, wouldn’t that be great? And you can’t cool a nuclear reactor with virtual water – at least not yet!

What’s It All About, Algae?

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the hottest areas of cleantech investor activity in the past year has been algae. Yes, algae. More specifically, technologies that enable the production of fuels from algae.

The concept is premised on the fact that algae is a rapidly-growing organism that converts sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce lipids, which in turn can be refined into various hydrocarbons. In other words, a carbon-neutral fuel cycle. Pretty cool.

A number of start-up companies — such as Solazyme, Live Fuels, Solix Biofuels and GreenFuel Technologies — have emerged in recent years to pursue this possibility, some fetching sizable quantities of capital from blue-chip investors.

I frequently receive emails with links to videos promising interesting energy/environmental technologies, and most strike me as quackery of some degree or another. However, I recently was pointed to a video produced by a company named Valcent Products (OTCBB: VCTPF) that appears particularly compelling. To be clear, I am not recommending this company or its stock, but I do like the tack that Valcent seems to be taking.

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.

The Energy Policy Act of 2008

by Richard T. Stuebi

Betcha didn’t know that there was an Energy Policy Act of 2008, did you? Well, you won’t find any bill of that name. But, the passage of last week’s appropriately titled “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008″ is almost tantamount to an energy bill.

The Senate prepared a nice summary of the energy-related provisions that were stuffed into the bill during the chaotic process to get something passed promptly that would reassure the financial markets. I have yet to review all of the provisions, but it’s clear that many of them have favorable implications for a variety of clean energy technologies, inluding wind, solar, energy efficiency, hybrid vehicles, biofuels, and smart grid.

It’s nice that there has been at least one small silver lining to the dark cloud of financial implosions in the past few weeks.

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.

Broad markets rise, sustainable energy mixed (week ending 9/19)

Author: Mark Henwood

Capping a crazy week, broad markets end up, while commodities retreated slightly.

Camino’s indices ended the week mixed amid highly volitile trading.

In Biofuels, we again saw the potential for huge losses driven by poor risk management practices applied to hedging strategies. Read more here. Veresun (VSE) dragged the Biofuels strategy down for the week with a 67 % decline. This is after a a 50% bounce the stock received following it’s announcement it was reviewing “strategic alternatives” in the wake of its hedging loss.

On the up side LED-Lighting’s Cree (CREE) capped its strong week with an upgrade. Oppenheimer’s analyst apparently thinks light-emitting diodes are being adopted as a mainstream lighting product. This is a continuing demonstation of the influence of analysts.

I like LEDs. They last a long time (5x a CFL), they have a cool form factor, they don’t use mercury, they are rugged, they are dimmable, and they produce very nice light. Unfortunately, commercial LED products are no more efficient then CFLs and currently cost 20 times as much. Their long life doesn’t yet offset this high cost. Given time I expect them to penetrate more lighting applications but we are not there just yet for mainstream use. I’ll get excited when their cost start to fall significantly and approach no more the 5x the cost of a CFL.

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

Sustainable energy indices mixed, broad markets gain while commodities retreat (week ending 7/18)

Author: Mark Henwood

Emerging Markets, EAFA, and S&P500 all rose this week partially on reduced pressure on commodities (DJP) which fell 7.8% for the week.

Biofuels shares responded mid-week to news that Verasun (VSE) was keeping 330 MGY per year of new capacity idle. As I wrote in my post for the week ending June 13th with tight margins it comes as no surprise that producers are reducing production plans . With ethanol consuming somewhere around 30% of corn supplies the cost of corn should respond to a reduction in ethanol production. Reduced ethanol supplies should be supportive of stronger ethanol prices. At some point an equilibrium will be reached.

Later in the week UBS upgraded the ethanol sector to a buy on “improving margins”. VSE’s price (and others) responded strongly gaining 21% on Friday and ending the week up a huge 49% at USD 6.12/share. With this big change I thought the margin on producing ethanol would have materially improved. True, corn has been dropping significantly since the start of July with the December contract closing Friday on the CBOT at USD 6.28/bushel. But ethanol has been falling also in July, with the December contract closing Friday at USD 2.36/gallon leaving the “corn crush” margin at the same slim USD 0.2/gallon it was in the middle of June when Verasun’s stock price was below USD 5.0/share. I’m not sure I understand the improving margin argument.
The LED-Lighting strategy continued to disappoint falling an additional 9.9% for the week with a cumulative decline of 35% since we started tracking the sector at the end of March. Orion Energy Systems Inc. (OESX) lost 38.7% of its value for the week after it reduced its guidance for 2009 to a 25-28% growth rate, down from its previous 50% expectation. With its long term potential, I’m looking for signs this strategy may be fairly priced after this year’s big correction.
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 and has positions in Renewable Electricity.

