Showing posts with label Dept of Commerce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dept of Commerce. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Prison Mattresses Go From Convicts to Carpets

A mattress recycling program being tested in the United Kingdom could lead to homes filled with bits of the country's penal system.

The Prison Service dumps 50,000 mattresses a year, and as the prison population increases - there are about 82,000 convicts in England and Wales - the Prison Service buys 60,000 new mattresses a year.

Hoping to find a way to send zero mattresses to landfills, U.K. jails are testing out the recycling possibilities for mattresses. First up are two trials with companies that are turning the mattresses into carpet underlay, fence panels and roof tiles.

Here's hoping that if the program's a success it will also boost recycling mattresses outside of the prison system, or even inspire a prison mattress recycle system here in the U.S. (prison population: 2.2 million). Or at least help expand the few recycling options that exist.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cashing In on Clean Technology

Despite the credit crunch and falling oil prices, venture capitalists say green energy is still a good bet.

The future of all alternatives to oil rests on a single make-or-break factor -- money. And even as private investors fled other markets last year, clean-tech company coffers were still brimming with venture capital dollars.

Clean tech -- a loosely defined environmental category -- includes companies involved in solar power, biofuels, batteries, water, recycling, even farming. And as VCs clamored to get in, funding for the industry posted an all-time high of $2.6 billion in the third quarter of 2008. Experts linked the boom to soaring oil prices, generous tax credits, and a public fascination with all things green. Though they also say the torrid pace can’t continue, the amount of capital raised globally last year -- $8.4 billion -- still exceeds the 2007 full-year total of $6 billion, according to the Cleantech Group, a San-Francisco-based market research firm.

But these days, a rare confluence of events has sobered many clean-tech insiders. Facing liquidity hurdles, VCs are shouting from the rooftops that portfolio companies better start cutting costs. Oil prices have dipped to four-year lows, making traditional energy sources seem more viable. Credit remains scarce, which doesn’t bode well for a reputedly capital intensive industry. And as predicted, fourth quarter funding dropped last year to $1.7 billion, marking the first quarterly decline since 2004.

So could the go-go era of clean-tech investment come to a screeching halt? Unlikely, says Dan Squiller, a clean-tech CEO who bagged $30 million in Series D financing -- just days after bankruptcies and fire-sale deals mauled Wall Street in September. "Our new investors are just as enthusiastic about the company now as they were when the funding closed," says Squiller, whose San Diego-based firm, PowerGenix, manufactures recyclable batteries. "I think the clean-tech segment may be operating to a different drumbeat."

Here's why clean-tech executives and their investors are bullish about the long term.

What the Experts Say
Even as the economy sours, industry watchers say a host of factors should keep VCs funneling cash to clean-tech firms. Projected increases in global energy demand, declining production of oil and coal, growing concerns about climate change, and a desire for U.S. energy independence are "long-term drivers that haven't changed and won't change with respect to the credit crunch and the downturn," says Brian Fan, the Cleantech Group's senior director of research.

Still, he warned that companies will take a hit on valuations as VCs face roadblocks when trying to draw capital from their limited partners. “We forecast a pullback in clean-tech VC funding from the previous couple of quarters, when it was just record quarter upon record quarter,” Fan says. "But clean tech will remain a bright spot relative to other sectors competing for VC investment."

To an extent, clean-tech investment hinges on government policy. Congress recently approved an eight-year extension of the investment tax credit for utility-scale solar projects. President-Elect Barack Obama has pledged a new green economy along with support for alternative energy sources. And a cooperative of 10 Northeastern state governments have agreed to cap carbon emissions beginning this month. All have spurred cautious optimism throughout the industry's ranks.

Commodity prices also play a role in the evaluation of clean-tech firms, says Joe Muscat, Ernst & Young's director of clean tech and venture capital. But current lows shouldn't scare away the savviest investors who know the era of cheap oil is over, though pricing volatility remains.

"There are bigger drivers at work than what the spot price of oil is, and I do think clean tech will continue to be a significant percentage of the total of venture capital investing," Muscat says. "But it's going to be tough. There will be some consolidations and some failures because of the capital environments in this period of time."

Higher Returns for VCs
Potential investments -- including current portfolio companies -- are going to get much cheaper in the next few years, and therefore, returns on future investments are going to get much higher, says Richard MacKellar, managing director at Chrysalix Energy. The Vancouver-based VC firm, which funds clean-tech companies worldwide, has shied away from over-valued solar companies for more than two years. But with valuations deflating, MacKellar says Chrysalix is eager to resume activity in the space.

"What we're going to see is higher scrutiny and lower values," he says. "But I believe VCs recognize that this hiccup will lead to a sweet spot of optimum returns -- for those of us who do have the courage to make the investment in tough times."

As other investors retool, Good Energies, a global VC firm investing exclusively in clean tech, plans to keep pumping cash into the sector. "We're long-term investors and our philosophy is to always be a long-term investor," says CEO Richard Kauffman. "In terms of us, we're going to continue to invest through the cycle."

