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Ausra rakes in $60.6 million for solar thermal tech

The solar thermal start-up aims to complete a 5-megawatt plant in central California and invest in research and development.

Solar thermal equipment maker Ausra raised $60.6 million Wednesday from an international group of investors including KERN Partners of Canada, Starfish Ventures of Australia, and Generation Investment Management of London, whose chairman is Al Gore.

They are joined by the high-profile Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which in August raised $24.5 million for Ausra. The solar start-up secured $30 million in February.

Ausra aims to use the latest funds for research and development, as well as to finish a 5-megawatt solar thermal installation near Bakersfield, Calif.

Ausra's pilot solar-thermal power plant in Australia.

(Credit: Ausra)

"This round of technology will enable us to accelerate delivery of our technology to our customers," said Bob Fishman, Ausra CEO and president, in a statement.

Ausra began producing reflectors in June at its new Las Vegas plant.

It's working with utility Pacific Gas & Electric to build a 177-megawatt solar plant near San Luis Obispo, Calif.

A March report from Ausra predicts that solar thermal technology could provide most of the U.S. grid's electricity within half a century.

Solar thermal equipment converts heat to energy. In part due to its relatively low cost, the technology is key to the massive solar power farms bound for the deserts of California and Nevada.

Typically more expensive, photovoltaic solar technology used in solar panels converts light to energy.

Executive Vice President John O'Donnell is leaving Ausra to push for renewable energy policies, including those of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, according to the Cleantech Group.

The Palo Alto, Calif., start-up originated in Australia.