Start-up looks to build business in off-grid energy technology

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 09:02 PM

A Virginia-based start-up behind technology designed to reduce the fuel consumption of electric generators has opened a research and development office in Durham, and is working here to continue to develop the technology.

Earl Energy opened the approximately 4,000-square-foot office in November on Stirrup Creek Drive in Durham. The office employs about 10 people here, said Steven Jones, a company spokesman.

Earl Energy is selling a system called the FlexGen that’s designed to plug into a standard, diesel-fuel-powered generator in off-grid locations to reduce the generator’s fuel consumption, according to an email from Jones. The system uses lithium ion batteries to supply power, with some help from solar panels.

When the batteries run down, the diesel-fuel generator takes over, Jones said. And then when the batteries are recharged, power is again supplied by the FlexGen.

The batteries are sourced from other suppliers.

The company has sold a total of 10 of those systems since 2010, Jones said, to the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy Seals, U.S. Army Rapid Equipping force and the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan.

The company is also working on a product for non-military commercial buyers. Jones said the company would target those products for mining operations or for ships.

Pasi Taimela, director of engineering for Earl Energy, said the company’s long-term development plan is to be an original equipment manufacturer for other companies.

Jones said Earl Energy went from three employees in the past year to about 20. The company has offices in Virginia Beach, Va., small offices in Houston and in San Diego, Calif., as well as the location here.

The company has generated sales revenues, but has not yet broken even.

Taimela said the company has been funded by private investments. According to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the company sold ownership stakes in the company in 2011.

Jones said company officials chose to open an office here because of the availability of engineering and other talent here. Taimela also said the location of the FREEDM Systems Center also played a role.

Headquartered at N.C. State University in Raleigh, the center is a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center devoted to smart-grid technology development.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, smart grid technologies are “computerizing” the electric utility grid by adding two-way digital communication technology to devices that allow for data collection, among other purposes.

Earl Energy opened its local office on Tuesday for a tour of its technology for U.S. Rep. David Price, D-Chapel Hill. Jones said company leaders wanted introduce the office and the technology to Price.