Another cellulosic ethanol play snags funding

A Toronto-based company called Woodland Biofuels Inc. has attracted its first institutional investor, Investeco Capital Corp., which has funded $1.25 million (Canadian) of what is expected to be a $3.25 million investment. Like others in the market, including Montreal-based Enerkem, the company uses a gasification process to break down wood biomass and agricultural residue. It can also process human and animal sewage “sludge” and municipal solid organic waste. The gas is then processed through a series of catalytic reactors to produce ethanol, distillation water and steam. Investeco determined the process was “extremely efficient” and sufficiently scaleable to support Woodland’s march toward commercialization. Woodland, it should be pointed out, was recently granted $9.8 million from Sustainable Development Technology Canada toward development of a demonstration plant for its process.

More and more of these cellulosic ethanol plays are coming out of the woodwork, so to speak, suggesting that perhaps the quest for non-corn ethanol is closer — as I’ve said in past posts — than initially thought. At the very least the flurry of activity and funding is a good sign.

European homes to have $5,200 fuel cell by 2010: Acumentrics

Interesting story in the Boston Globe about Westwood, Mass.-based Acumentrics, a maker of solid-oxide fuel cells. The article states the the company is working with Italian heating products firm Merloni TermoSanitari to develop a commercial household version of its fuel cell, which would hit the European market by 2010 and cost around $5,200.

Solid oxide fuel cells run much hotter than the PEM-based cells that companies such as Ballard Power have developed. This makes SOFCs a poor option for transportation, but great for fixed applications where a relatively clean fuel like natural gas can be used on site — i.e. someone’s basement — to produce electricity, heat and hot water. The company’s CEO is quoted as saying he expects the product to be certified for a 10-year lifespan and that the payback from energy savings in Europe, where energy prices are quite higher, will be about three years. Cracking the North American market will be harder, but the company remains hopeful, citing the fact it has in recent years increased the fuel cell’s output 120-fold, cut costs 90 per cent and reduced the size by 80 per cent.

Acumentrics acquired last year the assets of Fuel Cell Technologies Ltd. in Kingston, Ontario, which became Acumentrics Canada Ltd. and is focused on R&D for the company. That office is working on the use of ammonia and paint fumes as a fuel for the Acumentrics fuel cell.

Of course, Acumentrics isn’t the only player in this game. The secretive Bloom Energy, a well-funded venture backed by Kleiner Perkins, is also pursuing the SOFC market with a technology first developed for the NASA Mars program. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Bloom has 200 employees and is ramping up fast. It claims to be twice as efficient and have 100 per cent less emissions than conventional energy generation technologies. Curious.

Unlike fuel cells for cars, one can clearly see a path of commercialization for SOFC systems and their eventual use in homes.

6N Silicon raises another $20 million

Mississauga, Ontario-based startup 6N Silicon Inc. has raised up to $20 million in a second round of financing. The company’s goal is to be the lowest-cost provider of solar-grade silicon that doesn’t need to be blended with high-purity silicon. It has come up with a proprietary, low-energy process, which can be inexpensively scaled up, for upgrading standard metallurgical-grade silcon into solar grade silicon. 6N wants to be one of the industry’s leading suppliers of solar-grade silicon within three to five years.

Venture capital group Good Energies led the round, which includes previous investors Yaletown Venture Partners and Ventures West. 6N, founded less than two years ago by current president and chief technology officer Scott Nichol, raised $6 million last July and has been moving quite fast on its plans for commercial-scale production. “This is clearly an important milestone for 6N, and we are looking forward to entering our initial production phase and then ramping up aggressively from there,” said David Dunnison, vice-president of business development.