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Cleantech Firms Find Investors

Venture Capital: Successful fundraising points to a better 2010

by Michael McCoy
March 29, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 13

Credit: Genomatica
Genomatica will use new funds to scale up its biomanufacturing technology.
Credit: Genomatica
Genomatica will use new funds to scale up its biomanufacturing technology.

Investment in so-called clean technology companies was down sharply in 2009, but a trio of deals announced last week shows that 2010 may be a better year for small chemistry-based firms developing cleaner ways of manufacturing.

Genomatica, a San Diego-based company using biomanufacturing to produce chemicals, raised $15 million from its three existing backers and new investor TPG Biotech. Genomatica says the funds will help accelerate development of its process for making 1,4-butanediol, a feedstock for polyurethanes, spandex, and other materials. Genomatica CEO Christophe H. Schilling tells C&EN that the firm is already producing butanediol at the 3,000-L pilot scale and plans next to build a 30,000-L demonstration facility.

Meanwhile, the green building materials firm Calera agreed to sell a $15 million equity interest to Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company. To date, Calera’s main investor has been the famed cleantech investment firm Khosla Ventures.

Based in Los Gatos, Calif., Calera has developed a process for capturing carbon dioxide from industrial facilities—including coal-fired power plants—and converting it into solid carbonates that can be used as building materials (C&EN, Jan. 25, page 20). The firm says its process could eventually consume enough CO2 to offset all of the gas generated by current industrial and utility sources worldwide.

Finally, New Jersey’s Voltaix received $10 million in financing from the private investment firm MissionPoint Capital Partners. Voltaix calls itself the world’s leading producer of germane, diborane, trisilane, and trimethyl­boron—chemicals used to make semiconductors and, increasingly, photovoltaics. Voltaix says the money will help it expand production and increase activity in Asia.

William Wescott, managing director of advisory services at Cleantech Group, a research and advisory firm, says the three deals demonstrate investor recognition of green chemistry’s power. Overall, clean technology venture investment was down 33% in 2009 to $5.6 billion, according to Cleantech, but Wescott expects 2010 to be a better year.



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