Aloha

by Richard T. Stuebi

I have the pleasure of writing this posting from one of the most beautiful places on the planet, Hawaii, where I am lucky enough to travel regularly to visit family.

In 1995, while lounging on the Big Island, I decided to shift my career away from conventional energy towards alternative energy. I saw what was then considered a big windfarm at South Point — 37 Mitsubishi 250 kw turbines. Many of the hulking machines were not turning, even though the wind was consistently strong, no doubt because of mechanical difficulties. Still, I was intrigued, and foresaw the need and possibilities for renewable energy — especially in places like Hawaii that rely upon imported oil for virtually all of its energy needs. I had just been reading The Prize, Daniel Yergin’s awesome history of the oil industry, and it wasn’t hard to conclude that we as a society needed to move off of oil for a variety of environmental, economic, and geopolitical reasons.

Every time I return to Hawaii, I take measure of how much renewable energy has been installed. Solar, wind and bioenergy technology and economics have improved considerably, and of course oil prices have skyrocketed. The local utility companies, owned by Hawaiian Electric Industries (NYSE: HE), have actively pursued collaborative integrated resource planning efforts to engage the public in shifting to a more diversified and cleaner energy supply.

And yet, 13 years after I first took note of the situation and opportunity, oil still dominates Hawaii energy supply, even though there’s been significant additions of renewable energy. Solar panels are nowhere near ubiquitous. A few new windfarms have been installed, but considerable potential remains untapped, stymied presumably by aesthetic issues. With its history of sugar production, biofuels should do well here — but they aren’t much of a factor so far. Even the geothermal resources associated with the volcanic activity is not fully exploited.

If renewable energy can’t make massive/rapid inroads in Hawaii, where can it do so? It seems to me that the Aloha State represents an excellent laboratory for CleanTech Revolutionaries to study the barriers to widescale advanced energy technology/infrastructure adoption — and more importantly, how to overcome them. At minimum, Hawaii represents a cautionary tale of how hard and slow it will be for CleanTech to change our world.

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

Beware the Allure of Ethanol Investing

I am a fan of ethanol. The addition of corn ethanol to our US fuel supply chain has had a significant impact in keeping gasoline prices way lower than they otherwise would have been, and has paid for the subsidies many times over. But that has not translated to gains for ethanol stocks, which are down on the order of 50% over the last year according to the Camino Energy index, and it won’t change anytime soon.

As the bellwether US ethanol pureplays are finally down to earth, and my predictions have come to pass. Two years ago ahead of Verasun’s (NYSE:VSE) IPO, I blogged an analysis saying I thought Verasun should trade in the $3 to $8 range, depending on the margin, PE, and growth assumptions. The bankers and the market thought I was nuts, treating VSE and Aventine (NYSE:AVR) which listed near the same time as technology style growth stocks. The company listed at several times my target range, and then traded way up from there. But as I had predicted, the margin pressures from a range of commodity price movements and the relatively low barriers to entry for capacity additions came to bear. But the fall is probably not over.

I stated then and reiterate now that ethanol companies are basically small refiners with potentially worse economics. And refiners traditionally trade at single digit PEs, and single digit PE. Worse, refiners don’t always do well when commodity prices rise or their markets grow fast, as the spreads they make their margin on are often affected as much by relative capacity contraints as the raw commodity prices themselves. In fact, fast moving commodity prices in either direction in either refined products or feedstocks can sometimes bode ill for refining profits, depending on what’s happening in capacity.

VSE now trades under $5. Right in the middle of range I predicted it should. And the PEs for VSE and AVR are finally down in the range close to the independent refiners group I follow, Valero (VLO), Sunoco (SUN), and Tesoro (TSO). BUT. And there is a but. The TEV/EBITDA multiples for VSE and AVR, which are way down, are still 2-3x those of the refiners, and the PEG ratios are still richer as well. This likely means more room to fall, or at least languish.

