Big Money Comes to Solar and Bio-Energy
A list of big-money interests who are backing solar energy and bio-energy projects includes Google, Morgan Stanley, BP, Chevron, DuPont, Genencor, and several others. Google, BP, and Chevron are backing Bright Source Energy, the solar thermal tower from Israel. DuPont and Genencor are backing a new joint cellulosic ethanol venture due to begin operation in a pilot plant in 2009. First the Bright Source backing:
BrightSource Energy, the solar thermal startup that scored one of the industry’s biggest solar power plant deals in April, has just raised a massive $115 million in Series C funding and has added some big new names to its list of investors including Google.org, BP Alternative Energy, StatoilHydro Venture and Black River. Return backers include VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley, DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Chevron Technology Ventures. This pushes the Oakland, Calif.-based startup’s funding over $160 million.Next the DuPont/Genencor cellulosic ethanol play:
BrightSource says it intends to use the funds to start building its five large solar thermal plants in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, which could cost $2 to $3 billion. The company has signed a series of power purchase agreements with Northern California utility PG&E for 900 MW, and the company says it could start construction as soon as 2009; the plants could start churning out solar power as early as 2011. __Earth2Tech
The partners plan an initial three-year investment of US$140 million, which will initially target corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. Future targets include multiple ligno-cellulosic feedstocks including wheat straw, a variety of energy crops and other biomass sources.Of course, biomass cellulosic energy is simply solar energy with its own built-in storage. While solar thermal energy designs by Bright Source are superior to other solar thermal designs in many ways--and are even superior to photovoltaics in terms of electrical load-matching--the storage demands for "after-sunset and before-sunrise" hours power production take away from overall profitability and efficiency.
The parent companies will license their combined existing intellectual property and patents related to cellulosic ethanol. The goal is to maximize efficiency and lower the overall system cost to produce a gallon of ethanol from cellulosic materials by optimizing the process steps into a single integrated technology solution.
The integration of the partners’ individual technology platforms will combine:
*A differentiated pretreatment process developed by DuPont through its collaboration with the US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that allows for reduced capital costs. The process is a proprietary mild alkaline process that allows for lower cost of capital than other pretreatments. Work is ongoing to optimize this pretreatment technology for other cellulosic feedstocks.;
*Enzyme technologies and production platforms enabling high biomass-to-sugars conversion rates developed by Genencor. Genencor has developed enzyme complexes that deliver a 30-fold decrease in enzyme costs.
*A proprietary ethanologen, also developed through the DuPont-NREL collaboration, based on Zymomonas mobilis. This ethanologen has the ability to convert sugars contained in the feedstock into high yields of ethanol with fewer byproducts, and;
*The companies’ joint engineering capabilities in process integration and facility design.
In the United States, the joint venture will scale up an optimized technology package for corn cobs from integrating the proprietary DuPont pretreatment and ethanologen technologies with the innovative enzyme technology of Genencor, while DuPont continues to analyze the collection and storage of cellulosic feedstocks.
The global joint venture expects its first pilot plant to be operational in the United States in 2009, and its first commercial-scale demonstration facility to be operational within the next three years. __GCC
Cellulosic biomass contains its own storage, and once processed only has to be transported to the point of use. The huge potential for stimulating abundant industry, employment, and economic/energy benefits on the local and regional scales makes bio-energy the most promising overall global new energy approach at this time.