MORRISVILLE — After a decade of trial and error, a Morrisville start-up has begun shipping power generators to the U.S. Army that will run on any flammable fuel soldiers can scrounge up, including rum and rubbing alcohol.
INI Power’s flex-fuel generator is designed to solve a problem that has bedeviled the military for years: operating electronic equipment in remote areas of the globe where fuel sources are not dependable.
INI Power’s first bulk order to the U.S. Army is for 464 generators over the next 12 months. Company founder Larry Markoski hopes the initial run leads to military contracts for thousands of these specialty power packs.
“This is the seeding of the market,” saidMarkoski after giving a tour of his company Friday to U.S. Rep. David Price.
The IntelliGEN 1000, which comes in models weighing 35 pounds and 45 pounds, can be carried by one soldier to power up electronic equipment such as computers or phones on the battlefield.
The portable generator is a fuel omnivore that will burn any combustible fuel without seizing up in a paralytic death throe. It runs on gasoline, natural gas, ethanol, diesel, jet fuel, propane, paint thinner and, if necessary, mixtures or liquors that are 151-proof or more potent.
Price, for his part, offered to help INI secure federal research grants to continue developing the generator and help the small company through what he called its “Valley of Death” phase. That’s the touch-and-go cycle in which startups have market-ready products but few customers.
“The main payoff here is going to come from government procurement and I think increasingly form non-government agencies,” Price said. “You’re getting to the point where it’s not out of the question that you’d have a pretty good private market.”
At INI’s small office in a Morrisville technology park, the walls, shelves and racks overflow with tan-and-black portable power generators in various stages of assembly.
The 13-employee company has burned through $20 million in private investment and federal grants in the past decade, living off federal grants and contracts exclusively since 2009.
INI finally took in $45,000 in sales in the second quarter this year, Markoski said, and expects $3 million before the year is out. INI is privately held and does not publicly disclose its financials.
But the big payoff still awaits. INI is bidding on a major U.S. Army contract and plans to compete for a U.S. Marine Corps contract. The two together could call for 35,000 generators and accessories like solar blankets.
“That means we go from 13 people to 100 people and triple our space,” Markoski said. “It’s got a 5-year time horizon of a locked-in customer base. And you’re doing $40 million to $50 million in annual revenue, minimum.”
The 464 units are being shipped to Fort Belvoir, Va., and will be tested at bases around the country, Markoski said. They will be tested for a program called Capability Set 13, which integrates alternative energy equipment with spot power and battery recharging capabilities in the battlefield.
An Army spokesman could not be reached for comment.
At $5,000 a unit, the IntelliGEN 1000 costs 10 times as much as a conventional generator available at a hardware store. It includes a battery pack and a solar blanket to harvest sunshine for electricity.
INI Power makes a 1-kilowatt generator and a 2-kilowatt version. The components and sets cost as much as $17,500, depending on configurations and quantity bought, Markoski said.
Ultimately, however, INI Power hopes to extend its market beyond the military. As mass production reduces the cost of production, INI could market its power packs to state and local police departments as well as emergency first responder agencies.
“We’re going to go from the federal to state to the local levels, as the volume grows and the costs come down.”