New iron-free direct drive system gains funding

UNITED STATES: Turbine component designer Boulder Wind Power has clinched $8 million in Series A Preferred Stock venture capital financing to help develop its next-generation direct-drive design.Series A Preferred Stock is the first round of financing offered by an early-stage private company.

Finance deal will take the design forward

The Colorado-based private company, which is headed by former National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) engineer Sandy Butterfield, is designing a radically different architecture that could substantially reduce generating costs.

Financing came from venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and from James Maguire, an individual investor focused on early-stage funding of what he sees as breakthrough renewables technologies. NEA, with some $11 million in committed capital, previously provided early-stage funding to Boulder when it was founded in 2009.

The $8 million will be used to complete development, testing and commercialisation of Boulder's technology, says Butterfield, formerly chief engineer of NREL's National Wind Technology Centre, near Boulder, Colorado. The design, which has already been tested in a 750kW medium-speed generator application for the oil and gas industry, will now be tested in a multi-megawatt wind turbine application.

Boulder has the industry's only direct drive that has no need for iron in the core, as it uses "air core" axial flux. Iron cores tend to "cog" or vibrate, says Butterfield, which makes them rougher and noisier. They also lose energy and need more structural support because of magnetic attraction. Boulder's design uses printed circuit boards in the stator, so manufacturing is less expensive and more reliable.

The company claims its technology can reduce the cost of generating energy to 30% below current best-in-class designs. "Achieving cost parity (with fossil fuels) will create a disruptive shift in the sector and position Boulder Wind Power very well to capture a meaningful share of the $50 billion global market for wind turbines," says NEA general partner Harry Weller.

Meanwhile, additional investor interest in Boulder could potentially come with the hiring of Tim Connor as vice-president of business strategy and chief financial officer.

Connor was previously with venture capital firm Sequel Venture Partners.