Energy investment roundup: $50M for drinking water from solar-powered ‘hydropanels’

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Despite this miserable year, renewable energy has seen a modest wave of VC and corporate investment in 2020. pv magazine has logged it here. The wave continues:

Blackrock-led $50M gets water from a solar-powered panel

Zero Mass Water raised $50 million in a C1 venture round led by BlackRock, along with Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Material Impact Fund. Duke Energy also invested.

The firm claims that its “hydropanel” creates drinking water from sunlight and air, “made possible by the combination of thermodynamics, materials science, and controls technology,” according to a release, and, “that its technology provides safe, clean drinking water for industrial, commercial, residential and community applications and is already installed in 45 countries.”

Reporting from Inc. revealed the technology as “a super-absorbent, spongelike material that contains pores of varying sizes. A [solar-powered] fan sucks air from the outside world and blows it through the material, which collects water at 20,000 times the concentration of vapor in the air.”

William Abecassis, head of Innovation Capital at BlackRock said the firm’s “technology provides a breakthrough solution to potable water generation across a vast range of climates and use cases.”

Zero Mass Water

Solar-powered microgrid utilities in West Africa

Energicity, a developer and operator of microgrid utilities in West Africa, closed on a $3.25 million seed investment, led by Ecosystem Integrity Fund.

Energicity is a developer and operator of off-grid minigrids serving rural communities with subsidiaries in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Energicity’s mission is to provide affordable, reliable electricity that is scalable to household and commercial needs. Founded in 2015 by Nicole Poindexter (previously with Opower) and Joe Philip (formerly with SunEdison), Energicity now serves 36 communities and 23,000 people.

Through its utility service, Energicity claims to have sold “over half a gigawatt hour of solar powered electricity” to offgrid customers, “increasing rural entrepreneurs’ incomes by an average of six times and serving 25 health care facilities with reliable electricity.”

Field safety information for utilities

Urbint, a provider of field safety information for utilities and industrial workforces, raised $20 million in B round funding led by Energy Impact Partners and Piva, along with Salesforce Ventures and National Grid Partners.

Urbint is a field risk management tool that predicts threats to critical infrastructure and the workers who maintain it. Urbint’s clients include National Grid, Southern Company, Con Edison, Exelon, Dominion, NiSource, and Xcel Energy.

“A few years ago, we saw that utilities were facing an overwhelming number of threats in the field, stemming from aging infrastructure, extreme weather, and workforce turnover, and didn’t have adequate tools to make informed risk-driven safety decisions,” said Corey Capasso, CEO of Urbint, in a statement. “We built Urbint to arm them with predictive AI to stay one step ahead.”

Largest global renewable energy infrastructure fund

Danish fund manager, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) reached a first close of $1.7 billion in the CI IV fund, which looks to become the largest global renewable energy infrastructure fund in the world — with a target size of $6.2 billion.

CIP “will diversify investments across technologies such as contracted offshore wind, onshore wind, solar PV, transmission, storage, waste-to-energy and biomass assets.” CIP funds have made 20 investments in large-scale energy infrastructure assets totaling almost 8 GW in capacity across the U.S., the UK, Germany, Spain, and Taiwan.

New deep tech and climate tech funds

Prime Coalition and the newly-formed Pale Blue Dot both announced new funds for cleantech development.

In a LinkedIn post, Matthew Nordan, managing director for the $50 million Prime Impact Fund, wrote, “There aren’t many existential threats in the world but the change we’ve wrought on the climate is one of them. It can’t be neutralized without technology innovation, which in turn can’t depend on the whims of conventional finance or the ups and downs of the stock market.”

Pale Blue Dot is a “climate only” VC firm out of Malmö, Sweden with a $60 million fund. According to a TechCrunch profile, Pale Blue Dot will consider software and technology investments with a strong positive climate impact in food/agriculture, industry, fashion/apparel, energy, and transportation.

Investment in solid-state batteries for EVs

The Volkswagen Group raised its stake in QuantumScape with an investment of up to $200 million in the solid-state battery developer. This funding comes two years after VW invested $100 million in the secretive battery startup.

According to VW, QuantumScape’s lithium metal solid-state battery “has advantages over the present lithium-ion technology: higher energy density, enhanced safety, better fast charging capability and — above all — they take up significantly less space.”

Other investors in QuantumScape include Kleiner Perkins, Prelude Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Capricorn Investment Group, and Khosla Ventures. Companies working on solid-state batteries include Ionic Materials and Solid Energy.

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Venture and corporate investment rounds in clean energy over the last few months.

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!

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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