The next wave of venture backed ethanol companies, mostly cellulosic, are beginning to break ground on pilot plants, and given the penchant for certain ethanol crazed venture investors to IPO deals when windows open, it is likely we will see some of these soon. And it is likely that they will be sold to the market the same way, as high growth stocks based on great technology and macro conditions justifying stratospheric PEs on unsustainable margins. Then they’ll hit their first commodity cycle, the margins will compress, the bloom will come off the rose, the multiples will come down, and the investors who bought and held post IPO will get crushed.

We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. Try not to get caught this time.

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

Solar Rises 10.8%, Renewable Elec and Biofuels increase also (week ending 5/16)

Author: Mark Henwood

Broad market indices (Emerging Markets, EAFA, S&P500) all rose significantly this week. Camino’s PurePlay™ indices, with the exception of Fuel Cells, were up. Commodities (DJP) retreated slightly.

Solar was the story of the week with our 34 member index increasing 10.8%. Six constituents rose more than 20% with the top three, SolarFun Power (SOLF), Renesola (SOL), and China Sunergy (CSUN) increasing more than 40%. Renesola reported strong Q1 results on the 14th. SolarFun and China Sunergy are scheduled to report earnings next week.

Even after its 53.85 % price increase last week, SolarFun’s current year PE is 32.2 (corrected) and its 09 PE is 19.5 (corrected). With continued high growth rates expected, and unless there is a negative surprise next week, I wouldn’t be surprise to see this stock rise further. Renesola’s current year PE is now 22.3 but with expected growth in the 50% range it may support a higher price also. China Sunergy’s 44.9% increase is harder to understand. The company isn’t profitable this year and has a 09 PE of 32. Offsetting this are consensus expectations of revenue growth of over 50% this year and next.

After last weeks big gain at Energy Conversion (ENER) the stock rose an additional 19.2%. Other then hope for an ITC extension in the US I didn’t see any events specifically related to the company that would drive this change. The stock is in both of the solar ETFs so money flowing into them may have lifted the stock last week. At a current period PE of about 80 I can’t justify owning it.

Biofuels bounced up 4.9% last week. Some of the gain was no doubt driven by oil prices but some was driven by the 27.3 % increase in Brasil Ecodiesel (ECOD3.SA). The company reported a significant block transaction of stock during the week. Next week we’ll look at the correlation of this strategy with oil prices.

Fuel Cells continued to suffer with Medis (MDTL) leading the decline. The company reported an increased YoY quarterly loss. This strategy is now down 33% of the year and is still searching for the winning product mix.

LED & Lighting is a new strategy being tracked at Camino. It consists of 9 companies that pass our screens and are producers of energy efficient lighting using LED, flourescent, or other technologies. We expect this sector to grow as technical improvements and rising retail electric prices make advanced lighting more compelling to customers.

In total our five indices, which track just PurePlay™ sustainable energy companies, have aggregate market capitalization of USD 227 billion.

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.

Biofuel Innovators with Alternatives to Oil

By John Addison (5/14/08). Oil soars to $125 per barrel and economies around the world sputter or fall into recession. Enough is enough. Many biofuels can be blended with gasoline and diesel refined from oil, then pumped into our existing vehicles. Even making our fuels with ten percent biofuel and ninety percent refined oil is enough to drop demand for oil and send the price south.

At the moment, this approach has major drawbacks. Food prices are soaring as more ethanol is made from corn, and biodiesel from soy and palm oil. Rain forests are being slashed and burned to increase production of soy and palm oil. Next generation biofuels, however, promise to minimize these downsides while ending our dependency on oil.

“Once viewed as an environmentally-friendly, silver bullet alternative to fossil fuels, biofuels have recently become “public enemy number one” in regard to rising food prices. But what role does the growing biofuels market really play in the current food crisis?” Asks James Greenwood, President and CEO, Biotechnology Industry Organization, who goes on to answer the question.

