In the course of maintaining this blog about EEStor, I've had the opportunity to talk with several experts in various fields regarding the many layers of the EEStor story. Many are apprehensive to talk at first but eventually they succomb to my charm and give me very useful information concerning patents, materials, manufacturing, start-up funding, military applications, lobbying US Senators, etc. Of all of the information I've gathered, the only real potential stumbling block is the underlying material science upon which EEStor's discovery is based. The problem--as many skeptics will point out-- is that essentially what EEStor is reporting as possible has never been reported elsewhere. Some go to the next level and say not only is not possible but it's not even being looked at. I know that this latter view is absolutely false. The inner core of the EEStory drama may one day be precisely about the many efforts underway to catch EEStor Inc. After all, the prize is so large it's unfathable.
With this latest press release, it afforded me the opportunity to touch base again with many experts in the field of material science. The material scientists are the key SME's whose opinion matters most when it comes to EEStor. Certainly there are manufacturing/mass production considerations but the properties of the materials are the most important (for many). This is probably a key reason why Zenn Motor Company has not yet provided a follow up announcement concerning it's findings. To perform their fiduciary duties, they have to subject the current results to credible 3rd party experts in such a way that validates not only the single announcement but also the relevance of the milestone on the path to commercialization. It's true, they could make a simple announcement which is short on information but they have to make plain that they understand the proof burden they are carrying as a credible player in this market. More to the point, as a public company they have to continually assess and report the true state of affairs when it comes to risks to their business. With each new piece of information that comes from EEStor, Zenn must make additional disclosures as to progress.
With regard to my own efforts to uncover 3rd party opinions, I've assembled the following. First, in the course of this round of contacts, I learned of another individual who was paid by a company to evaluate EEStor's claims 4 years ago. He is an accomplished scientist in the capacitor arena. I asked him if he advised his clients that EEStor's project was impossible. He said, no, that he simply laid out for them the multi-faceted obstacles EEStor would have to overcome to succeed, "so they could draw their own conclusion." He is a bit upset that the US patent office allowed EEStor's current patents through but didnt want to say more. And to this day, he does not think EEStor will succeed. The latest information released did not change his opinion.
Secondly, I spoke to another even more prominent scientist in the related field--someone who has plenty of experience with barium titanate. He asked that his thoughts not be attributed to him and as always I'll respect that. His initial comment on the permittivity announcement: it's still not enough information to make a solid case about what is going on. I pointed out to him that some have said that this class of materials has never been shown to have a stable temperature coefficient and that this is a good indicator for voltage coefficient. I asked if that were true. It was interesting because there was a long pause and then this, "I'd have to think about that" followed by another long pause. He went on to say it was still sketchy information and it is "not the obvious measurement one would want to make to demonstrate the claims unless they are hiding something. "
Thirdly, I spoke again with Michael Lanagan at Penn State University. His position is also unchanged in saying he is still looking for more data. I mentioned to him the temperature coefficient and he said, "if you find out what the loss values were for the test, let me know." He explained that by having the loss values, you could make a guess about the polarization mechanism, ie, to see how energy is being stored in the material. In a follow up, I asked Dr. Golla about this and he said it was not gathered by him if in fact it was measured.
Fourthly, I corresponded with Profesor of Chemistry, Joe Perry from Georgia Tech, who has made his own breakthroughs in barium titanate in the last few years and is now Director on the DARPA MORPH program. Here is what he wrote:
"I did see the EEStor announcement. The permittivity is a large number and if the value is flat across a wide temp range that would be promising. But detail is lacking to allow for conclusions to be drawn. 1 V is a low voltage and we don't know whether the hockey puck is a stack of layers or a monolith. It will be interesting to see what happens as they increase the measurement voltage and actually measure stored energy. Temperature insensitivity could be a result of being far from a phase transition or that there are a distribution of domains with different transition temperatures. I am not certain about the correlation between temp and voltage insensitivity. Bottom line is the jury is still out, there is a lot yet to be shown."
I pointed out to him that the tests were done on pressed layers and mentioned Lanagan's point on loss. And he wrote back:
"The loss would provide insight into the mechanism. From my point of view, I would like to see the polarization vs field response for a layer or a multilayer stack, a determination of the energy density, and the statistics of electric breakdown probability. Presumably, these are future milestones for EEStor."
