Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kleiner's EEStor SMEs? Penn State. Hello?

One of the more interesting aspects of following the EEStor story is the belief among numerous reputable individuals that what EEStor has claimed to do is impossible. Skeptics say there are no known materials, in the capacitor realm, that can store between 10 and 20 thousand Joules/cc (EEStor's proposed energy density) due to phenomena known as saturation & breakdown respectively. While most academics are cautious about saying something is impossible, some are confident enough with regard to EEStor to say it will never happen.

What seems to be a unanimous opinion among those skilled in the art of capacitor materials is that the mechanism EEStor is exploiting to gain incredible energy density can not be a simple dipole system because the ion would be stretched outside the unit cell. (gross oversimplification: the toothpick can only be bent so far before it breaks...yielding toothpick.... pieces). But the data and presentation of EEStor's program as found in it's patents seem to suggest a simple dipole system is in use.

The question that arises, however, is how could Kleiner Perkins' Bill Joy, John Doerr & John Denniston (all of whom have been active in the EEStor project) invest A N Y T H I N G in a project like EEStor's? What sort of shoddy due diligence lead Kleiner Perkins to part with at least $3Mil of their clients' money (especially since much of that money comes from endowment funds from competent universities like MIT)? Well, fair reader, let me tell you.

According to numerous sources, Kleiner Perkins hired none other than THE pre-eminent US University in the field of material science, ie, Penn State University to evaluate EEStor's claims. The verdict of the hired guns Dr. Tom Shrout and Dr. Joe Dougherty? N O T I M P O S S I B L E (You hear that John Miller?). ...which you should quickly note is about 18,000 kilometers away from "likely to work." This verdict seems to imply Penn State was not provided with prototypes but rather only data. Sources close to these researchers point out that Shrout & Dougherty, although under strict NDA with Kleiner & EEStor, will comment mostly in the negative concerning EEStor's chance for success.

It was in this atmosphere, a few years ago that Professor Clive Randall gave a presentation (at least twice) on several hyped technologies including EEStor's. The simple thrust of that presentation was that EEStor positions their technology as exploiting a simple dipole system which the physics show cannot produce enough energy density to support their claims. Case closed, right?

It was closed for all of the academics at Penn State until a funny thing happened about 16 months ago. One of the leading material researchers was approached by a mystery VC company who wanted to know all over again if there just might be an EEStor mechanism capable of providing the energy density that's been claimed. "Absolutely impossible" was the written reply "on the basis of a simple calculation." The mystery VC company then sent a representative to discuss with researchers "some additional information." [Note: this information couldn't be found in an academic journal or spoken about at some academic conference].

The result of that meeting lead at least two prominent & senior Penn State researchers to an amazing discovery: it seems "sometimes a leopard can change its spots." But have ALL of the leopards changed their spots? No. This is primarily because even among a seemingly tight nit group like the PSU Materials Research Institute not all information is shared among colleagues. Although some researchers pretend not to know that Shrout and Dougherty were in possession of proprietary EEStor data, others genuinely did not know it due to what appears to be true professional discretion. But this discretion works in the opposite direction as well making what you are reading a possible source of enlightenment for persons who have been working at PSU for years.

A theory that a mechanism exists which can store more than 20,000J/cc is afoot at Penn State. But it cannot be talked about. Actually, it can be talked about but the talkers can't be named although if you read this blog, you would be in a proper position to form a theory.

So, what happens next? In the ordinary course of things, you might one day find an academic journal article spelling out the details of the mechanism in question. But in this one tiny special case, due to the ownership intention of the mystery VC company, you will not learn about it until a patent is published. ...or until you continue reading this blog, which ever comes first. (Muahaha)

I want to state emphatically that the VC company is in no way tied to any traditional capacitor or supercapacitor one further reason to wonder how such an entity could stumble upon SOMETHING that causes Penn State leopard spots to change.

What can be said about this theory under analysis at PSU? First, the researchers have already demonstrated to their own satisfaction that some mechanisms exist which cannot be explained with simple ferroelectric models. Data has been collected in support of the theory. The mechanisms do not seem to be captured by the traditional definitions of capacitors OR batteries but some sort of hybrid in between both. The possible energy density is enormous.

For purposes of continuity, it should be re-echoed here that there are other ties between EEStor and Penn State. First, EEStor's Carl Nelson was a colleague of deceased & long time PSU researcher Bob Newnham, having taught him how to drive a car actually. Secondly, EEStor's patents reference work done by a Dupont researcher named Ian Burn. Burn is currently working under the umbrella of the Center for Dielectric Studies and has told me that he actually spoke to Dick Weir a couple years ago regarding the patents and stories that were emerging. According to Burn, Weir was not amenable to dialogue.

Another interesting tie between EEStor and Penn State comes via a mutual benefactor of sorts, WS Investments, which is the investment fund of law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. The fund is managed by Mario Rosati and according to it includes an investment in May 2008 with Strategic Polymer Sciences. SPS Inc. is a startup company focused on high energy density capacitors among other things and consists of many former and current Penn State researchers. Yes, an EEStor competitor. Where is Rosati's head in all of this? Law School. Check out the course he's teaching this semester at Berkely. (MUhahah)

So, what does it all add up to? What are we left with here? Well, as per usual, for you fair reader, you have a new set of tea leaves...familiar territory, right?

Discuss this and more at

Note: for my next trick, I will attempt to pull a rabbit out of a DoD battery testing hat. Stay tuned.