Posted: November 02, 2012
Last year’s winners: Where are they now?
Colorado Cleantech Industry Association Special SectionBy David Lewis
Time marches on, and last year we marked it by recognizing a handful of companies, institutions and individuals as contributors of the year in Cleantech.
So one year after last year’s winners won their moment in the sun, we decided to catch up with what a few of them have been doing the past year. What progress have they made? What challenges do they face?
Last year’s Breakout Cleantech Company of the Year, OPX Biotechnologies Inc., has as chief spokesman Charles R. "Chas" Eggert, president and CEO of OPX and chairman of the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association.
Boulder-based OPX Biotechnologies engineers microbes to create bio-chemicals that are cost-competitive with traditional petroleum-based products. Last year the company raised $41.2 million in private equity financing in order to speed commercialization of industrial-scale production of its first renewable chemical, BioAcrylic, with its partner the Dow Chemical Co.
"The good news this year for us is that we have taken a significant step up, a 10-fold increase in the scale of our operation, and that demonstration-scale work proved that our technology performed at that larger scale the same way it performed at the smaller, pilot scale going in," Eggert adds. "So that’s a good proof and a good reduction in the perceived risk of our technology being viable for commercialization.
"That’s the most significant development that we reported during the course of the year. We have a number of other efforts under way.
"We’re not in the financing market this year. We will be next year."
Last year Paul Alan Nelson received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Cleantech Leadership. This year Nelson, with Saoradh Energy, leads projects in distributed power generation and advanced vehicle fueling and charging infrastructure. Nelson is a founding member of the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association. He also sits on the advisory board of the CU Deming Center for Entrepreneurship in Boulder. The University of Colorado at Boulder has awarded Nelson a B.S. in business-finance, a B.A. in chemistry with a minor in biochemistry, and a research M.S. in chemistry.
"I am managing partner at Saoradh Energy, where we focus on energy-related projects and company development efforts. For example, this year we worked with Ward Petroleum to launch Ward Alternative Energy in the compressed natural gas vehicle fueling space," Nelson says. "It has been a good year."
Nelson in addition finished a senior adviser role at the Center for Revolutionary Solar Photoconversion, "where I developed and implemented a new business plan for this solar research center of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory."
Ravenbrick, the smart window company, last time received the award for Emerging Cleantech Company of the year from the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association.
RavenBrick was picked for its development of thermochromic windows that can reduce energy costs in most commercial, residential and industrial buildings up to 40 percent using nanotechnology.
It couldn’t have hurt RavenBrick’s chances that its windows at that time were installed at one of the world’s greenest office buildings, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Research Support Facility on the National Renewable Energy Lab campus in Golden.
RavenBrick has a manufacturing plant in Denver and plans to move to a 40,000-square-foot automated factory in the Stapleton area in November. The company also has offices in Beijing and Vancouver, Canada.
RavenBrick started, according to sales vice president Chris Ketchum, in 2006, when "Wil McCarthy, our CTO, contacted Alex Burney, our CEO, to raise money for an idea he invented to manage solar gain in buildings using thermochromic technology in windows."
Since winning the CCIA recognition last year, "Our biggest news is that we completed our final round of funding that allowed us to build our factory and manufacture product," says Ketchum. "This takes us from a lab to a production company, a huge step forward. We are also developing several new products using our thermochromic technology, among them a smart wall system, RavenSkin," which the company patented this year.
Tendril Inc. CEO Adrian Tuck was recognized last year as Colorado Cleantech Entrepreneur of the Year. He won it for positioning Boulder-based Tendril at the lead in energy management technology, raising more than $50 million for research and development. Tendril technology provides an energy management platform that opens a smart grid-related dialogue between utilities and their customers, enabling the latter to see how much energy their household appliances and devices are using, while enabling the utility to better predict supply and demand.
"Tendril was founded in 2004 to develop a common platform for communications, management and integration of the exploding number of ‘connected’ devices – a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the ‘Internet of things,’" explains Tuck.
"The company saw the most immediate promise for its technology in the utility industry. With the proliferation of the smart grid, and the increasing connectivity of associated energy monitoring and management devices, Tendril’s platform, Tendril Connect, was perfectly positioned to facilitate the dialogue among energy providers, product and service providers and consumers around energy usage."
Tendril has 145 employees and is hiring. Along with its Boulder base, the company has offices in Boston, Melbourne, Australia and San Francisco.
"We offer groundbreaking consumer engagement applications and services to energy providers, product manufacturers and consumer channel partners. These applications help our customers foster deeper relationships with their customers – relationships that help drive dramatic results in energy efficiency and the adoption of energy saving devices and services," Tuck says.
Last year the High Impact Cleantech Company of the Year was Englewood-based Gevo, for its leading role as a renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company developing bio-based alternatives to petroleum-based products.
Gevo was founded in 2005 as a spin-out from Cal Tech. Last year, Gevo closed a successful $123 million initial public offering and launched two commercial-scale projects. Early stage investors included Khosla Ventures, Total, and Lanxess. Today, it employs 122 people in Colorado and Minnesota.
"Gevo is a leading renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company. We produce bio-based alternatives to petroleum-based products using a combination of synthetic biology and chemistry," explains Brett K.E. Lund, Gevo executive vice president and general counsel.
"We produce isobutanol, a versatile platform chemical for the liquid fuels and petrochemicals markets. Isobutanol has broad market applications as a solvent and a gasoline blendstock that can help refiners meet their renewable fuel and clean air obligations. It can also be further processed using well-known chemical processes into jet fuel and feedstocks for the production of synthetic rubber, plastics and polyesters."
This year, Lund says, Gevo’s isobutanol product was tested in boats by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the American Boat and Yacht Council and found superior to E15 gasoline. Gevo has since its award also signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Coca-Cola to develop fully renewable PET beverage bottles; started the world’s first commercial scale renewable isobutanol plant in Luverne, Minn.; signed a collaboration to produce isobutanol in Malaysia; won a preliminary injunction hearing against Butamax, DuPont and BP; raised more than $100 million in a secondary public offering; and signed a collaboration with Beta Renewables for Cellulosic isobutanol.
David Lewis is a freelance writer based in Denver.