Funding Fuel Cells: ACAL Energy and Lilliputian Systems

ACAL Energy, a U.K.-based fuel-cell developer, raised $5 million from existing investors. ACAL builds platinum-free or low platinum-content catalysts and PEM fuel cells for applications requiring more than one kilowatt of power. The firm raised $4.8 million in 2008 from CT Investment Partners, Rising Stars Growth Fund, NorthStar Equity Investors, Porton Capital, and Synergis Technologies, along with more funding in May of 2010.

A recent $25 million investment by RUSNANO in Wilmington, Mass.-based fuel cell firm Lilliputian Systems brings the firm's VC investment total to more than $150 million. Previous investors include Intel Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Atlas Venture, Fairhaven Capital, Rockport Capital, Stata Venture Partners, and Altira Group. The firm was spun out of MIT in 2001 with technology that involves a silicon "chip-based" power generator and recyclable fuel cartridges, aiming to replace batteries in smartphones, tablets, and cameras. Lilliputian has a sales channel deal with retailer Brookstone.


Bloom Buzz

There's been a recent uptick in Bloom Energy-related news. Here's the roundup:

Jeff St. John of GTM reports on Bloom's valuation and stock sales in the secondary market.

Dana Hull at SiliconBeat reports that Santa Clara County Valley's Transportation Authority will get $750,000 in federal monies to help finance a 400-kilowatt Bloom Energy fuel cell facility at a total cost of $4 million. Using the numbers supplied, that works out to $10,000 per kilowatt, which sounds about right for a Bloom Box, although a bit high for a competitive power source. Hull reports that the "VTA has yet to enter into a contractual agreement with Bloom, currently slated to be brought before the VTA Board of Directors for approval in November."

Crain's Chicago Business reported that Advanced Equities and its founders had agreed to pay $1.15 million to settle SEC charges regarding two private equity offerings for Bloom Energy in which Bloom's backlog was wildly overstated. GTM has covered the Advanced Equities saga in recent months.

A lawsuit filed by John Nichols and FuelCell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL) in the Delaware courts asserts that an incentive provided by the state for a Bloom Energy fuel cell factory to supply utility Delmarva was unfair and disadvantaged some Delaware citizens, according to DelawareOnline. This week, attorneys for the Delaware governor and the Public Service Commission countered that claim.


Fuel Cell People

MTI (Mechanical Technology Inc (OTC: MKTY)) fired CEO Peng Lim, according to a filing, after Lim's fuel cell aspirations met with limited success. MTI had spent tens of millions in an effort to commercialize a consumer-targeted fuel cell battery. Kevin Lynch, the firm's independent director, will serve as Acting CEO until Mr. Lim's replacement is named. MTI's test and measurement business appears relatively healthy.

MTI's market failure and withdrawal from the consumer portable fuel cell market serves as an object lesson to those (like Lilliputian) seeking to develop viable, commercial fuel cell solutions for this segment.


Fuel Cell Incentives

In a futile move in an election year, U.S. Rep. John Larson and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, are looking to institute tax credits to spur development of fuel cells. Connecticut is home to fuel cell suppliers Fuel Cell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL) and UTC.

"The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Infrastructure for America Act" would create an investment tax credit (ITC) for stationary fuel cells using a combined heat and power (CHP) architecture. Higher efficiency fuel cells would garner higher tax credits.   

The Continuing Saga of South Windsor High School's Fuel Cell

In 2002, South Windsor High School in Connecticut was first powered and heated by a $2.1 million 200-kilowatt fuel cell, built and installed by South Windsor-based UTC Power. A decade later, in the wake of a severe 2011 winter storm, the power for 200 people living and sleeping in the high school while it served as an emergency shelter was provided by that fuel cell.

But now the town is learning that the fuel cell needs to be restacked at a cost of $500,000 every five to seven years and is considering buying a $220,000 generator instead, according to a report in the South Windsor Patch. The fuel cell was never net metered because of permitting issues. Reports indicate that the fuel cell saved the town $40,000 to $65,000 a year.