Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Improbabilities Theme: Natural Born Citizens

Given that President Obama released his long form birth certificate today, it seems like a decent time to kick off a series of articles I've been sitting on related to the improbabilities of life that sometimes come to fruition.   Everyone considers EEStor a long shot and an improbability.  But sometimes improbabilities becomes realities.  These articles will offer no new insight to EEStor per se so don't read them if that's what you are seeking.  
Long Form Birth Certificate Released Today Confirms Obama Born in Hawaii

Although born in Hawaii a legal US citizen, President Barack Obama is not legally authorized (by the Constitution) to hold the office of President of the United States.  We know this by way of an astute introduction from a member of a punk rock band in New Jersey who happens to be a formerly retired attorney, accomplished chess & poker player, fledgling screenwriter and blogger and an almost competitor in a British Open, named Leo Donofrio.  This is his improbable story. 

Note: Leo Donofrio contacted me with corrections to the original article which I have bolded in black below.

In the fall of 2008, Donofrio was becoming interested in the "birther" movement which stems from the conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States. To Donofrio, this was a silly movement centered around a non-issue and obviously very politically motivated. But also on legal grounds, the cases lacked a critical element known as 'standing' which without getting too technical means that a lawsuit can't be brought forward unless an individual can prove they were harmed over and against everyone else.  He was right as many of those cases were dismissed.  But then Donofrio stumbled upon an article in the Michigan Law Review written by Dr. Daniel Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State which outlined a route around the standing problems via state courts & ballot rules.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kleiner Perkins' Bill Joy Ends Silence About EEStor

Six years after leading the Kleiner Perkins effort to invest in EEStor, billionaire venture capitalist Bill Joy has finally commented publicly about the investment at the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge this past Thursday evening.  During an open Q&A session, an attendee asked about progress at EEStor and Joy spent about five minutes talking about energy storage in general and offered a few thoughts about EEStor in particular. His comments end speculation about whether or not Kleiner Perkins still has an interest in EEStor.  They do and Bill Joy is still hopeful they will come through but not ready to cease hedging his bets in the energy storage space.

The fireside chat was hosted by Jason Pontin, editor in chief of Technology Review. Below is rough transcript of the exchange on EEStor. (The audio supplied to me was a little rough in places)

Attendee Question:
Since tomorrow is Earth Day and we're here at MIT, it seems like a unique opportunity to ask you about a portfolio company whose lead researcher got his start here at MIT. I'm talking about Carl Nelson & EEStor. I was wondering if you are happy with the progress to date at EEStor and also if everything pans out there, what is your vision for that company?

Bill Joy: 
Well I think. Ok so EEStor is a company that is trying to do a barium titanate giga...I dont know what you call it. It's not hyper super ultra. It's a capacitive energy storage using barium titanate. And it's difficult to do what they are trying to do. And the product isn't out yet. 

But if you look at energy storage you know for...what have we typically done? We pump water uphill and let it run downhill.  People would propose to maybe make an underground cavern and pressurize it and let the gas out something or you do have flow batteries. You start to go into electrochemistry batteries. Flow batteries or you do lithium ion batteries or sodium ion batteries that we talked about.  But ultimately at the end of the day you say, ah,  you know, it's volti, right the voltaic cell. This is old stuff. Kind of violates my rule of not doing something that could have been done in the 19th century. I like to think the future isn't gonna just be electrochemistry that we could have solid state energy storage something that's based on you know maybe early 20th century stuff. It could be a quantum effect or some something that lets us have something which is almost perfectly efficient and has some kind of Moore's law effect to it and be very very durable, high power and  high energy density. 

So you like to have that. And EEStor is an example of something solid state. I always say in investing I prefer solids to liquids and liquids to gases.  And we prefer... semiconductors is our favorite kind of solid.   So... It's just because we can engineer it. When things sit still, we can engineer their structure more and it's more predictable.  And we get access to semiconductor physics which lets us interact with heat and light and all these. There's all of these magical things we can do that came out of say quantum theory.  We're gonna....liquid phase or chemistry, you've got free energy bounds on everything you do and you know, it can get messy. .............reactions and materials fall apart. Whereas a solid state, it is the basis of electronics and it can last basically forever.  And gases, things move around it's hard to have alot of innovations there.  

Energy storage is the same thing. I'd like to see it go from liquid phase chemistry essentially to solid state physics. That would be very desirable. And then you limit cases of energy storage that should be solid state.

Now it is an open question probably whether that...will that transition occur in this decade or the next decade or two decades from now. I'm mean. It's great to have people trying it but it is hard.  And so, when we had this list of 25 grand challenges...when we went out looking for things, we didn't think we would find them all. And if we find investable things that are bred(predicated?) on one of those grand challenges, we don't necessarily expect it to work.  If the list of 25, 10 of them work, that would be a miracle. Because they are set to be very aspirational. So solid state energy storage would be on the list. And that's an example of an investment that is trying to ...with a improvement on an existing technology essentially because barium titanate is used as a material, common material in capacitors. An improvement on the technology to get there through a very you know controversial way of using that material. So.

You can't always predict....things we can't always predict what materials are going to do. You can't do computational level of algebra. We don't have computer simulations with perfect fidelity for any of these things so we have to go try things. One of our sayings is...we prefer things that work in practice to things that work in theory. It's nice if they work in theory but we can always invent the theory afterwards. 
I prefer not to violate the 2nd law of conservation of energy, the standard model. Some things we don't know...any magnetic monopole (?) ....I'm not really interested you know but so we can't always simulate things and we are willing to lose a couple millions dollars to try and see if some effect is plausible or will work ....that we dont have a close form computer simulation. But it's plausible to people trained in the art that it's not.....they can't explain to me on a napkin why it wouldn't work. 

