Covanta Tackles the Biofuel Front-End

Jim Lane Making good, affordable syngas from municipal solid waste to unlock 9 billion gallons of low-cost fuel? Covanta’s (CVA) hot new gasification technology makes a big dent in the big challenge. Just after mealtimes, in the hours after mail delivery, and occasionally when the world’s youth resolve certain unhygienic conditions prevalent in the science experiments known as teenage rooms, we as a species make that materials-or-waste decision known as tossing the garbage. The MSW opportunity Here in the US, “Americans generate about 4.3 pounds of municipal solid waste per person per day, or 260 million tons...

Ceres, Inc.: Taming, Mapping, and Enhancing Genomes for Bioenergy

Jim Lane Newly-public Ceres (CERE) makes major breakthrough on miscanthus; is the gigantic energy grass ready for prime-time? Why is miscanthus driving so much attention, yet deserving more? In California, followers of NASDAQ prices noted yesterday that shares in the newly-public Ceres (CERE) rocketed up 15 percent to close at $17.52. What happened? It was revealed yesterday, in the peer-reviewed, online journal PLoS One that Ceres and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University in Wales have completed the first high-resolution, comprehensive genetic map of miscanthus. The full article is here. In other...

PetroAlgae’s IPO: The 10-Minute Version

Jim Lane Can PetroAlgae find a market for its feed among the aficionados of alfalfa and fishmeal, with fuels on the side? In its recent IPO revision, it says “sure can”. In Florida, PetroAlgae (PALG.PK) has filed a massive revision to its S-1 registration for a proposed initial public offering. The company is currently ranked #55th in the world among the Hottest Companies in Bioenergy. The rankings recognize innovation and achievement in fuels and are based on votes from a panel of invited international selectors, and votes from Digest subscribers. PetroAlgae, which in the year...

Bagasse – the Big Prize

Jim Lane Like MSW? You’ll love bagasse. Lot of the advantages of waste, and there’s a lot more available.  Heaps of bagasse, covered with blue plastic, outside of a sugar mill in Proserpine, Queensland.  Image via Wikipedia. Sugar’s the new oil, DOE Secretary Steven Chu is fond of saying. Codexis agrees, but argues that sugarcane residue (instead of competing for cane syrup) is the path to the real riches. Petroleum – we all know what it is, but what does...

Trash Stocks Trashed: An Income Opportunity?

Tom Konrad CFA Dumpster diving for high yielding gems. An earlier version of this article was written at the end of July and published on my Forbes blog, before the August market implosion. I've updated it here to reflect the new stock prices and some recent company news. Renewable energy has many advantages over fossil energy.  One of the most important is that it's renewable.  As supplies of Oil and other fossil fuels are used up, they become harder and more expensive to extract, while renewable energy is generally getting cheaper over time,...

The Best Peak Oil Investments, Part V: Algae

Tom Konrad CFA There are many proposed solutions to the liquid fuels scarcity caused be stagnating (and eventually falling) oil supplies combined with growing demand in emerging economies.  Some will be good investments, others won't.  Here is where I'm putting my money, and why.  This fifth part takes a look at the growing consensus that our biofuels should come from non-food crops grown on land that is not otherwise productive, and the one crop that shows promise of delivering the high yields needed to satisfy our enormous thirst for fuel is algae. In part I of...

Forestry Stocks and ETFs: The Back Door to Cellulosic Biofuels Investing

Probably the safest way to invest in cellulosic biofuels is by investing in cellulosic feedstocks.  Two Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) make this easy and inexpensive, although three individual stocks give better exposure to just biomass. Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA It's the Biomass, Stupid! Although they have considerable political momentum, cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels are not the best way to use biomass in order to reduce carbon emissions.  Greater carbon reductions can be had at lower cost by cofiring the same biomass in existing coal plants.  If the goal is more ethanol to displace gasoline, wouldn't it make more...

Biochar’s Likely Market Impacts

Biochar is still mostly a research and cottage industry, yet it has the potential to impact returns for a broad range of investors. Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA Biochar, or amending soil with biomass-derived carbon, shows great potential to improve the productivity of soils, as well as to increase the utilization of fertilizers by plants, while sequestering carbon to reduce the drivers of climate change.  On August 10, I went to the 2009 North American Biochar Conference to look at the potential for investors.  Before I went, I took a look at the publicly traded companies...

