Al Gore Eyeing Big Investment in Clean Energy Prize Winner

5/14/08

It’s been a big week for FloDesign Wind Turbine. On Monday the company placed first in the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Ignite Clean Energy Competition, winning $100,000 in cash and services. On Tuesday, the company netted an additional $200,000 in cash by winning the MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize Competition. Which means that the company, a spinoff of aerospace technology consultancy FloDesign in Wilbraham, MA, earned a total of $300,000 in a little more than 24 hours.

And there are hints of much more money to come. Xconomy has learned from a source with insight into the company that Al Gore, the former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner who is now a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has offered FloDesign venture financing totaling as much as $10 million.

FloDesign CEO Stan Kowalski volunteered in passing earlier in the week that he had talked to Gore, but when we followed up today he would not comment on whether the company is in discussions with Kleiner Perkins. However, Xconomy has confirmation of Gore’s involvement from another source—a person close to a Boston-area venture fund who says that fund had nearly finalized an agreement with FloDesign when Gore suddenly swept in and spirited off with the deal.

Kowalski, for his part, says it’s been an incredible week for the company. “We are still coming down to Earth,” he says. But it took a lot longer than 24 hours for the company to reach its breakthrough moment. “We’ve been working on the wind turbine concept for three years now,” Kowalski says.

FloDesign’s concept is radically different from today’s wind turbines, with their large propeller-like blades. Drawing on technology that the company initially developed for use in aerospace applications such as the engines on the Gulfstream II jet, the design resembles a turbojet fan, with all its blades placed inside a shroud. The design “will outperform existing turbines by a factor of three or more in a much wider range of wind resources,” the company says. (There’s a video explaining the concept here.)

According to Bill Aulet, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management (and an Xconomist) who is one of the key organizers of the MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, a turbine that produces power efficiently even under low-wind conditions is the holy grail of the wind power industry. And since FloDesign’s turbine reportedly works well at slow wind speeds, “that’s a very attractive value proposition,” Aulet says. “Basically it opens up wind to a whole new dimension.”

Gore apparently agrees—but FloDesign now seems to want to avoid the crush of publicity that is likely to come along with the former vice president’s blessing. Last week, when I met Kowalski during the semifinals for the Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize, he hinted at Gore’s strong interest in FloDesign’s technology. But today, when I asked him to confirm Gore’s interest, he was demure. “Oh, I don’t know that he has interest,” Kowalski said. “There are many firms that have an interest in the technology, so we are under scrutiny or due diligence to see if it’s worthwhile to invest in.”

I also asked him specifically about receiving a $10 million term sheet from Gore and Kleiner Perkins.

“How much?” he asked.

I repeated the figure. “Oh, no, no, no. That thing is a long process.” Kowalski said.

Still, Kowalski confirmed that FloDesign is trying to raise somewhere in the range of $8 million in venture financing. The money will go into building a full-scale prototype wind turbine that can be certified by regulators; the enclosed-turbine concept has so far been tested only in small-scale models. Kowalski says the company already has orders for its turbine, though they’re contingent on the company hitting certain milestones in the development process. The first FloDesign turbine to hit the market, he says, will probably generate 500 kilowatts to one megawatt of electricity.

Erik Mellgren is a Swedish journalist who worked for Xconomy Boston in 2008 as part of the Stanford Innovation Journalism Fellowship program. His real job is with Ny Teknik, a leading technology and innovation magazine in Sweden, but he loved seeing the Red Sox at Fenway. Follow @

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  • Tracy

    Great story guys. I was looking for a press release on the MIT site for the Clean Energy contest winner, but couldn’t find it. Then I thought, “I bet Xconomy has a story on it.” And sure enough. Got really excited about the Al Gore scoop, too. Great job! You guys rock.

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  • Les

    It looks great! I’d like to see a mesh screen on the intake side (like a room fan or propeller guard) to keep birds from getting sucked in, which is one of the biggest complaints about wind energy.

