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Last month I wrote about how I’d heard that fuel cell maker Bloom Energy had raised yet another round of $150 million in funding, which would bring its funding raised to over $550 million. Back in January, VentureWire, too, reported that Bloom had quietly raised at least $100 million more in equity. On Thursday, Fortune’s Dan Primack confirms that Bloom has raised this $150 million in new VC funds, and adds that the round is at a $2.7 billion pre-money valuation.
Hopefully, Bloom is worth at least that much, given it’s raised about a half a billion dollars. Talk of Bloom’s valuation makes me think about what Kleiner Perkins investor, and Bloom backer, Ray Lane said to me in an interview recently about valuations and greentech. He said given that some of these companies (like electric car maker Fisker Automotive) need so much capital to scale up, early investors either have to maintain a lot of their equity throughout the scale-up, or try to make sure the valuation stays high enough so a small percentage is a big chunk of money in the later rounds. That seems to be the best bet for Kleiner on both Bloom and Fisker.
Needing ever more funds is a major pain point for some of these greentech firms that are scaling their technologies. Now infamous solar maker Solyndra might have had novel solar tech, but (in addition to its other problems) scaling the manufacturing to a point where costs started to come down enough took more capital than the company could access. Solyndra was expecting another round of funding from private investors as recently as August 2011 (in addition to its $1.5 billion in equity and loans), when in late July, an investor decided not to re-up. In turn, the DOE told Solyndra it wouldn’t, once again, restructure the loan, and the company quickly went bankrupt after that.
Bloom as also been banking on bringing its costs down through economies of scale. NEA investor, and Bloom backer, Scott Sandell told me last year that Bloom Energy could drop the cost of the Bloom Box by 60 to 70 percent.
Electric car maker Fisker Automotive has raised about a billion in equity and loans, including a loan from the Department of Energy. Both Fisker and Bloom have been rumored to IPO this year, so could be raising more money from the public markets if they are able to go public.
Bloom Energy, in particular, could struggle because of potential high maintenance costs of fuel cells. Stacks in fuel cells — where the chemical reaction occurs — often last between two to five years and then have to be replaced. There are very few fuel cell companies that are profitable, particularly for this reason.