Biochar Investing

Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA BioChar, or using black carbon directly as a soil amendment holds the promise of both increasing agricultural yields and locking up carbon in the soil for centuries or millennia.  Are there ways for stock market investors to benefit? The technology is simple, but the results are potentially quite profound.  By pyrolyizing (heating in the absence of oxygen) biomass, and mixing the resulting char into the soil, it is possible to produce  Energy, in the form of heat, electricity, and or liquid fuel Carbon sequestration More productive agricultural land. Key to producing both energy...

$3 Billion For Cleantech & Alt Energy

Charles Morand The DOE made public earlier today the amount of money that will awarded to clean power projects in lieu of the usual tax breaks: $3 billion. This will allow project proponents to receive a direct cash grant now instead of a Production Tax Credit or an Investment Tax Credit later on. The guidance document notes the following: "Section 1603 of the Act’s tax title, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act, appropriates funds for payments to persons who place in service specified energy property during 2009 or 2010 or after 2010 if construction began...

Cellulosic Ethanol and Advanced Biofuels Investments

There's much excitement about second generation biofuels made from cellulosic feedstocks and algae, be they cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, biocrude, or electricity from biomass.  There will be winners, but they may not be the technology companies. Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA At the 2009 Advanced Biofuels Workshop, there were two major themes: developing new feedstocks, especially algae, and the development of new pathways to take biomass into products such as biocrude, which can be used in exiting oil refineries.   Big Market, Many Competitors The current federal Renewable Fuel Standard requires the use of 36 million gallons of biofuels, including at...

Investing In Wood Pellets, Part II – A Stock

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the emerging wood pellets industry and how this form of biomass was experiencing rapid growth as a coal substitute in power generation, mostly in Europe as a result of renewable energy and climate regulations. In the time since I wrote that article, I have been looking for ways to invest in the global wood pellets sector. Unfortunately, my search came up mostly empty (except for 1 stock discussed below). In response to my previous post, a reader pointed me to an article Joe Romm at Climate Progress had recently written...

Investing In Wood Pellets, Part I

Last week, I mentioned that I had attended a conference focused on opportunities in the biomass and bioenergy sectors. One of the article ideas I got from this conference was on the emerging market for wood pellets (tightly packed sawdust and other wood shavings) for heat and electricity. How interesting that, over the weekend, the magazine Science published an article suggesting that the US should ramp up its use of wood for small-scale heat and electricity production (the article is not available free of charge but you can find a summary here). The Wood (Pellet) Advantage It...

Focus On Clean Power Income Trusts

Last week, Tom brought you a piece on the Algonquin Power Income Fund (AGQNF.PK), in which he opined that shift in investor attention away from capital gains toward yield might eventually provide a catalyst for the prices of yield-focused securities such as income trusts to rise. So-called utility trusts, or income trusts where the underlying corporation is engaged in utility activities such as power generation, are a common feature of the Canadian income trust sector (the mother of all income trust sectors). A sub-set of utility trusts is the clean power utility trust, where the power generation...

Cellulosic Electricity: Stock Analysts v. Venture Capitalists

Romm v. Kholsa In a persuasive series of articles, entitled "Pragmatists vs. Environmentalists" (Parts I, II, and III) on Gristmill, Vinod Khosla provides the reasoning behind his "dissing" of plug-in hybrids, which drew the ire of Joeseph Romm.  Neither seems to think the argument is settled, and Joeseph Romm returns fire here. As someone who knows as much about investing as Joe Romm and has written as much about Climate Change and Energy Policy as Vinod Khosla, I feel the need to jump into the debate and settle the matter.  (Will either of them will notice?)...

Change Winds Blow for Renewable Energy Income Trusts

Renewable energy is still very much in its infancy, which means that companies in the space are either profitless or high-multiple startups, or divisions of much larger companies (GE Wind (NYSE:GE), or utilities such as FPL Group (NYSE:FPL) and Xcel (NYSE:XEL) which get much of their power from conventional generation.) This presents a dilemma for investors who understand the compelling drivers for the sector, but whose risk tolerance or financial needs indicate an income-based investing strategy. Canadian Income Trusts in Renewable Energy A few Canadian Income Trusts have historically gone some way towards filling this niche....