A quiet early stage startup called Silicium Energy recently got the equivalent of golden ticket: a seed investment from greentech investor Vinod Khosla. According to a filing, the company raised just $1.65 million, with backing from Khosla.
So who exactly are Silicium Energy? Well, I’ve heard the tiny company is working on very early stage (University lab stage) research around using silicon-based nanowires to create thermoelectric material, or material that can turn waste heat into electricity. I haven’t confirmed that with the company, so it’s all unverified. If I’m wrong or get more info, I’ll update this post.
I heard the research is out of both University of Michigan and Caltech. University of Michigan Professor Akram Boukai, in the Material Science & Engineering department, is listed on the filing. He has led papers like this one: “Silicon nanowires as efficient thermoelectric materials.”
The promise of thermolectric materials is that they’re semiconductors that can conduct power but can also turn heat into electricity or vice versa. So a device like an inverter or a cooling system could theoretically use thermoelectric material and be far more efficient than a device that uses standard material. Think of applications like more efficient power converters, solar cells and inverters and even health applications.
Startups that are working on this technology include Phononic Devices, Alphabet Energy, Transphorm, and Applied Methodologies. Transphorm has built a power diode, is working on a solar power conversion device, and has raised $63 million from Google Ventures, (s goog) Lux Capital, Foundation Capital and Kleiner Perkins.
The problem with thermoelectric materials is that they have often been created using expensive and rare materials. Thus the devices that have come out of this industry haven’t been able to compete commercially.
But if Silicium Energy is using silicon for its thermoelectric material, then the cost could be a lot lower and more competitive. Alphabet Energy has the same idea to use silicon and has raised $12 million from TPG Biotech, Claremont Creek Ventures and CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund to finalize the development of its first product (research pictured).
Images are from Alphabet Energy, not Silicium Energy.