onsdag 28 maj 2008

Lignoboost aqcuired byt Metso Power

Lignoboost and their predecessors have during almost a decade developed a promising technology to produce biofuels from black-liquor a byproduct from the pulp industry. Now they are taken over by Finnish group Metso.

I have earlier mentioned them regarding my skepticism about some ability to attract Swedish VC. Well, at least they got aqcuired by a large group of companies, that already produce technology with the same target market. That will open up many opportunities for Lignoboost.
It will be interesting to see however, if politicians, public servants and institutional investors will take this as another example of the Swedish cleantech "brain-drain": the inability of Swedish cleantech companies to attract national investors, and the eventual take-over from foreign companies (Solibro being a high-profiled example). Further on, would it is interesting to question wether this is a problem or not.

torsdag 15 maj 2008

Hemmamarknaden för biogasteknik

Biogasprojekt får en tredjedel av KLIMP-stödet, rapporterar Ny Teknik.

Detta är mycket glädjande, eftersom det är det mest klimateffektiva biobränslet som existerar på kommersiell basis. Detta är inte främst genom högt energivärde i gasen (som i ej uppgraderad rågas endast uppnår 55 % - 65 % av energivärdet hos naturgas), utan för att kontrollerad rötning väldigt ofta ersätter alternativa behandlingssätt där avfallet spontanrötas och släpper utan metan till atmosfären. Som bekant är metan som växthusgas c:a 20 gånger mer potent än koldioxid. Att KLIMP-pengar hamnar i biogasprojekt är därför ett effektivt användande av pengarna. Det är givetvis också logiskt tillfredställande att man utnyttjar avfall som en resurs och inte som skräp.

Ett antal projekt planeras runt om i landet

En stark hemmamarknad gynnar våra inhemska biogasföretag, som de senaste åren blivit några fler, i form av företag som Scandinavian Biogas och Swedish Biogas International. De viktigaste utrustningsföretagen kommer däremot från Tyskland. Här är några av de främsta svenska företagen:

Läckeby Water Group
Malmberg Water
Sweco VIAK
Scandinavian Biogas
Swedish Biogas International
Bioprocess Control

onsdag 14 maj 2008

Quote of the day

"Don't get the idea that I've turned green. My business is making money, and I think this is going to make a lot of money."

-- T. Boone Pickens in the Guardian

Takeover king & oil baron T-Boone is planning a $10bn, 4GW wind farm in Texas, which would be the world's largest. He still thinks that wind turbines are ugly. Despite the merits of wind power, I do understand that many find wind turbines as not appealing. It would be far less visually obtrusive to generate power from waste heat (which is possible with the Opcon Power box).

By the way, Boone's biography is entertaining and can be find at bargain prices.

måndag 12 maj 2008

The state of the Swedish cleantech market

According to E24 (in Swedish), Swedish cleantech companies face a dismal outlook, with only 3 out of 14 publicly traded companies making a profit last year.

A few observations could be made however. First of all, these numbers should not be taken as a representation of the whole cleantech market. Many successful cleantech companies are not traded on the public stock market. It is also important to remember that many companies not mentioned in the article work with cleantech in one way or another, but only as a part of their product or service portfolio. For instance: Sweco (consulting), ABB (energy efficiency, etc) and Alfa Laval (biofuel equipment, etc). Further on, in the long term several of the companies mentioned in the article face growing demand for their products.

To invest in a company that is yet to make a profit requires excellent market insight and at least a basic technical understanding of the products being offered. And even more so than in the case of investing young but profitable companies. Rome wasn't built in a day and many cleantech companies will need several years of R&D before being able to launch a competitive product. Ambitious innovators may become early leaders in developing markets. But without an initial knowledge, the outside investor might as well bring her or his money to a racecourse, where the gambling is equally risky but more exciting.

onsdag 7 maj 2008

Investments in renewable energy reach USD100 billion per year

Renewable energy investments now amount to USD100bn according to a report by the United Nations.

There is no question about this area being a part of the mainstream investment world. Some types of renewable energy investemts (large scale hydropower projects in particular) have represented an important part in the portfolio of energy companies since decades or even longer. Other kinds, such as wind power and solar power play an important role since more recently.