“There are a number of factors contributing to rising food costs. Poor harvests over the past year in Australia, Canada, South America and Eastern Europe. Protectionist tariff policies affecting the rice-producing nations of South Asia. A weak dollar is driving up the demand for U.S. exports of grains, a dynamic exacerbated by hedge fund and pension fund managers who are pouring unprecedented levels of investment in grain commodities. Growing incomes and meat-eating preferences of an emerging middle class in countries like India and China are increasing global demand for animal feed and the fuel required for production and transport. But the most significant factors driving up food prices are ever-rising energy and transportation costs.

“In coming years, biotechnology will allow us to create biofuels from non-food crops, crops that yield more per acre, require less fertilizer and are more tolerant of drought and other adverse conditions. These scientific breakthroughs will only enhance the world’s ability to feed and fuel itself in a responsible and sustainable way. As biofuels production transitions to these second and third generation biofuels, biotechnology will play an essential role in providing the world with cleaner fuel and more affordable food.”

The U.S. Agriculture Department projects that the combination of a shrinking corn crop and the swelling appetite for corn ethanol will keep the price of the nation’s largest crop in record territory into 2009. USDA economists expect U.S. farmers to produce 12.1 billion bushels of corn, down 7.3% from the record 13.1 billion bushels they harvested in 2007, as farmers grow more soy.

In the U.S., ethanol is currently in far greater demand than biodiesel. By law, 36 billion gallons of ethanol must be in use by 2020 in the USA. This ethanol will primarily be blended with gasoline. E10, a blend of ten percent ethanol and ninety percent petroleum refined gasoline will be common. By contrast, in the U.S. most diesel fuel is consumed by heavy vehicles with expensive engines that must run for years. Warranties can be voided and maintenance cost increase unless the diesel fuel meets exacting standards.

Biofuel innovators were discussed and presented at the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, which I attended. With improved biofuels we will achieve increased energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This article examines short-term and longer-term biofuel solutions.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Khosla Ventures is funding innovative solutions for clean transportation and other major global problems. Brilliant innovators such as Vinod Khosla and Samir Kaul are involved in a number of companies creating cleaner fuels with cellulosic ethanol, biomass gasification, and synthetic biology.
Platt conference keynote speaker Vinod Khosla predicts that within five years fuel from food will no longer be competitive with cellulosic ethanol. He also predicts, “In five years, oil will be uncompetitive with biofuel, even at $50 per barrel, though oil will take longer to decline in price.”

Khosla Ventures identifies several sources of cellulosic ethanol. “There are four principal sources of biomass and biofuels we consider (1) energy crops on agricultural land and timberlands using crop rotation schemes that improve traditional row crop agriculture AND recover previously degraded lands (2) winter cover crops grown on current annual crop lands using the land during the winter season (or summer, in the case of winter wheat) when it is generally dormant (while improving land ecology) (3) excess non-merchantable forest material that is currently unused (about 226 million tons according to the US Department of Energy), and (4) organic municipal waste, industrial waste and municipal sewage.” Khosla Papers and Presentations

Sugarcane is the currently the most efficient feedstock for larger scale ethanol production. While corn ethanol delivers little more energy output than the total energy necessary to grow, process, and transport it; sugarcane ethanol delivers eight times the energy output as lifecycle energy input. Also, sugarcane typically produces twice as much fuel per acre as corn.

Brazil produces almost as much sugarcane ethanol as the United States produces corn ethanol, but at a fraction of the energy cost. Sugarcane is also grown in the southern U.S., from Florida to Louisiana to California.

Brazil is free from needing foreign oil. Flex-fuel vehicles there get much better mileage than in the U.S. If you drive into any of Brazil’s 31,000 fueling stations looking for gasoline, you will find that the gasoline has a blend of at least 20% ethanol, as required by law. 29,000 of the fueling stations also offer 100% ethanol. Ethanol in the U.S. is normally delivered on trucks, increasing its cost and lifecycle emissions. Brazil’s largest sugar and ethanol group, Cosan SA announced the creation of a company to construct and operate an ethanol pipeline.

Most sugarcane is grown in the southern state of Sao Paulo. Economics do not favor its growth in rain forests, although those who favor blocking its import make that claim. It is cattle, soy, palm oil, logging, and climate change that most threaten the rain forests. Some environmentalists are concerned that a significant percentage of Brazil’s sugarcane is grown in the cerrado, which is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. The cerrado is rich with birds, butterflies, and thousands of unique plant species. Others argue that without sugarcane ethanol, more oil will come from strip mining Canadian tar sands and from a new “gold rush” for oil in the melting artic.

