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Branson Bets on Green Lamps

Sir Richard Branson, the British adventurer and entrepreneur extraordinaire, is making his second major green-technology investment in less than a month.

Branson's venture capital firm Virgin Fuels, along with Gemini Israel Funds, Israel Cleantech Ventures and Israeli investor Altshuler Shaham, is injecting $9 million into Metrolight Inc., a Brentwood, Tenn., maker of smart electronic ballasts for high-intensity discharge lamps.

High-intensity discharge, or HID, lamps are nothing new. In fact, 22% of all lights in the world are estimated to be HID lights. They are mostly used to brighten large spaces, and can be found everywhere from street-lighting to factories to big-box retailers. What Metrolight does is take this existing technology and make it longer-lasting and energy efficient.

"Metrolight's products help customers reduce up to 65% of lighting energy costs, double lamp life, drastically reduce maintenance costs and take full control of their lighting systems," according to a company press release.

Virgin Fuels' investment in Metrolight is another step in Branson's effort to rebrand himself as the patron saint of green investing. In 2006, he invested $400 million in Virgin Fuels. He also pledged to donate all profits from his various transportation businesses to the effort to fight global warming -- an amount that could exceed $3 billion in 10 years.

According to Shai Weiss, managing partner of Virgin Fuels, Metrolight is a good choice for its growing portfolio of diversified green technology investments.

"Our sweet spot is with investments that are ready for growth and expansion and with products that have a short time to market, rather than early-stage technologies," Weiss says. "Metrolight fits this model perfectly."

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