But as capital is rationed in the market, he pointed out that his firm faces a tough balancing act: preserving cash for existing portfolio companies, and supporting new companies with promising technologies. Since initial public offerings are currently off the table, many VCs will shift their focus to the latter, he says.

"Because they require less money, investing in earlier-stage companies is a reasonable strategy," Kauffman says. "By the time those companies have reached critical mass, perhaps the IPO market will be open again, or there will be additional capital available."

A Plan for Capital-Efficiency
Clean tech is famously capital intensive, but now is not the time to pitch a "bleeding cash model" to investors, says Jeff Wolfe, CEO of groSolar, which ranks at No. 757 on the Inc. 5000. As VCs ramp up due diligence, they could become leery of project-based financing, which often requires exorbitant amounts of capital. Instead, they may turn their attention to more capital-efficient companies.

Wolfe's firm, a Vermont-based distributor and installer of solar energy systems, has secured both Series A and B financing over the past two years. Sales doubled to $60 million in 2008, he says, and the company is attracting "significant interest" from venues for capital. "You've got to prove why and where you're spending the money," Wolfe says. "VCs will still invest in companies that can do that."

The market for clean-tech investment indiscriminately favored all firms in the space -- until now, says Larry Letteney, COO of Second Wind, No. 4,369 on the Inc. 5000. The Massachusetts-based company, whose leading investor is Good Energies, develops software for wind farms and recently introduced a new product called Triton. Letteney expects the product -- which uses sonic detection to calculate wind speed, direction, and turbulence -- to catapult revenue this year. Currently courting investors for its third round of financing, Second Wind boasts the kind of proprietary technology VCs love.

"There is not necessarily a high volume of innovative, technological companies with the capacity to grow and generate outside margins in renewable," Letteney says. "The environment that we face for the next several quarters really only fazes companies that can't display a level of low risk and high return, which would calm the fears of any investor."

Going forward, many in the industry contend that clean tech will steal investors away from other troubled sectors. "We're aware of a ton of cash peripherally, and it has to go somewhere," says Michael Brown, chairman of Greenline Industries, a California-based seller of biodiesel processors and No. 7 on the Inc. 500. To accelerate its overseas expansion, his firm closed a $20 million Series A financing deal early last year.

Brown, who hopes to bring biodiesel production to Africa, says support from the incoming Obama administration will ultimately be the biggest boon for clean-tech investment. “The smart money, out of Wall Street and out of the stock market, is just sitting there, and it doesn't want to be sitting there," he says. "I think that money is very sensitive to the election of Obama and knows that this is the sector to be in."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


2 big projects will amp up solar power in Southland

Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, at podium, announces that Southern California Edison(SCE) will build the nation's largest solar energy installation during a news conference on the roof of a ProLogis building in Fontana, Calif.
Edison plans a massive installation of photovoltaic cells on rooftops, and FPL Energy proposes a 250-megawatt plant.
By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 27, 2008
Solar energy is getting a big boost in Southern California with the unveiling of two projects that will be capable of generating a total of 500 megawatts of electricity, enough to serve more than 300,000 homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Southern California Edison plan to announce today the country's largest rooftop solar installation project ever proposed by a utility company. And on Wednesday, FPL Energy, the largest operator of solar power in the U.S., said it planned to build and operate a 250-megawatt solar plant in the Mojave Desert.

The projects would help California meet its goal of obtaining 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In 2006, about 13% of the retail electricity delivered by Edison and the state's other two big investor-owned utilities came from renewable sources such as sun and wind, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Energy experts were struck by the size of the two projects, which would bolster the state's current total of about 965 megawatts of solar power flowing to the electricity grid.

"Five hundred megawatts -- that's substantial," said spokesman George Douglas of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "Projects of that size begin to show that solar energy can produce electricity on a utility scale, on the kind of scale that we're going to need."

The Edison rooftop project will place photovoltaic cells on 65 million square feet of commercial building roofs in Southern California. The cells will generate as much as 250 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 162,500 average homes, based on the utility's estimate that one megawatt would serve about 650 average homes.

"These are the kinds of big ideas we need to meet California's long-term energy and climate change goals," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "If commercial buildings statewide partnered with utilities to put this solar technology on their rooftops, it would set off a huge wave of renewable-energy growth."

The project, subject to approval by state utility regulators, will cost an estimated $875 million and take five years to complete, Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said. The utility, a subsidiary of Edison International, plans to begin installation work immediately on commercial roofs in San Bernardino and Riverside counties and spread to other locations in Southern California at a rate of one megawatt a week.

The first of the solar rooftops, which will use advanced photovoltaic generating technology, is expected to be in service by August.

"This is a breakthrough. This is hugely accelerating to a scale that is the largest in the country -- a kind of virtual solar generation facility," John E. Bryson, chairman and chief executive of Edison International, said in an interview. "It's a big deal for the state of California; it's a big deal for the renewable-energy sector."

Rosemead-based Southern California Edison provides power to 13 million people in a 50,000-square-mile area of Central and Southern California.

FPL Energy's proposed 250-megawatt plant, dubbed the Beacon Solar Energy Project, will be situated on about 2,000 acres in eastern Kern County.