“In addition, the residue of sugarcane ethanol, bagasse, can be used for further energy production. While this may likely be used for generating carbon-neutral electricity, it could also be used in cellulosic biofuel production, potentially generating an additional 400-700 gallons per acre.” (CA LCFS Technical Analysis p 87-88)

Sugarcane growers are planning the development of varieties that can produce a larger quantity of biomass per hectare per year. These varieties are being called “energy cane” and may produce 1,200 to 3,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, contrasting with 300 to potentially 500 gallons of ethanol from an acre of corn.
Although sugarcane ethanol is currently the low-cost winner, long-term economics are likely to favor cellulosic sources.

In his keynote speech, Vinod Khosla sited promising sources such as paper waste, wood waste, forest waste, miscanthus, sorghum, hybrid poplar trees, winter cover crops, and perennial crops have deep roots and sequester carbon. Cellulosic ethanol could potentially yield 2,500 gallons per acre.

Large-scale reliance on ethanol fuel will require new conversion technologies and new feedstock. Much attention has been focused on enzymes that convert plant cellulose into ethanol. Because cellulose derived ethanol is made from the non-food portions of plants, it greatly expands the potential fuel supply without cutting our precious food supplies.

Pilot plants are now convert wood waste into ethanol. Over the next few years, much larger plants are likely to come online and start becoming a meaningful part of the energy mix. In Japan, Osaka Project, Verenium utilizes demolition wood waste as a feedstock in producing up to 1.3 million liters of cellulosic ethanol annually. A second phase, planned for completion in 2008, will increase production to 4 million liters per year. Verenium Ethanol Projects

Norampac is the largest manufacturer of containerboard in Canada. Next generation ethanol producer TRI is not only producing fuel, its processes allow the plant to produce 20% more paper. Prior to installing the TRI spent-liquor gasification system the mill had no chemical and energy recovery process. With the TRI system, the plant is a zero effluent operation, and more profitable.

The spent-liquor gasifier is designed to processes 115 Metric tons per day of black liquor solids. The chemicals are recovered and sent to the mill for pulping; the energy is recovered as steam which offsets the production of steam using purchased natural gas. All thermal energy in the plant is now renewable.
Producing cellulosic ethanol over the next few years is unlikely to be cost competitive with oil refining, unless other benefits accrue such as Norampac’s improved plant efficiency, savings in energy, heat, steam, reduction of plant waste, and/or production of multiple products from the plant. In the longer term, 100 million gallon per year cellulosic plants may be profitable without byproduct benefits.

Another Khosla Ventures portfolio company is Range Fuels which sees fuel potential from timber harvesting residues, corn stover (stalks that remain after the corn has been harvested), sawdust, paper pulp, hog manure, and municipal garbage that can be converted into cellulosic ethanol. In the labs, Range Fuels has successfully converted almost 30 types of biomass into ethanol. While competitors are focused on developing new enzymes to convert cellulose to sugar, Range Fuels’ technology eliminates enzymes which have been an expensive component of cellulosic ethanol production. Range Fuels’ thermo-chemical conversion process uses a two step process to convert the biomass to synthesis gas, and then converts the gas to ethanol.

The U.S. Department of Energy is negotiating with Range Fuels research funding of up to $76 million.
Range Fuels was awarded a construction permit from the state of Georgia to build the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Ground breaking will take place this summer for a 100-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will use wood waste from Georgia’s forests as its feedstock. Phase 1 of the plant is scheduled to complete construction in 2009 with a production capacity of 20 million gallons a year.

Abengoa Bioenergy, also announced the finalization of a $38-million collaboration agreement signed with the DOE for the design and development of the Hugoton, Kansas cellulosic ethanol plant which will process over 11 million gallons of ethanol per year with renewable energy as a byproduct. The biomass plant will be situated next to a conventional grain-to-ethanol plant with combined capacity of 100 million gallons, using scale to make cellulosic ethanol more cost-competitive. Abengoa Bioenergy will invest more than $500 million in the next five years in their production of biomass into ethanol in the U.S., Brazil, and Europe.
Poet, the nation’s largest ethanol maker with 22 plants now turning out 1.2 billion gallons a year, plans to open a 25-million-gallon cellulosic facility in 2009 alongside its expanded grain ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Corn cobs from local fields will supply it. Ethanol 2.0

Ethanol is not the only bio-game in town. Many European cars and most U.S. heavy vehicles use diesel not gasoline. New generations of biodiesel, biobutanol, and synthetic fuels are being developed that could be blended with diesel or replace it. Some of these fuels could also be blended with gasoline and jet fuel. BP and DuPont have teamed to produce biobutanol which has a higher energy density than ethanol, can be delivered in existing pipelines, and can be blended with a wider range of fuels.

