Intelligent Energy, which uses proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology, went public last month and raised $94.1 million in London. The successful outing offered two positive outcomes for the UK cleantech scene: firstly, that a UK company has become the most highly valued publicly held fuel cell company in the world, and secondly that it demonstrated the strength of London corporate finance by having the IPO on the London Stock Exchange.
Intelligent Energy was valued at $811 million, in what was London’s biggest pure technology floatation in five years, fueling hopes that the market for cleantech listings is gathering fresh momentum. The Midlands-based firm was especially proud to be listing in London, having been had its origins at Loughborough University. The company has emerged as one of the leading global players in the development of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell technology and boasts a portfolio of products, including fuel cells for use in cars and bikes, as well as stationary generators and back-up power supply units. The firm has raised more than $150 million from investors including the Meditor European Master Fund.
However, though officially Intelligent Energy is the world’s most valuable fuel cell firm, there is an argument that the US-based Bloom Energy is a more blue chip enterprise. Bloom Energy has raised more than $1 billion in venture capital over the course of a decade from investors including GSV Capital, Apex Venture Partners, DAG Ventures and Goldman Sachs. The company builds fuel cells of the solid-oxide variety, with natural gas as the fuel, and boasts a strong line of customers, including Adobe, FedEx, Staples, Google, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart.
Nonetheless, Intelligent Energy is set to be the spearhead of the UK’s cleantech drive. The IPO comes as welcome news to a UK market that has been a global standout in FinTech, e-commerce and gaming, but relatively weak in terms of cleantech initiatives and support compared to other European markets such as Finland. London corporate finance still needs some convincing that returns can justify initial investments in the cleantech segment. For fuel cells specifically, there are some challenges. They can be distributed, and natural gas is currently cheap, there is the downside of volatile gas prices and the at times less-than-green processes used to extract natural gas. Even after incentives, the fuel cell can be expensive compared to the traditional grid or a diesel gen-set.
It is difficult to say whether the strong IPO was a sign that investors are beginning to believe in cleantech or if it is just part of the current boom in demand for tech stock. After all, Intelligent Energy’s revenue fell to $35.6 million in 2013 with losses of $36 million, so the company (like many in cleantech) still needs to prove its profit-making capacity.
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