More than half a million parabolic mirrors will be assembled in rows to receive and concentrate the sun's rays to produce steam for a turbine generator -- a process known as solar thermal power. The generator will produce electricity for delivery to a nearby electric grid. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2009 and will take about two years to complete, the Juno Beach, Fla.-based company said.

"At a time of rising and volatile fossil-fuel costs and increasing concerns about greenhouse gases, solar electricity can have a meaningful impact," FPL Energy President Mitch Davidson said in a statement. "We believe that solar power has similar long-term potential as wind energy, and we are well positioned to play a leading role in the growth of this renewable technology."

Longer term, the company aims to add at least 600 megawatts of new solar by 2015. FPL Energy currently has facilities with a capacity to produce 310 megawatts of solar power.

Friday, March 21, 2008

AN ELECTRONICS RECYCLING company has decided that too many cooks don't always make a bad recipe. Phoenix-based Nxtcycle has announced results for its Shared Responsibility Program, which began in August 2002 and spread the burden of electronic waste (e-waste) recycling among manufacturers, retailers, municipalities, and waste processing and management facilities.

With Panasonic, Sharp and Sony underwriting the costs of recycling their own products collected, Nxtcycle has rounded-up approximately 39,000 electronic products from 16 special event collections in seven states and 19 permanent drop-off sites in three states from August to December 2002. Approximately 4,300 cathode ray tubes (CRTs) collected came from sponsoring manufacturers, Nxtcycle says.

Some municipalities have held single-day events, and others sponsored ongoing e-waste collection. The highest concentration of successful collection records was in Southern California, where approximately 25,000 products were collected.

To the north, the city of San Jose, Calif., presents residents opportunities to recycle electronic waste through two ongoing programs. One is the bulky goods program in which residents pay $21.25 to have three items picked up on a specially arranged curbside pickup. The other option is a neighborhood cleanup program that leads trucks through city neighborhoods every weekend allowing residents to bring out debris boxes containing anything they choose. Although this program does not specifically target e-waste, residents are permitted to put monitors and other items containing CRTs in the boxes. Once collected, the CRTs go to the Nxtcycle processing facility in Utah. Last year, San Jose recycled 175 tons of CRTs.

According to Cynthia Dunn of the city of San Jose Environmental Services Department, Integrated Waste Management Division, a clarification letter from the state Department of Toxic Substance Control that arrived in spring 2001 pushed the city to think critically about how to keep CRTs out of the waste stream. “We're working on longer-term solutions,” Dunn says. “But right now it's going to be difficult to keep [e-waste recycling] as a priority because the city of San Jose has not taken an official position on e-waste. But we have a team that's researching and making recommendations.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sorting out eWaste

For the uninitiated, the slew of issues, as well as state and international regulations governing electronics recycling can be as complicated as computer engineering itself. To help get stakeholders and policymakers on the same page, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Technology Administration has released an expansive report on e-waste that, among other things, reiterates the need for a national solution without advocating one financing system over another.

“What this does is aggregate all of these points of view on what is obviously a complex, complicated subject,” says Kristina Taylor, manager of Environmental and State Policy Communications for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), based in Arlington, Va. The nearly 300-page report, “Recycling Technology Products: An Overview of E-waste Policy Issues,” covers a gamut of issues and begins by offering commentary from manufacturers, retailers, recyclers and consumers on the criteria for creating a national recycling system. “I think in some cases, we might find out that we as stakeholders actually agree on more than we think we do,” Taylor adds. The points most frequently agreed upon by participants in a Technology Administration public roundtable include the need for consumer education, design improvements, flexibility in collection methods and auditing of dismantlers and recyclers.
The report also examines various recycling system models and outlines the European Union's Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directives, as well as e-waste policies of nearly a dozen countries. International action is likely to significantly affect policy at home, according to Taylor and Eric Harris, director of international and government affairs for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington. Taylor points out that California's SB20, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, references the RoHS Directive, and Taylor says that the WEEE Directive is making the products found on American retail shelves greener.

Among other organizations, both CEA and ISRI have expressed support for the report. “Generally we are encouraged by the report because it does show some time and energy invested by the Department of Commerce,” Harris says. “They are beginning to realize that this is more of a commodity-like material than waste, so it makes sense for them to weigh in from a policy perspective because this is something that could have a positive impact on the economy.”
While ISRI generally praised the report, the institute is advocating the term e-scrap rather than e-waste, which it believes mischaracterizes the material's potential value. CEA also would prefer more accurate terminology. Harris argues that the material needs to be viewed less as waste, in part, to prevent overregulation of electronics recycling.

Along those lines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to streamline the electronics recovery and recycling process by excluding cathode ray tubes (CRTs) — found in television and computer monitors — from the federal hazardous waste management standards in certain cases. Now, used CRTs headed for recycling are not considered hazardous waste as long as they are unbroken and not stored for more than one year. In explaining the change, EPA pointed out that because of the lead contained in CRTs, parties sometimes were unsure of how to deal with the material, thereby preventing recycling and reuse. For additional details on the lengthy rule, visit

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