Lastly, I had a very good conversation with who is considered by many to be one of the world's top experts working with barium titanate, Dr. Eric Cross from Penn State University.
Dr. Eric Cross Interview
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Dr. Cross is an internationally recognized authority in the field of ferroelectricity and dielectric materials. He came to the Pennsylvania State University in 1961 and became a founder of the Materials Research Laboratory. His interests lie in fundamental studies of ferroelectric oxide systems to understand the complex interplay between dielectric and elastic properties through the very strong electrostrictive coupling; modification of properties of oxygen octahedral structure ferroelectrics of complex compositions through cation ordering and aliovalent cation substitution, leading to relaxor ferroelectric behavior; practical application of the additional softening of properties in relaxors to achieve solid solution with exciting morphotropic phase boundaries and fantastic piezoelectric sensor/actuator capability; extended studies of flexoelectric behavior identifying soft mode compositions with orders of magnitude improved properties, leading to the possibility to exploit texture symmetry to achieve new lead-free, high activity piezoelectric composites; and exploration of new techniques to fabricate fine scale texture symmetries that can be assembled to provide bulk composite materials in which direct and converse piezoelectric effects can be independently controlled. I began my interview with Dr. Cross by alerting him to the new EEStor press release. I read it to him and then began asking him questions. I started by asking about permittivity and Dr. Cross repeated a few well understood concepts and that’s where the interview picks up. [Please note: this interview was conducted before EEStor updated the release to include temperature information.]
B: Do you think such a material is possible to create?
EC: Now you're asking a loaded question. [light laughter]
B: Well, I’m actually trying to unload the statements EEStor has put out there.
EC: Sure. Everybody is worried by them I think because the explanations they are, shall I say, iffy in the extreme. But this is not to say that what they have achieved is lying. With ceramic materials, one has to be a little careful because they are complex systems. There is interest in this area.
B: Interest in the area enough to what...to pursue barium titanate as energy storage device material?
EC: Not BT per se but systems which use BT as one part of the system. And I won't go any further than that.
B: But the application is for energy storage?
EC: Yes, that's right. The potential application is for energy storage.
B: With densities of lead acid, lithium ion or what?
EC: I can't really talk further on it because I am under boundary conditions. I think they [EEStor] have activated an interest in this. I wish they would not try to make naive explanations for what is a complex phenomenon. The explanations they give are outrageous.
B: You are saying EEStor has activated an area of interest.
EC: That's right.
B Dr. Ducharme from University of Nebraska-Lincoln told me recently that many researchers are looking for high permittivity/high field materials. They are mixing materials like barium titanate with polymers.
EC: Polymers have remarkably high breakdown strength and unfortunately poor permittivity’s. This is where one of my colleagues, Prof Shujun Zhang, has done a remarkable job of making polymers by making them into relaxors. Again, at the expense of the polymer becoming a non-linear dielectric.
B: So your view is EEStor is possibly on to something but the information they have released is not a good body of evidence from which to draw any conclusions.
EC: I would go along with that yes. I think they have something interesting and they may not know that they have a tiger by the tail.
B: Meaning that the complexity may lie ahead for what they are working on?
EC: I think that's true. One needs to understand in detail what one is doing. This is an area of extreme interest at the moment. I can't say more about it.
B: It's of extreme interest just because of the applications, right? Not because there's some sort of breakthrough? I do not understand.
EC: I think these people are scientists and I think they have made an interesting discovery but their explanations of what they have discovered are not reasonable...which is not to say that what they have discovered is not itself reasonable. That I won’t say any more about it.
B: OK, Thanks you so much for your time.
EC: You're welcome. It is an interesting area.
B: Yes, maybe I could check back in with you as further developments arise?
When EEStor released the temperature data along with the permittivity, I called Dr. Cross back. His response to the temperature vs permittivity data: "I'm very surprised." It occurred to me to ask him if he could say anything about who may be conducting research in this area, ie, of an EEStor approach to energy storage....was it venture capitalists, academic researchers, governments, who? His response: "All of the above."
All in all, an interesting survey leading to a few interesting conclusions of course. Question for the avid EEStory reader: which organization do you think Kleiner Perkins turned to, to evaluate EEStor from a material science point of view? :-)
To discuss this article: