Infinia Raises $11.5M To Make New Solar-Power Generators, Entices Paul Allen Again

[Updated: 2/5/2010, 5:45 pm Pacific, with Infinia CEO comments.] Infinia is raising another truckload of money. The Kennewick, WA-based company, backed by Paul Allen and Vinod Khosla, has snapped up $11.5 million in new equity financing out of a round that could bring in as much as $75 million over time, according to a regulatory filing.

The financing occurred on Feb. 1, and it came from 11 investors, according to the filing. Steve Hall, a managing director at Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital in Seattle, confirmed that Vulcan participated in this latest financing round. Infinia CEO J.D. Sitton, reached by phone late this afternoon, said the deal included one other existing investor, GLG Partners, a fund with more than $20 billion in assets under management.

Infinia, as I described in a profile back in August, is developing solar-powered engines to generate large amounts of electricity in a renewable way. The concept uses satellite dishes that capture rays of sunlight and channel them to a focal point that contains a single-piston Stirling engine, which is powered by the heat energy. Infinia had raised $84 million in venture capital at the time of that writing, and by October, it took on another $3.25 million in debt, followed by another $2.6 million a month later in equity and options. The new funding brings its total raised to date to more than $100 million, with another $63.5 million still open in the round.

“This is a big deal for us,” Sitton says. “It represents continuing support from our existing investors, and is a big step toward positioning us for a bigger round with new investors. When it’s done, it should be the last bit of private capital we need to get our product launched.”

J.D. Sitton

J.D. Sitton

The Infinia vision, in the words of Sitton, is exceptionally bold. Back in August, he said Infinia had lined up $2 billion worth of orders for its solar power generation product, which it expected to start rolling out commercially before the end of September 2010. The company was still working on refining the technology when we spoke then, and Sitton acknowledged there was still execution risk in getting all the necessary suppliers in line for this commercial push.

So kind of progress has Infinia made since then? The company is still working on product development, and remains on schedule to start commercializing its system by the end of September, Sitton says. The company has focused on getting all its manufacturing suppliers—who mainly serve the automotive industry now—to go through all the design and validation steps needed to show the product is made consistently and reliably before entering mass production.

Infinia currently has six pilot projects up and running around the world, Sitton says. One is at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, another is in Belen, NM. He wouldn’t say where all the others are. Rather than try to add new orders, Infinia has been concentrating on getting all its suppliers lined up, in places like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Utah, and Illinois. It’s critical to ensure the quality of the product first, and worry about getting more orders later, he says. The initial batch of orders, it should also be noted, only “firm up,” Sitton says, after Infinia has delivered on its promises, in terms of what the product can actually do.

“Far more people want the product than we can satisfy at the moment,” Sitton says. “They are letting me know, energetically every day, that they want the product.”

Infinia itself only has 150 employees, and plans to remain small in the near future, with a team that focuses on design, marketing, and customer service, Sitton says. But once it enters mass production, and the suppliers are fully up and running, it expects them to employ “thousands” of people, many of whom have lost jobs during the contraction of the auto industry, Sitton says. Infinia hasn’t secured any incentives from local politicians who want to do something to create high-wage cleantech jobs, but the company may seek some help at a later time, Sitton says.

“We are a poster child,” for creating cleantech jobs, he says.

Of course, Infinia doesn’t have a monopoly on the idea of turning solar heat into electricity. One of its prime competitors has also made a significant stride since I wrote the original story on Infinia in August. Scottsdale, AZ-based Stirling Energy Systems (SES) joined a project to build a 1.5 megawatt demonstration project  for solar thermal energy in Maricopa County, AZ. Later this year, Infinia hopes to do more to publicize its pilot projects, Sitton says.

Trending on Xconomy