While Google appears to be keeping its cards close to its chest, it is clear that the technology empire is building up its renewable energy capability in an attempt to bring down its vast energy costs. After investing in wind, solar and geothermal energy, it has now turned its attention to biomass.
Google’s investment arm, Google Ventures, has announced that it has made an undisclosed Series B investment in CoolPlanetBiofuels. The company based in Camarillo (California, US) previously raised $8 million in a round led by North Bridge Venture Partners with participation from GE Energy Financial Services.
CoolPlanetBioFuels is developing a technology that converts low-grade biomass (such as grass and woodchips) into high-grade fuel and carbon. It also produces a biproduct which can be used to sequester carbon and act as a soil conditioner. This makes the CoolPlanetBioFuels product a negative carbon fuel.
“The company has come up with an innovative solution to one of the world’s biggest problems,” said Wesley Chan, partner at Google Ventures. “The technology is a win-win as the company is developing a sustainable and renewable energy source that also helps reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.”
The company’s approach toward converting biomass to high-quality fuel will accelerate the development and deployment of biofuels. Also, CoolPlanetBiofuels’ feedstock is available and plentiful, and has no impact on the food supply. The recent run up in gasoline prices underscores the importance of developing an alternative to fossil fuels. CoolPlanet operates at an interesting intersection of technical problem and business innovation attacking a large problem. That nexus is of particular interest to Google Ventures.
“We are very pleased to complete this financing with a high-caliber partner known for its tremendous support in helping companies grow,” said Mike Cheiky, CoolPlanetBiofuels President and Chief Executive Officer. “While we have made significant progress over the past couple of years, this new infusion of capital, coupled with the expertise of the Google Ventures team, enables our team to scale even faster.”
Google’s clean energy focus
To date, Google reports it has invested over $100 million in the clean energy sector. Google.org also has a team of engineers doing research and development through the company’s RE-C initiative aimed at “creating utility-scale renewable electricity that is cheaper than coal in years, not decades”.
Google has invested $38.8 million in two North Dakota wind farms that generate 169.5 megawatts (MW), enough to power 55,000 homes. It has also made an investment in the critical development stage of a project to build a transmission backbone off the mid-Atlantic coast to accelerate offshore wind development, with the potential to connect 6,000 MW of wind, enough to serve 1.9 million households.
Google Inc also claims to be “disappointed” with the lack of breakthrough investment ideas in the green technology sector, and so is working to develop its own new mirror technology that could reduce the cost of building solar thermal plants by a quarter or more.
The company's green energy czar, Bill Weihl, told Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco last year that Google is looking to cut the cost of making heliostats (the fields of mirrors that are used to track the sun) by at least a factor of two, "ideally a factor of three or four."
Google is also investing in two solar thermal companies, eSolar and BrightSolar, and its team is also working on the development of a solar Brayton engine (a gas turbine engine like those currently used in jet aircraft, but powered by sunlight) that would heat air to drive a turbine and generate electricity.
Other potential breakthrough technologies being researched by Google include enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). The company is sponsoring a project to create the first "Geothermal Map of the World” – an important step in recognising resources and showing potential. With an array of international partners, we helped to develop a global protocol for EGS resource mapping and estimation being reviewed by international technical bodies. Recently, the SMU Geothermal Laboratory, a Google.org grantee, discovered unexpectedly high temperatures beneath West Virginia capable of supporting geothermal energy production, which increased West Virginia’s geothermal generation potential by 75% over previous estimates.
Not just about energy generation
Google’s efforts to wean itself – and indeed the world – off fossil fuels does not stop with renewable energy generation. The company has invested in Transphorm, a start-up focused on improving energy efficiency, and is also committed to accelerating the commercialisation of plug-in vehicles through the RechargeIT project.