Sunday, October 25, 2009

Former Tesla Executive Says 'FBI Should be Chasing EEStor'

Although I'm sure he was probably joking...somewhat....Daryl Siry, former CMO of Tesla Motors recently answered a tweet I sent him with some not so subtle thoughts about EEStor.

After Siry's recent Wired Article on EEStor in which he highlighted EEStor's theoretical value of $1.5Bil (based on Zenn Motor Company's current market valuation, I sent him the following tweet:

EEStor is worth either $0 or much much more than $1.5Bil. DOE should be chasing them before Tesla or Fisker.

To which Siry responded:

more like the FBI should be chasing them

It's been reported elsewhere that Tesla & EEstor have held talks. So, if you are a skeptic, read a lot into Siry's tweet. If you are a believer, brush it off as an offhanded joke. But either way, it illustrates that nothing is as it seems when it comes to the EEStory.

BTW, I was serious about the obvious point that EEStor's work is much, much more important than Fisker's or Tesla's. The DOp
Es should not be passively sitting idle with regard to EEStor. Rather, they should be actively trying to engage them. After all, how long will Tesla and/or Fisker survive if EEStor/Zenn decide not to sell them EESU's?

Note: I first learned about EEStor from a Wired article 2 years ago.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

EEStor Dream Dinner Guests to Assemble for Electric Car Panel

Imagine you could have dinner with anyone related to EEStor (but outside of EEStor & Zenn) and engage in a riveting discussion about EEStor. Who would you pick and why? How about William Ford Jr., who has held discussions with Ian Clifford of Zenn Motor Company? Or, what about Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan who recently supported Zenn Motor Company's DOE application for a facility to be built in Michigan. Or how about Kleiner Perkins' Ray Lane, whose name is listed as the primary point of contact on SEC documents related to EEStor ownership?

I don't know about you but that would be appetizing conversation for sure. Add to that a representative from the Edison Electrical Institute, which would call to mind the last debacle of electric cars due to an intentionally set battery factory fire, and you'd have the makings of one fascinating discussion.

Well, you won't be having these people over for dinner any time soon, I'm afraid to say. (yes, wake up). But! You can catch these persons of interest Oct 19 & 21 at the 2009 The Business of Plugging In conference at the opening session.

If you attend this event and allow these fine individual to escape without discussing EEStor, you are a fool. Let me help you formulate the first question for Ray Lane:

1) Ray, according to filed lobbyist records of Fabiani & Company, Kleiner Perkins companies Fisker, Fortu and V Vehicle have all had lobbying performed on their behalf. Is there some reason why EEStor is not also represented?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Small World

Cathy Zoi & Al Gore

This is not a well researched article. It has almost no underlying fact checking. It doesn't have a central organizing principle or unifying theory. Just a set of related questions. It's being written only partially as a public service to anyone hoping the Obama administration lives up to it's goal to be the most transparent administration ever. It's written by someone who simply wants the United States to recognize the need we have for better batteries and to prioritize around that fundamental fact.

Point Number 1: The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article highlighting the fact that Fisker Automotive received some funds from the Department of Energy and is backed by Kleiner Perkins with whom Al Gore works. Presumably, what makes this news above and beyond other similar announcements is that Gore is on the Kleiner team. Certainly, there is a story there about potentially deserving firms not receiving funds and sorting out the details of selection criteria, etc. But, honestly, I don't see that one having legs unless someone is going to lay out a substantiated theory about deliberate fraud on the part of DOE. That'll never happen. In the meantime, it's news primarily because Gore is involved. Agreed?

Point Number 2: The article does mention that Kleiner Perkins partners donate significantly to political campaigns. $2Mil recently. That's a good fact to report since it launches a set of related questions. What I can't figure out is why the article didn't address them directly. Here are the related questions:

1) Did Al Gore personally lobby the Dept of Energy on behalf of Fisker? (Not a problem at all provided the DOE selection criteria is easy to understand, explain and apply)

2) Has Al Gore had any contact with Cathy Zoi since she was appointed over the program that awarded funds to Fisker? (after all, she was Gore's first CEO for the Alliance for Climate Change Protection. Anyone home at the Wall Street Journal? )

3) Of the companies who have received DOE funds, what percentage have made campaign donations and to whom? Also, how much has been spent on lobbying by the winners vs the losers? (Everyone has a right to lobby congress and donate to elections. It's a fundamental aspect of participating in the political process. It's an opportunity every individual in this country enjoys. But, the question is, are procedures in place to ensure this participation in our Democracy does not afford less deserving projects with federal financing advantages? Not a pot shot at anyone--just a relevant question any ordinary tax payer may contemplate)

4) What exactly is the criteria DOE is following to provide funds to a foreign firm like Fisker? (We have no doubt that Fisker employs a great group of individuals of the highest character and caliber. They have great ideas, great designs and a rosy future. But, on what basis were they selected? Surely, the DOE staffs competent, fair and insightful staff. Laying out how they conduct their work is to their advantage.)

