Solar Stirling startup Infinia looking to raise $25M

Infinia, a solar startup which is using Stirling engines to produce solar power, is looking to raise $25 million in funding, and has closed $6 million of that round according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Utah company’s solar thermal technology uses a parabolic dish of mirrors to concentrate sunlight to heat and expand helium inside a heat exchanger to cause a piston in an engine to run back and forth. That motion then drives an alternator to produce electricity. This type of technology is generally called a Stirling engine.

Stirling engines have long been thought of as a promising technology to build solar farms, but the matchup has yet to become as popular as other types of solar thermal technologies, and at least one company has struggled to get its stirling engines built into a commercial solar project.

California regulators approved two Stirling solar projects using technology from Stirling Energy Systems totaling 1372.5 MW last year, but their developer, Tessera Solar (sister company to Stirling Energy Systems), subsequently sold them to different buyers when it couldn’t line up the financing to build them (Southern California Edison canceled its contract with one of the projects). Since then, one of the new buyers, K Road Power, has planned to use Stirling engines only for a small portion of its project while the second buyer, AES Solar Power, has said it will use solar panels instead. San Diego Gas & Electric told us it canceled the contract to buy power from the AES’s project in spring this year.

Like other solar thermal technology developers, Infinia is marketing its technology as suitable for not just solar electricity generation but also for combined heat-and-power generation. The system harvests the waste heat from electricity generation, and that heat can have a variety of uses, from heating a building to running industrial operations. Solar thermal technology developers such as Abengoa Solar and BrightSource Energy have carried out projects where the steam generated by the sun’s heat is used for cooking, showers and laundry at a federal prison and for extracting oil from wells.

Infinia raised $32 million in debt and options last year, according to another SEC filing, and another $50 million in equity before that. Investors include Equus Total Return, GLG Partners, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gross’s Idealab and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital.

But like Stirling Energy Systems, Infinia has seemed to also hit a few bumps in the road. Infinia began laying off employees at its previous headquarters in Washington state a few months back in order to move to Utah. The company’s CEO, Mike Ward, who came on board earlier this year, told a local newspaper, the Tri-CityHerald, that the move was to “accelerate from our R&D roots into a world-class solar generator company with geographically consolidated operations.”

However, Infinia has several installations and new customers in India. Infinia completed the first commercial installation of its technology earlier this year, reported the Tri-City Herald. The city and Infinia broke ground on a 45Kw project last year, but Infinia declined to say whether the project has been completed as planned.  Infinia also has installed a 9 KW system that was built on the rooftop of Belen’s City Hall in New Mexico.

In addition, Infinia recently sold 10 MW of its engines to solar developers in India. The deal in India involves a $30 million loan from the federal Ex-Im Bank to Dalmia Solar Power. Dalmia plans to develop the project and sell the electricity to NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam, a subsidiary of the National Thermal Power Corp.

Image courtesy of Inifina