Venture capital investors and their funds are still hungry for deals in cleantech and renewable energy.
Although high-profile energy investments in today’s era have tended towards batteries and energy storage — here are some recent funding rounds that run the gamut from geothermal energy to home utility panels to direct air capture to fusion.
Atom Power’s solid-state circuit breaker
Atom Power, a startup developing a solid-state circuit breaker for commercial and industrial buildings, raised $17.8 million in a series B round of funding, according to Venture Beat, bringing its total raised to ~$35 million from investors including Valor Equity Partners, Rockwell Automation. ABB Technology Ventures and Atreides Management.
The device allows users to switch energy sources (e.g. grid to V2G to solar power), manage consumption and EV charging, and eliminate the risks of mechanical circuitry.
Fusion startup, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, raised $84 million from Singapore’s Temasek Holding, Norway’s Equinor and other investors in its latest round. The company was founded by researchers at MIT in 2018 and has raised a total of more than $200 million.
Commonwealth aims to show that its high-temperature superconducting magnets work at scale next year, and then hopes to build a working prototype reactor, according to Bloomberg.
Span’s new electrical panel
Span landed $10.2 million in venture capital last month to modernize and replace one of the more basic and ubiquitous pieces of home electrical hardware — the electrical panel. Span’s ambition is to “transform the electrical panel into an intelligent gateway” and help expand the adoption of solar, energy storage and EVs. The Span smart panel provides a reconfigurable home backup during power outages with the ability to turn circuits on and off from a phone.
The $10.2 million Series A round was led by ArcTern Ventures and joined by Capricorn Investment Group, Incite Ventures, and existing investors Congruent Ventures, Energy Foundry, Hardware Club, Incite Ventures, Ulu Ventures, Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, Wireframe Ventures, and 1/0 Capital.
As Span puts it, “The standard electrical panel has not seen major innovation for nearly a century.”
Graphene and a “super battery”
Battery and graphene technology startup Nanotech Energy closed a $27.5 million funding round at a post-money valuation of $227.5 million, according to the company. The investors were not disclosed. The company has raised more than $30 million since its 2014 founding.
Jack Kavanaugh, CEO of the startup, claims to be “the world’s top supplier of graphene” and plans to release a non-flammable, environmentally friendly lithium battery that can charge “18 times faster than anything that is currently available on the market” — within the next year. Nanotech Energy is co-founded by Kavanaugh and UCLA scientists Richard Kaner and Maher El-Kady.
Although investors in this round were not disclosed, Kavanaugh, along with fellow-board members Mahi De Silva and Robert Snukal are part of Multiverse Investment Fund, a minority investor in the battery startup, according to Pitchbook.
Direct-air capture of CO2
Climeworks is a Swiss startup and ETH-spinoff that just raised $75 million in funding for “direct-air capture” of carbon dioxide, calling it the largest private investment in this pollution-mitigating technology.
Climeworks has raised $124 million since its 2009 founding from Swiss bank Zuercher Kantonalbank and undisclosed private investors and family offices. The startup has more than 100 employees in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.
Direct-air capture, along with its mythic sisters, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, is a process where CO2 from fossil generators and industrial sources is captured, treated and injected into underground earth formations for permanent storage or for industrial use.
Depending on which climate scientist one consults, billions of tons of carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere and stored in this manner if we are to confront global warming.
Drilling technology for deep geothermal
Quaise, a startup developing millimeter wave drilling capabilities to access deep geothermal energy, raised $6 million in seed funding led by The Engine, the venture firm spun out of MIT, along with Vinod Khosla and Collaborative Fund.
Quaise is developing and commercializing a deep drilling method invented at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center — useing a gyrotron to generate millimetric electromagnetic waves for drilling at depths beyond what can be accomplished today with conventional drilling. The company is working toward accessing depths of 10 to 20 km, which would dramatically open the opportunity for this clean and power-dense energy source.
“Geothermal remains the most promising non-nuclear dispatchable energy source,” said Vinod Khosla. “It does not require storage, has a small land footprint and at the depths Quaise is targeting, becomes viable and competitive throughout the world, not just at today’s geothermal sites.”
Clean diesel for heavy-duty engines
ClearFlame Engines raised $3 million in a funding round led by Clean Energy Ventures for a startup designing a new type of diesel engine. ClearFlame claims its technology can integrate into existing compression ignition engine manufacturing and replace petroleum-based fuels with renewable fuels while retaining the benefits currently associated with diesel engines.
EV chargers and personal generators
FreeWire Technologies, a battery startup that manufactures EV chargers and personal generators, raised $25 million in a round led by BP, an investor in FreeWire since early 2018, and joined by new investors ABB Technology Ventures, Silicon Valley Bank and Energy Innovation Capital. The startup was valued at $46 million in September, according to PitchBook data.
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