5) Does the DOE only look to provide funds to firms who seek them? Is anyone at the DOE proactively going out and looking at firms who have not submitted applications to learn whether or not they could be encouraged to gain some advantages with federal funding? (hint hint: EEStor).

6) What sort of lobbying does Kleiner Perkins perform? Does John Doerr's role on President Obama's Economic Advisory Board constitute lobbying?

Point Number 3: Let's dissect this last question a bit because maybe lobbying isn't the proper word. According to the white house press release from Feb 6, 2009, one of the functions of the Advisory Board is to:

"meet regularly and provide advice directly to the President on the programs to jump-start economic growth and facilitate economic stability. "

That is interesting because according to the Department of Energy website, Cathy Zoi's role includes the following:

"Ms. Zoi oversees EERE's $16.8 billion in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. EERE is responsible for education, conservation, regulation, and efficient use of our nation's energy resources, including federal energy management, building codes, appliance standards, vehicle technologies, and the ENERGY STAR® program. EERE works to strengthen the United States' energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality through public-private partnerships.

In her role as Assistant Secretary, Ms. Zoi manages the U.S. Department of Energy's $2.1 billion applied science, research, development, and deployment portfolio, which promotes marketplace integration of renewable and environmentally sound energy technologies."

Do you see the issue here? It seems we have one of those innocent and accidental situations where a group of loosely or tightly connected individuals comes together in a configuration that can only lead honest, hard working people to wonder. This wondering, if conducted unfairly, has no place in the constructive advancement of this country. So, let's put some fairness on the table.

In life, Cathy Zoi is an accomplished winner. She's devoted herself to important topics, ie, energy. Her list of accomplishments is a mile long and Obama was very fortunate to have her join the DOE. Indeed the whole country is fortunate someone of her caliber would mix with the historically unaccomplished federal government. Additionally, these energy issues for which Zoi is on the front line affect me deeply as an individual since I'm a staunch advocate of cleaner fuels and energy independence for this country. I salute Zoi.

Secondly, Al Gore is, to say the least, a politically interesting character in our time. His campaign for climate control is admirable even to those who do not agree with his evidence or conclusions. He's shown passion for his goals and I count myself as one of those who felt An Inconvenient Truth really humanized Gore and made him an endearing figure.

How can you criticize John Doerr? For what? For being a successful businessman whose personal activities rightly bring him in contact with political figures? I mean come on. He's made clear that his passion for climate change is not about money but in keeping a promise to his children and future generations to act now in the event climate change will make the earth uninhabitable for humanity. I'm sure even he would agree that as far as being a spokesperson for cleantech and renewable energy, his conflicts of interest run deep. No issue there.

So, what's my beef with all of this? Why even write any of the above? It's about means versus ends. Luxury sedans such as Fisker's or Tesla's or even GM-Volt's for that matter are secondary technologies whose impact is limited by the lack of a key, enabling technology that makes them viable: batteries! Energy Storage! Nothing Fisker or any automaker can do changes the fundamental importance of energy storage as a catalyst for economic change in our country. The lack of energy storage is what is preventing the adoption of electric vehicles. The lack of energy storage is preventing the adoption of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It's preventing our grid from being efficient, thus, requiring power plants to produce twice as much energy as we actually need (and all the pollution that goes with that). It's the most important issue in all of renewable energy.

When you wake up to that reality and begin asking questions like, "how can we accelerate the delivery of better energy storage? Who can bring it to us the fastest?" and then you then start to wading into the available technologies such as lead acid, lithium ion, lithium from Bolivia, lithium from China, etc, you quickly arrive at a crossroads. The crossroads is this blog that you are now reading and a fundamental question sticks out: What is EEStor Inc.? How does it relate to all of the above? What is being done to advance EEStor?

Honestly, I don't care if Fisker and Tesla or even EEStor competitors A123 Systems or Johnson Controls have received federal funds or even if they gained advantage of available funds via political connections. What gets me is the distinct lack of attention to the more fundamental energy storage problem. And yes, here's where I take everyone to task:

Is Al Gore out there talking about better batteries or mentioning EEStor?

Is John Doerr out there talking about better batteries or mentioning EEStor?

