FloDesign, Five Other Local Organizations Win Multimillion-Dollar ARPA-E Awards

The Department of Energy this morning announced that FloDesign Wind Turbine of Wilbraham, MA, and five other Massachusetts startups and laboratories are among the 37 companies and organizations awarded research and development grants under the department’s new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. FloDesign has tentatively been awarded $8,325,400 to advance its research on radical new designs for electricity-generating wind turbines.

The other local winners include 1366 Technologies of Lexington, MA, Agrivida of Medford, MA, FastCAP Systems of Cambridge, MA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Sun Catalytix, also of Cambridge. Massachusetts organizations won $33.3 million in all, or 22 percent of the overall funds awarded, making the Bay State the largest recipient by far of the ARPA-E funds. United Technologies Research Center of East Hartfort, CT, was awarded $2.25 million, bringing the New England total to nearly $36 million.

“I think the fact that Massachusetts organizations received over 22 percent of the money allocated by the DOE is clear testament to how fast the region’s cleantech cluster has grown, and to how much of an economic impact it will provide in the future,” says Nick d’Arbeloff, president of the New England Clean Energy Council, a Cambridge, MA-based non-profit working to boost the region’s cleantech economy. “Companies like FloDesign, 1366, Agrivida and Sun Catalytix represent the future of high technology in the Commonwealth.”

[Update 10/27/09: Massachusetts also has a plausible claim as the home to the top grant winner in the competition, Foro Energy, which will receive just over $9.1 million. As Xconomy reported last night, the Littleton, CO-based startup, which is developing a new drilling technology for tapping geothermal energy deep in the Earth, was originally launched in the Boston area and is funded by Waltham, MA-based North Bridge Venture Partners.]

FloDesign CEO Stanley Kowalski says his company learned about its award this morning in an e-mailed letter from the Energy Department.

“It will accelerate to market what is inherently a risky endeavor,” Kowalski says. “Or at least, it’s been risky in the past because of the many false starts by others. This will allow us to put the proper money into research and development, which is the most capital-intensive phase, and will hopefully help us to get out to market with a reliable turbine.”

FloDesign is building and testing wind turbines with an unusual tube-like design reminiscent of a jet engine. The company says this design allows it to capture more of the energy in wind than a conventional free-bladed wind turbine can. Though the startup has tried to remain stealthy, it has been in the spotlight almost since its beginning—it won a $200,000 grand prize in the MIT Clean Energy Prize competition in May 2008, and later scored an investment from prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

FloDesign shared a copy of its notification letter from the Energy Department, which said the company’s application was “among those of the very highest scientific and technical merit, and is part of an ARPA-E portfolio of high impact projects that have great potential to revolutionize the U.S. energy sector.” A total of $151 million was handed out to the 37 organizations on today’s list, who are all finalists in a competition launched last spring as part of a $400 million boost to Federal energy spending contained in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, colloquially known as the stimulus bill.

The $8.3 million awarded to FloDesign is the third-largest amount awarded today, after Foro Energy’s $9.1 million and an award to Dupont of Wilmington, DE, of $9 million.

The ARPA-E grant will make a big difference to FloDesign, Kowalski says. “It’s a sizeable investment, and I think it’s indicative of where we are and the capabilities of the team we’ve got on board,” he says. “We continue to recruit world class talent and we certainly have a radically different turbine that nobody has ever attempted to commercialize in the past. The support from ARPA-E will allow us to fund that appropriately for the R&D effort that’s approaching.”

1366 Technologies was awarded $4 million in the competition. Agrivida will get $4.6 million, FastCAP Systems will get $5.3 million, MIT will get $6.9 million, and Sun Catalytix will get $4.1 million. The full list of awardees is here; the Department of Energy said it selected the 37 winners from an initial pool of more than 3,600 concepts, from which the department requested 300 full applications. The exact amount of each award will be determined in final negotiations between the department and the winning organizations.

The 37 ARPA-E winners hail from 17 states. The department said that 43 precent are small businesses, 35 percent are educational institutions, and 19 percent are large corporations.

In a statement on the awards, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “After World War II, America was the unrivaled leader in basic and applied sciences. It was this leadership that led to enormous technological advances. ARPA-E is a crucial part of the new effort by the U.S. to spur the next Industrial Revolution in clean energy technologies, creating thousands of new jobs and helping cut carbon pollution.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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