Amyris will use synthetic biology to develop microorganisms that produce biofuels. LS9 Inc. is in the early stage of using synthetic biology to engineer bacteria that can make hydrocarbons for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Algae have the potential to be an efficient producer of oil for biodiesel with byproducts of including hydrogen and carbohydrates which could be converted into ethanol. Biodiesel from algae can be done today. The challenge is to make production large scale and cost effective. Ideal forms of algae need to be developed. Oil must be “brewed” with the right solution, light, mixing and stirring. Cost-effective photobioreactors must be developed.

“If we were to replace all of the diesel that we use in the United States” with an algae derivative, says Solix CEO Douglas Henston, “we could do it on an area of land that’s about one-half of 1 percent of the current farm land that we use now.”

Mike Janes, Sandia National Labs, is even more optimistic, “Recent studies using a species of algae show that only 0.3 percent of the land area of the U.S. could be utilized to produce enough biodiesel to replace all transportation fuel the country currently utilizes….In addition, barren desert land, which receives high solar radiation, could effectively grow the algae, and the algae could utilize farm waste….With an oil-per-acre production rate 250 times the amount of soybeans, algae offers the highest yield feedstock for biodiesel.”

At the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, most algae experts, from scientists to CEOs of algael fuel companies, see challenging years ahead before cost-effective commercial scale production of biofuel from algae will be possible. As one expert quipped, “The greatest progress to scale is being done by Photoshop.”
A number of companies are actively exploring the potential for fuel from algae. “Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint,” said Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and CO2. Shell is investing in using algae to produce fuel.

These innovators will only make a difference if they receive funding and distribution. Some of the energy giants are helping. Shell is recognized as the largest biofuel distributor among the “oil majors.” Shell has invested heavily in Choren biomass-to-liquids (BTL) in Europe. Shell has invested in Iogen, a maker of cellulosic ethanol catalysts and technology.

Biofuels have the potential to provide solutions for energy security and transportation with a much smaller carbon footprint. Other solutions include reduction in solo driving due to urban density and corporate programs, public transit, more fuel efficient vehicles, and the shift to electric vehicles that require no fossil fuel or biofuel. The new biofuels have the potential to encourage sustainable reforesting and soil enrichment. Biofuel 2.0 provides a path to fuel from wood and waste, not food and haste.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He owns a modest number of shares of Abengoa.

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.

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 Cleantech.org, and a blogger for CNET’s Greentech blog.

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

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 AltEnergyStocks.com. 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 Cleantech.org, and a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog.

The Week in Sustainable Energy Stocks (Week Ending 3/14)

Author: Mark Henwood

The Dow traded in a 569 range this week reflecting negative credit market news and strong intervention by government institutions. Global results were mixed with EAFA advancing and the S&P and Emerging Markets declining. The final changes were not dramatic. This translated into mixed results for the Camino indices with three indices retreating and one, Solar, advancing.

The Solar index increased 1.8% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –41.5%. LDK Solar Co. LTD (LDK), which fell 21.3 % last week, led all stocks in the index with a 16.3% increase. Most of this gain happened Thursday and Friday after the company’s press release reported it had sold 100% of its 2008 production and 90% of 2009. The communication also shed some light on the inventory issue. This strong sales picture may be supportive of the view that demand for PV product hasn’t been affected much by larger economic concerns. Overall the sector had 19 stocks climbing and 14 stocks falling.