Is Cathy Zoi or Steven Chu out there talking about better batteries or proactively contacting EEStor?

Is anyone anywhere talking about better batteries? President Obama, for example?

Robert J. Stevens at Lockheed Martin seems to know what is going on. Congressman John Carter seems to know what is going on. Senator Carl Levin and the Michigan political establishment would appear to know what is going on. Need I even suggest that Kleiner Perkins doesn't know what is going on? Why can't everyone know what's going on? Most especially, why can't the Department of Energy know what is going on? Is EEStor IT or not? If it is, let's acknowledge it and move on. If it is not, let's acknowledge it and move on. The stakes are too high to keep rearranging deck chairs or dipping one's hands in the various cookie jars.

I'll end this article with two things. One, as I've mentioned before, like Kleiner Perkins, I have an investment in EEStor via owning shares of Zenn Motor Company. Secondly,

UPDATE: Last but not least, it's only fair that I lump EEStor into the mix partially. After all, if I'm criticizing these public figures for not saying/doing more about EEStor, it only makes sense that I include EEStor. Wait a second, I guess I have to criticize everyone then except for me for not talking about EEStor as much as I talk about it. That's really arrogant and pompous of me. I apologize. :-)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

EEStor, The CEO of Lockheed & The Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman

Michigan Senator Carl Levin & Governor Jennifer Granholm with a TARDEC Official

What does Lockheed Martin officially believe about EEStor Inc.? For most people, including those who work for Lockheed Martin, the answer is elusive. At EEStor's request, Lockheed Martin stopped making public comments about the company approximately 18 months ago. While the agreement is confirmed to still be active, not much more information appears to be available. That is, unless you are Senator Carl Levin from Michigan, the chairman of the US Senate's Armed Services Committee, a committee with legislative oversight over the annual Department of Defense budget (currently well north of $500Bil/yr).

According to multiple sources including someone familiar with most Lockheed legislative affairs, Levin looked into EEStor approximately 6 months ago after a meeting with Ian Clifford, CEO of Zenn Motor Company. Levin's apparent intent was to determine whether or not Zenn's wish to locate a facility in Michigan had merit. To find out, he turned to the most logical source of information on the topic: Lockheed Martin.

If you are Lockheed Martin, a company whose 2008 revenues exceeded $42Bil (of which 85% comes from government contracts), queries from VIP's like Senator Levin are handled with the greatest care by those at the highest levels. So, when Levin made an inquiry into the viability and status of battery startup EEStor Inc. approximately 5 months ago, it was addressed to CEO Robert J. Stevens. This made the retrieval and response of appropriate information, at least briefly, a top corporate priority. According to two sources, the delivery of that information took the form of a phone conference between Levin and Stevens. However, a third source within Lockheed does not think that a phone call actually occurred. Officially, Lockheed Martin refused comment on the matter. Carl Levin's office has also declined comment.

So, what did Stevens say about EEStor to Levin on the call? Unknown. However, afterwards, Levin's office took steps to assist with the submission of an unsolicited proposal from ZMC America Inc. to the Department of Energy. Such proposals are typically submitted in cases where the government is perceived to have a potential benefit or interest in something for which there is no existing acquisition program to address the need. Success for Zenn's proposal would bring yet another electric vehicle project to Michigan, the state that has been the most severely affected by the current recession. Whatever information was relayed from Stevens to Levin, it is logical to conclude it was positive since the proposal submitted to the DOE listed Levin as one of it's backers. But just how positive?

That is a question I have been trying to answer for the past year by contacting, somewhat systematically, various entities within the US federal government, particularly in the Department of Defense. I wanted to see if one could learn anything about EEStor's viability based on what has been communicated by Lockheed or EEStor. The results suggest EEStor continues to fly under the radar yet excite those who are fortunate enough to get a briefing.

According to a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, EEStor's technology is "absolutely going to change the world." The source, who works for a government agency associated with national security, indicated that she has been briefed directly by EEStor in the last 12 months.

"I can't tell you exactly what I have been told that tipped it for me. I will just say that I have become a believer," the source said. Pressed for clarification about what she knows versus what she believes about EEStor, she stated that she believes EEStor will realize it's potential to change the world but she could not speak further on the more fundamental topic of confirming it actually works. However, she added, "Think of the impact of this. There's every reason in the world to be a skeptic. In fact, hey, you know, that's fine. Be a skeptic. They will either deliver product or they won't."

She added, "Dick and Tom have been incredibly closed mouth and covert in how they have done this and I think it's because they didn't have their intellectual property protected. But they've been filing patents. There's been a lot of people bullshitting this on the Internet, no doubt about it. They are past the science and exploration and are making a production line."

