Alphabet Energy: From the Lab to the Factory


Startup Alphabet Energy, which is developing materials and devices that convert waste heat into usable electricity, is one of those companies that sounds really cool, but you don’t actually know what they’re specifically making. Well, the company told me this week that by 2012 they will deliver products to customers, and throughout 2011 will be moving from the lab into the factory. However, I still don’t know the actual products that will be manufactured.

Alphabet Energy CEO Matt Scullin explained to me in an interview that the company is staying quiet on specifics for competitive reasons, but explained the potential markets to me as industries that have exhaust that is above 250 degrees C, which includes manufacturing, vehicle engines, and power generation. The high-level explanation is that the company’s materials or devices (they are developing products for both) will be used in various processes, like metal refining, and cement and glass production, as well as in engines, like diesel engines for aircrafts and ships, to convert waste heat into usable electricity.

Defense applications seem to be a solid fit with that explanation and Alphabet Energy was awarded a $320,000 Small Business Innovation Research contract from the U.S. Army, Air Force, and the Department of Energy.

Throughout 2011, Alphabet Energy will be conducting pilots with customers (unnamed), says Scullin, and has hired new executive Sylvain Muckenhirn to head up process engineering and manufacturing. Scullin maintains that previous cost predictions for its products — 50 times cheaper than competitors and $1 per watt — are still on track.

To be sure, Alphabet Energy is still an early stage company. They have 8 employees, and have raised $1 million in seed funding from venture investors Claremont Creek Ventures and the CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund. So they’re still pre-Series A, and Scullin says later this year the company will probably start looking into raising another round of funding.

Hopefully, Alphabet Energy won’t underestimate the cost and time it takes to start commercially producing products. Startups constantly do this. But Scullin says that the type of manufacturing that they’ll be doing can piggy-back on existing facilities, so perhaps it will be less expensive to scale.

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