Biofuels experienced a 1.9% decline with 6 stocks rising and 10 stocks falling. Gushan (GU) was the leader recovering 7.5% after last weeks 24.9% decline. On the declining side, Schmack Biogas (SB1.DE) led the field with a 11.6% decrease. This may be a delayed reaction to the company’s 2/26 release of 2007 results where strong sales growth (47% !) was coupled with a wider than expected loss. VeraSun (VSE) and US BioEnergy (USBE) also suffered steep declines after VeraSun reported on Wednesday that ethanol prices weren’t increasing as fast as corn costs. Getting bigger with the merger isn’t going to change that equation.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index retreated 0.5% with 8 stocks climbing and 11 retreating. Geodynamics Ltd. (GDY.AX) led the pack with a 17.2% decline. The only news we found was an ASX note on 3/11 that a flow test had been delayed until 3/14.

Fuel Cells had another down week with the index decreasing 3.2% on 3 stocks advancing and 4 stocks declining. ITM Power (ITM.L) suffered a 25.2% decline. On Feb 5 Citigroup criticized the company’s unfocused business strategy and apparently the company’s 3/14 announcement of a testing contract with Bi-Fuels did little to sharpen the strategy.


What did I learn this week? Traders are listening carefully to company communications and are very quick to take decisive action on news, both positive and negative. I also think LDK’s order news may be significant as a bell weather for overall demand in the solar 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 holds a position in GDY.AX .

The week in sustainable energy stocks (ending 3/7/08) ….

By Mark Henwood

Continuing concerns with economic conditions drove all the broad stock indicators into negative territory for the week. With one expectation our sustainable energy indices followed suit with three indices retreating and one, Renewable Electricity, advancing.

The Solar index suffered another large drop of 5.9% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –42.5%. In perspective, even with this large YTD decline the index has 46% to give up before it losses all of the huge gains in 2007. LDK Solar Co. LTD (LDK) led the move downward falling 21.3% and closing below its IPO price. Apparently there remains some lingering angst over inventory issues. Overall the sector had 4 stocks climbing and 29 stocks falling.

Biofuels suffered a significant 12.5% decline with all 16 stocks falling and 5 falling more than 20%. It looks like concerns about rising corn prices and reduced margins affected the ethanol producers. Gushon (GU) reported a Q4 loss and, despite management explaining the loss was due to a large non-cash charge, the stock declined 24.9%

In the Renewable Electricity sector our index advanced 0.9% with 10 stocks climbing and 9 retreating. Suzlon (SUZON.NS) is a big component of the index and was down 13.1% percent after reporting a turbine blade replacement program for 1,251 blades. This represents a market cap decline of more than USD 1 million per blade against management’s estimated cost of USD 24,000 per blade.

Fuel Cells had a down week with the index decreasing 6.3% on 1 stock advancing and 6 stocks declining. FuelCell Energy Inc. (FCEL) led the movement downward with its stock price falling 14.3% for the week. Most of the loss came after their earnings call on March 6.

What did I learn this week? Oil prices hit record highs and sustainable stocks fall sharply with the broader market. Given the relatively high beta of the Solar, Fuel Cell, and Biofuels indices, their stock performance seems to be weakly correlated to oil prices and much more strongly influenced by broad market trends. Renewable Electricity, with its lower beta, may offer some portfolio diversification benefit.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, a information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark doen’t hold a position in any of the specifically mentioned stocks.

The Increasing Ubiquity of Cleantech

by Richard T. Stuebi

I have subscribed to Forbes for over a decade because, unlike many other popular business journals, it seems to have a genuine voice — even if I sometimes disagree with it.

On a plane flight from Cleveland to L.A. last Thursday night, I read the March 10, 2008 issue, and was amazed at how pervasive cleantech has become — even in its stoutly conservative pages:

It was the SKF ad that really floored me, making me take notice just how ubiquitous cleantech is truly becoming. I’ve never seen SFK advertise anywhere before. Just which decision-makers is SKF trying to reach with this placement in a mass-market magazine?

Cleantech is seemingly everywhere. True, some of it may be “greenwash”, but a lot of it is real, and it is growing.

Then I went back to reading the magazine, and realized we still have a ways to go: on p. 19, Steve Forbes writes yet another editorial continuing to stoutly deny climate change. I laugh and shake my head: some things never change.

Maybe Mr. Forbes should take better note of what the major corporations showing up in the pages of his magazine are actually doing to make money. After all, isn’t Forbes the paragon of capitalism? If companies are rushing to cleantech in droves, shouldn’t Forbes take heed of what the market is leading these companies to do to increase their profitable growth?

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.