Alphabet Energy's Waste-Heat Recovery Tech Is Out Of The Lab, Pilot Projects Underway

A company that makes systems to turn waste-heat into electricity, Alphabet Energy has officially moved its technology out of the lab and into pilot production, the company announced today.

The company recently hired manufacturing technology veteran, Sylvain Muckenhirn, as their vice president of manufacturing. He will lead Alphabet Energy’s effort to begin fabless, volume manufacturing of its technology in time to deliver it to early customers in 2012 and 2013. The company also moved into San Francisco offices, and out of their early stage UC Berkeley space.

Founder and chief executive, Matt Scullin, confirmed that Alphabet Energy plans to sell its patented waste-heat recovery technology to businesses that generate lots of heat, but want to recapture it to create energy that they can use, in the following fields: automotive, military, heavy industry and power generation.

The startup has a number of pilot projects underway, but Scullin won’t say how many, where or with which forward-thinking clean tech customers, yet. The CEO also wouldn’t say whether Alphabet Energy’s systems are bigger than a breadbox or smaller than a Prius. He did say they are not micro-scale, meaning they won’t likely be used to turn heat from consumer electronics into a source of power for those electronics.

Scullin did tell TechCrunch a little bit about the cost of electricity he thinks Alphabet Energy can deliver through its systems:

“Once you install a thermal electric system like ours, which has no moving parts and doesn’t require fuel [editor’s note: like a Bloom Box might] you have almost no costs beyond the installation. We think we can offer levelized cost of electricity on the order of 3 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s cheap! It can get our customers return on investments within months instead of years, like solar and other installations.”

Nine months ago, Alphabet Energy secured a $1 million seed investment from Claremont Creek Ventures and the CalCEF Angel Fund. In the last two years it also attained $320,000 in Small Business Innovation Research grants and contracts from the U.S. Army, Air Force, and the Department of Energy.

A director at Claremont Creek Ventures, Paul Straub, said of Alphabet Energy:

“They’re going after a huge problem. As VCs, we look at investments that can be [in] billion dollar markets. What they’re trying to do, when you look at the global applications of it, could amount to a hundred billion dollar market.

One great thing about Alphabet Energy’s technology is that it uses very widely available material, and well understood manufacturing processes. Their underling discovery recognized thermoelectric properties in something familiar.

I’ve also never seen a company in our portfolio or in any portfolio developing physical product while being so capital efficient. They have a majority of their seed round left, nine months later, and have hit all the milestones they said they would.”

Straub said CCV focuses on clean tech opportunities and startups that can make extraordinary progress with a small amount of seed funding, rather than requiring massive infrastructural change or huge subsidies in order to become profitable.

Alphabet Energy’s Scullin noted that U.S. federal support of waste-heat recovery is not nearly as strong as it is for other clean technologies, which have tax credits.

The Heat Is Power tax credit proposal — sponsored by representatives Paul Tonko, Jay Inslee, Shelly Berkley and Ron Paul — could change that if passed. According to Tonko’s website, the suggested legislation would establish:

“An investment tax credit for new innovative technology that produces clean, zero-emission electricity from waste heat generated by industrial processes… [that] would help stimulate growth in the waste heat to electricity market and create new jobs.”