Bakersfield Firm Re-Energizing San Diego’s Pyron Solar

7/2/09Follow @bvbigelow

Bakersfield businessman Stan Ellis, whose Ellis Energy Investments recently acquired Pyron Solar, says he’s keeping Pyron’s headquarters in San Diego but he plans to outsource much of the manufacturing.

Ellis, who announced the acquisition of Pyron’s assets and intellectual property Tuesday, declined to disclose Pyron’s purchase price in a telephone interview yesterday. But he says Pyron, which raised between $4 million and $5 million in venture capital since 2004, fell victim to the economic downturn. “They were behind in several of their obligations, and they were out of money,” Ellis says.

With fresh capital from Ellis, Pyron plans to move ahead with a demonstration of its concentrating solar power technology in San Diego under an agreement with San Diego Gas & Electric. Pyron also has prototypes in China, Korea, and Spain. Ellis says the San Diego renewable energy startup now has five employees and “we’ll probably gear up to about 12.”

pyron-solar-graphicEllis, whose energy holdings have focused until now on the oil and gas industry in and around Bakersfield, says he was impressed with Pyron’s patented “high-energy” solar concentrating design. The utility-scale solar system consists of three 30-kilowatt arrays floating in water. Each array features specially designed lenses that concentrate sunlight into optical chambers, which house glass designed to diffuse and direct light evenly onto a proprietary, multi-junction photovoltaic cell. The water acts as a “heat sink” that absorbs thermal energy. Ellis estimates Pyron’s conversion rate of solar energy to electricity is currently “17 to 18 percent,” and with modifications will reach 25 percent.

“The technology is so much more efficient than flat-panel solar,” Ellis says. “We have a 50-foot diameter concentrator that generates as much energy as a flat panel that’s as big as a football field.”

Pyron, which was founded in San Diego five years ago by German physicists Johannes “John” and Inge Laing, said last September it had added to its Series A funding round. (Laing retired from Pyron the following month). That round was reportedly $1 million in addition to $2 million in venture funding Pyron has raised since 2007 from NEI, New Energies Invest, a renewable energy fund established in Basel, Switzerland by the Sarasin Bank. According to Ellis, Pyron has raised an additional $1 to $2 million from individual investors.

Ellis Energy Investments’ principal holdings primarily consist of two Bakersfield companies—Sierra Process Systems, which recovers oil from refinery solids and sludge, and Global Mastics, which uses a proprietary process to develop cement-type compounds from petroleum refinery waste solids. Ellis says moving into renewable energy is the future for the oil and gas industry. “We have nowhere else to go,” he says. At the same time, he adds, “It’s that [oil and gas] economy that’s keeping us whole so we can drive off into some of these other areas.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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