DOE grant receipient Foro Energy still in secrecy over its technology

Alexander Richter 11 Jan 2010

DOE grant recipient Foro Energy still in secrecy mode on its technology on improving current drilling techniques for geothermal drilling.

Reported here already, in October, but not discussed again providing a bit more details “Foro Energy Inc., a company the U.S. Department of Energy lists as based in Littleton, received a $9.2 million federal grant for its new geothermal-energy drilling technology.

Foro’s Littleton address, however, appeared to be an empty office in a suburban office park, and little other information about the company, incorporated in Delaware in 2008, is available.

“That’s intentional,” Mark Zediker, Foro’s chief technology officer, said in a telephone interview. “We are a startup, and we are in stealth mode.”

Stealth mode is used by startup companies, with venture-capital money, as a way to gather funds, get personnel in place and protect proprietary technology.

Foro is being backed by North Bridge Venture Partners, in Waltham, Mass., and San Francisco-based CMEA Capital. The company has received about $12 million in venture funding, according to news reports.

But Foro also received the largest single chunk of taxpayer money awarded by the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

When asked if a company should offer more transparency and accountability when accepting public money, Zediker said: “No comment.”

Foro’s application for a grant was one of 3,700 received last spring, according to Shane Kosinski, the research projects agency deputy director for operations.

“These applications were evaluated by teams of reviewers,” Kosinski said. “We funded the best ideas, the ones with the potential of being transformative.”

Foro is developing a new hybrid thermal-mechanical drilling technology that would make developing geothermal energy more cost-effective.

“It could change the way we tap geothermal,” Kosinski said.

The contract between Foro and the projects agency is still under negotiation. “They haven’t received any taxpayer dollars yet,” Kosinski said.

When the contract is signed, likely by the end of the month, more information will be released and the company will be required to provide quarterly reports and have on-site inspections, Kosinski said.

“We just don’t give people a blank check,” Kosinski said. “If they aren’t hitting their milestone, we will cut off funding.”

What is known about Foro, based on news stories and databases, is that its chief executive is Joel Moxley, who had been entrepreneur in residence at North Bridge.

Moxley holds engineering degrees from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a co-founder of SteriCoat Corp., a biotech company.

Zediker was founder and chief executive of Nuvonyx Inc., a St. Louis-area laser-technology company.

In 2007, Nuvonyx was bought by Coherent Inc. for $14 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

In 2008, Foro had the same Cambridge, Mass., address as another startup, GreatPoint Energy.

North Bridge is an early-stage venture-capital firm with $2.5 billion in committed capital, according to the group’s website.

CMEA focuses on life sciences, information technology, energy and materials and has $1.2 billion in investments, according to its website.

CMEA representatives declined to comment, and North Bridge did not return calls for comment.

Foro’s $9.2 million grant is part of $151 million awarded to 37 projects by the Energy Department.

The department’s projects agency is modeled after the Defense Department research arm, DARPA, which has been instrumental in creating technologies such as the Internet.

The mission of the energy agency is to “develop nimble, creative and inventive approaches to transform the global energy landscape.”

Thirteen of the grants, totaling about $45 million, went to universities, including Stanford, Michigan State, Arizona State and Ohio State.

Eight grants, totaling about $38 million, went to large companies, such as DuPont Co. and General Motors Co.

The remaining 16 grants went to small companies, including Littleton-based ITN Energy Systems Inc.

ITN was founded in 1994 and has served as an incubator for four new companies, including Ascent Solar in Thornton and Infinite Power Solutions in Littleton.

Four of the small companies are spinoffs from research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and three are collaborations with federal laboratories or universities.

Five of the companies have been in business between 10 and 20 years.

Foro is one of the newest companies and the one with the least information available.

“I can confirm that we are proud to be a Colorado-based company and were honored to be selected for a DOE ARAP-E grant,” Moxley said in an e-mail reply to a request for comment.

“Other than that, we are in stealth/quiet mode and are not talking about what we are doing,” Moxley said. “We will start talking more later in 2010.”

Source: Denver Post