And a higher demand for energy, increasing oil prices, an increasing world population and the fear of climate change is going to keep the importance of this area growing. Cleantech is one of the fastest growing investment sectors in the US, increasing by 18% during the first quarter of this year - despite the current financial unrest. And as I predicted, energy efficiency plays an increasingly important part. It is the fastest growing segment in cleantech, with capital invested in Power and Efficiency Management Services increasing 454% from last year.

According to the National Academy of Engineering, of the 14 greatest engineering challenges for humanity, almost half are related to renewable energy and cleantech. If that tells us something about the future, the cleantech and renewable energy share of investments will keep growing.

söndag 4 maj 2008

Innovative farming to combat climate change and soaring food prices

With food and crops prices soaring causing world-wide protest, the biofuel industry has come under heavy fire. In particular, biodiesel and ethanol production from corn, wheat, soy beans and other is questioned, but also biofuel production from other sources ; considering that the land could be used for food crops.
Biogas, should of course not course not be questioned in this way, as its relation to food prices is still very distant, and it is by far the most climate friendly biofuel.
The demand for crops is fueled by laws demanding a certain share of renewable energy (such as the
proposed EU-wide target of 10 percent by 2020) or subsidy programs (such as ethanol subsidies).

Other factors are even more important for crops prices, such as increased meat and bread consumption in China and India. Further on, some claim that the situation is worsened beceause of market inefficiency as a result of faulty goverment policies such as trade barriers and agricultural subsidies.

There are few reasons to believe that the situation is going to improve in a near future. Although it would be possible to improve efficiency, farming methods and logistics in some parts of the world, growing global demands for a higher living standard (including more meat) and for biofuels will keep increasing the prices.
In the medium term however, there are several interesting technologies that may not only increase productivity, but also decrease the need of farm land and replace some agricultural products entirely. They may seem rather un-orthodox, and perhaps even appalling to some. Still they may contribute to reduce the crops and food prices. How about:

In vitro meat
The livestock meat industry is very inefficient from an energy and nutritional point of view: 75% to 95% of what is used to feed the animal is lost through metabolism or transformed into inedible structures. Meat production needs up to ten times more energy per edible ton compared to grain production. In vitro meatis meat grown in laboratories, with ambitions to scale up the production to industrial scale in a near future. Basically, the meat is grown using stem cells or satellite cells, focusing on producing muscle fibers and fats. Hopefully, this could mean cheap meat with less animal suffering, less areal needed for grain production, less energy use and less methane emissions from livestock herds.

Chemical-free seed treatment
Although in vitro meat may raise some eye brows, most people would probably find the endeavors of Swedish-Dutch company Seedgard praiseworthy.
Crop diseases is a serious problem in several parts of the world, with recent outbursts of for instance black stem rust almost creating a disastrous famine. Traditionally, the seeds for sowing corn have been treated in chemical-intensive methods, to kill fungi and disease-generating organisms.
In the developing countries, not even the dirty methods are available to most farmers in the developing countries. Seedgard has developed a method for treating the seeds using hot air instead of chemicals, being no less efficient than traditional methods, and in some cases even more efficient.

Genetic engineering for better biofuel crops
From an environmental point of view, there are several reasons to be suspicious about genetically modified crops, which makes the use of modified crops for improved biofuel production a ”green dilemma”. Still, this branch of biotechnology could be an important part of the effort to reduce world hunger. During the last few years, research has been increasingly aimed at improving seeds and crops for biofuel production, in particular ethanol and biodiesel.
There are countless efforts in this field, with the variation of the type of research being great. Among the modifications are corn varieties that contain enzymes that otherwise would be needed to add later in the ethanol production, corn with a higher fermentable starch content (increasing the ethanol production with 2%-5%) to designing new biofuels from scratch. All of these efforts could be melted down to one desired result: more litres per acre.

Farm sky scrapers
If farms could be vertical rather than horizontal, less land would be needed for agriculture. This is something to have in mind when reading about projects as SkyFarm, a Toronto real estate project where food will produced in a 58-floor building. There are other projects under planning as well. Among the benefits growing vegetables and crops in an artificial environment in skyscraper like buildings: producing the food in urban areas, closer to the consumers reduces transport costs (and thereby emissions), protect the crops from pollution and unpredictable weather and against diseases.

Time will tell, which of these concepts will make a real difference in the quest for cheaper food and more biofuel. From an investor point of view, it is interesting to follow a few related companies closely, in particular gene-tech and seed companies such as Ceres, Syngenta and Targeted Growth.