  • Jim on the West Side of America

    Cost, expense, infrastructure … I’m ready to have a look at one ( or more ) installed near 46ºxx’xx.xx” N 124ºxx’xx.xx” W on a major sessional flyway. Never seen a bird yet fly into something it could see & is stationary ! Though the ducted fan concept increases efficiencies, it’s no 747 ripping along, down the runway, sucking in all it can.

    “to keep birds from getting sucked in, which is one of the biggest complaints about wind energy” … and one of the largest myth’s … pet, overfed house cats kill more birds than do wind turbines … that’s the info coming out of N. Europe.

  • Mike Bergey

    Due diligence should include the Diffuser Augmented Wind Turbine (DAWT) research work supported by the US-DOE going back to ~ 1977 and serious start-ups like Flow Energy in New Zealand around 1992. The results have always been that the cost of the diffuser structure make DAWT’s more expensive than conventional wind turbines. Also, the claims that DAWT’s can exceed the Betz Limit of 59% efficiency have failed to be bourne out in practice. Small scale DAWT’s have been brought forward by Enflow, TurbodynamX, and a number of others. None have been commercially successful.

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  • Bob Moran

    That design woud be great for a sailboat if they could scale it down.

  • http://www.plusaf.com alan falk

    interesting design…

    for a few years, i’ve been wondering why the wind-catching funnel isn’t on top of the mast and the generating turbines down near the bottom of the mast where they’d be so much more accessible for maintenance, installation and upgrades.

    i assumed the hydraulic losses could be compensated for by good “trumpet” design and vertical or horizontal-shaft turbines near ground level could be protected from debris intake.

    whatever…

  • Richard

    Birds don’t get “sucked” into a wind turbine as it is not under power and pulling the air in like the backside of a house fan. Instead the blades are turned by the force of the wind pushing on them so there is never a vacuum effect that could overpower the flight of a bird. Also the blades are close enough together to seem almost solid. The wind pushes on a solid wall but birds can see the wall and fly around it. The traditional three bladed windmill is mostly open air that birds think is safe because they don’t understand the blades predictable path of travel any more than a creature of the forest understands a cars predictable path of travel on the road.

  • http://www.plusaf.com plusaf

    apparently, http://got2begreen.com/jet-wind-turbine-4-times-more-efficient/ may no longer be a valid link…

    (There’s a video explaining the concept here.) — not!

  • Mike

    Enough with the poor birds. Take a look at the front radiator of your car, or the next truck stop, check out the front radiator of the all the trucks lined up. If you try hard enough you’ll always find negatives to any thoughts of change and inovation. Is anyone hanging up their car keys yet?

  • Randy Harper

    Im trying to get the word out about what i consider a break threw with the VAWT the SRWT will keep you up at night thinking of places to install them No one has done this yet and i am trying to be careful not to just let it out to anyone i have bean told its brilliant but need capital to bring it to the world. Does anyone have any suggestions .

  • http://gearturbine.260mb.com/ Carlos Barrera

    Proposal Technology Submission:

    http://gearturbine.260mb.com/

    YouTube Video: Gearturbine – Retrodynamic

    “Gearturbine”-Dic, 1991 IMPI Patent Mexico #197187-Retrodynamic dextrogiro vs levogiro effect-Non parasitic losses engine system for cooling lubrication combustion-2 Very long distance cautive compression inflow propulsion conduits like a digestive system in perfect equilibrium well balanced star were end like a snake bite his own tale-4 Pairs of dynamic turbos-Direct planetary gear thrust like a YING YANG-2 Inflow propulsion opposite flames like 2 dragoons.

  • claes

    Note that all metal in front of the fan needs anti-ice, inlet, struts and spinner. To take a high speed areo design of 300 m/s and apply to a 3-30 m/s is not straight forward. The cost of every blade that normally need variable pitch to be effictive is high. The silencer looks heay at this GE90 size turbine and the ejector might have a hard time working with this variable area.
    The design has the possibility to be very quiet with a longer bell-mouth anti-iced intake