Finally, the source explained that the information she was sharing was neither proprietary nor classified but she could neither confirm nor deny whether or not EEStor's technology is associated with secret programs. She would not say who else in the government could provide information about EEStor.

My own research over the past year lead me to have conversations with about two dozen persons who work with batteries or capacitors for the USMC, Air Force, Army, Navy and Department of Energy. My conclusion is that EEStor is NOT widely known among this large group of people. Those who did know of them, learned of it from the Internet. In three cases, the government department I wished to speak with referred me to their public affairs offices but all three declined my request for interview.

A very strong case can be made that, at least at this point in time, Lockheed Martin & EEStor are performing almost no marketing regarding their technology. The only instance of a meeting covering EEStor technology that I could locate was between Lockheed Martin and The US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) which is headquartered in Warren, Michigan. No details were shared regarding that meeting but the source seemed to display little emotion so it's probably safe to say TARDEC is waiting just like everyone else.

Also waiting for EEStor information is a sizable number of Lockheed Martin employees who work on projects requiring energy storage. Next week, various vendors (like Maxwell) will join with Lockheed staff from all around the company in Ft. Worth to discuss various types of energy storage. Given the expense & opportunity such an event presents to Lockheed, you may wonder if attendees will be treated to an update on EEStor from Lockheed's Missiles and Fire Control business unit. The answer? No.

Finally, this article wouldn't be complete if it did not also include some tidbits of information that SEVERELY lack credibility and deserve almost no attention. (it's a blog, right?) To my knowledge (and that of a handful of other people researching EEStor like me), there exists a very small group of people within government who will acknowledge EEStor's existence but refuse any further comment. One of those people works for a secret battery testing facility. Another is a senior defense contractor whose work brings him into contact with many of the highest priority weapons programs. A third is a person who believes two generations of the EESU have been delivered to a program he supports (yes, that one seems farthest on the fringe). Nothing of substance could be generated from these random utterances. Lockheed has said if reports of a prototype were true, they wouldn't comment on it. Although at least it would match up with what Lionel Liebman stated over a year ago that Lockheed and EEStor would be working on together in the ensuing year. But, there's not enough evidence to muster a belief in it since it seems to stand in direct contradiction to information Weir shared not too long ago concerning UL testing and work underway with Polarity.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Zenn/EEStor Article in Globe and Mail

I've been following EEStor long enough that I no longer link to just any article that appears with the keyword 'eestor' in it. But, I think Steve Ladurantaye's article on EEStor deserves a link due to the effort he put into it. First, he somehow got Kleiner spokeswoman Brianna Woon to indicate that EEStor is in stealth mode. Kleiner Perkins CB has never made a public statement about EEStor ever (TMK)....until that quote, if you take Woon to be a spokesperson for KPCB. Kleiner Perkins contracts certain aspects of media relations to Burson-Marsteller, Woon's employer. Personally, I love the quote he has captured. I've spoken to Woon in the context of groveling for an interview with a KPCB partner. Time after time, I've been turned down. But of all the Kleiner people I've ever actually spoken to, Woon is by far, leagues above the rest in terms of courtesy and passion for her role. However, I suspect her job may now be at risk given the incredible silence from Kleiner on the topic of EEStor.

Secondly, I love what Ladurantaye has captured in terms of the skeptical quote from the University of Waterloo's Linda Nazar:

“Silence doesn't have to mean they haven't discovered something useful, but it often means things don't work the way they perhaps expected.”

To invoke such a statement, I imagine Ladurantaye must have said something provocative and thick such as, "EEStor has been so quiet. They must have what they claim." :-) Note to Nazar: go spend 8 years working under Arthur Von Hippel at MIT and we'll talk. (She's a chemist with a background in lithium ion research, according to her website).

But, you have to give Ladurantaye HIGH PRAISE for capturing a truly classic EEStor quote from Maxwell's John Miller, (not that John Miller): "I'm perplexed by any sort of suggestion that they are in any way one of our competitors." Miller cites production volume, existing sales and probably 457 other things that Maxwell does now that EEStor does not. But of course, those 457 things don't matter if EEStor has what they say they have. So Miller's perplex-ion is well placed if not mistated.

Yes, Ladurantaye screwed up the discussion of "fierce online debate" by not mentioning by name but he can be forgiven, this one time.

Prior to his article's publication, Ladurantaye exchanged a few emails with me. I can tell by his article's omissions that he didn't understand some of the information I provided him. Not to worry, for now, it's slated for the documentary.