Jason Pontin:  
For what it's worth, every year, Tech Review chooses the 10 technologies we think are most promising to have some kind of a breakthrough in the near future and Solid state was one of them and EEStor is one of the examples we pointed out.

Bill Joy: 
I'd love to find....if someone has another solid state energy's hard enough to invest in another one of those. 

After the fireside chat, Joy answered questions from a small crowd of people for over an hour. 

So, are you still hopeful about EEStor?

Bill Joy:  
Oh yeah. I mean these things are hard so there is always a chance they won't work. But we're very uh......We'll see. I don't know anything that isn't in the press. 

Question:  ....a person team somebody that already may already have a solution that hasn't been discovered, is that something you think is possible?   Like a crowdsouring...somewhere in world that's working....

Bill Joy: 
It doesn't tend to work that way. It proceeds from somebody who has deep expertise in a domain who acquires interdisciplinary collaborators. Thats a better formula. There are no child prodigies in these fields that involve physics and chemistry. 

You really just mentioned Carl Nelson he is like 90 years old an MIT PHD material scientist, who is one of the inventors under EEStor. If you don't have someone like Carl. I mean you ask Carl, tell me something about halfnium. Carl will talk to you for 15 minutes about halfnium. He knows something about every element in the periodic table. He can tell you off the top of his head what its crystal forms are and alot of interesting properties. I mean you have to be intimate with the periodic table to do this kind of stuff.  You have  know... .you really have to have had a career.  With somebody like that, he's probably the oldest founder I ever backed.  But you just have dinner with him and you realize he really understands what he is doing with materials. 

Now what they are proposing to do is wild. And there's lots of reasons in which some of these things could fail to be commercialized. I'm not saying whether it's worked or not and if we've announced it or not, I'm just saying it's hard.  What they're trying to do...obviously, it's took get....since's not easy to do these things. So...but the worthwhile things usually are hard and they always take longer

Friday, April 15, 2011

An Open Letter to US Dept of Energy Secretary Chu concerning FOIA 10-00297-H which is 190 days past statutory response requirements

Dear Secretary Chu,

First of all, thank you for your service to our country. I sincerely believe you are prioritizing appropriately around renewable energy. Additionally, I thank you for your work to promote interest in and research of energy storage.  Your leadership in these areas deserves much praise. 

I am writing to you today because my associate Tom Villars submitted a FOIA request  (FOIA 10-00297-H) for information which Sandia National Labs possesses concerning a company called EEStor Inc.    As you know, the FOIA rules provide the govt 20 days to respond to a request unless unusual circumstances arise. 

It is completely unacceptable that this FOIA request has now reached 210 days.  The last update we received from the FOIA office, who has been cc'ed on this email is that the response is undergoing a 2nd review. 

Sir, regardless of what you think about this stealth company called EEStor and its technology, as an American you have to agree that information disclosure by government agencies preserves the integrity of our democracy.  Ignoring FOIA requests is not what the Obama administration has set as a goal in this area.  

I would kindly ask you to personally intervene in this matter and force Sandia and the DOE FOIA office handling the request to complete the request immediately and without any further delay.  If the information is subject to exemptions, then those need to be cited in the response.  

The information contained in these files about EEStor is probably not even important.  But the FOIA laws are not intended to judge the merit of a request.  That right is left to the citizen who wishes to examine the information. 

I know DOE gossips and discusses EEStor in those rare cases when it arises as a topic.  It is not the intention of those seeking this information to embarrass anyone or hamper the DOE's important mission.  We simply want to know what information has been gathered about EEStor to improve the ability of interested persons to make a judgement about it.  That is what the FOIA law provides.  

Please help us. 

Very Respectfully,


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Non-Disclosure Agreements: EEStory Ship of Gold

Thanks to a dedicated reader who has contributed research to numerous items of interest to the EEStory, we have an interesting book excerpt to read in order to get us into the mindset of Dick Weir in his fund raising days.  What am I talking about?

The book Ship of Gold was published in 1998 and written by Gary Kinder.  It documents the story of "maverick scientist and entrepreneur Tommy Thompson" who discovered and lead the 1989 recovery of approximately $1Billion of gold found in a shipwrecked vessel called the Central America whose 1857 voyage terminated at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

I highly recommend buying this book (even though I haven't read it yet) because I'm publishing a long excerpt of it which I think you will enjoy.   It looks like a brilliant story. The kind I wish I had read when I was in college.  

In any case, the excerpt covers the portion of the book that documents Thompson's effort's to raise funding to retrieve the sunken treasure. I think you will enjoy this as much as I did.  If you don't enjoy it, perhaps there is something wrong with you. Profoundly wrong.

Here are the excerpts:

Excerpt #1

Excerpt #2

Sorry if the formatting drives you bonkers.

Monday, April 4, 2011

German Company--DBM Energy-- Uses Hummingbirds as Batteries

Note: the following article is based on several German news articles I read recently. To preserve accuracy, I felt it appropriate to abandon the horrible translations made possible by Google and other similar tools and just hack it together myself.  I think you will find the significance of the story easier to grasp as a result.

A German company--DBM Energy-- has identified a way to connect tiny hummingbirds to an electric motor and achieve single charge electric vehicle distance records.  First, the birds are placed on a conveyor belt, coated in lithium (a process licensed from KFC) & filled with nectar, a tradition the Dutch call KOLIBRI, which is short for "Call the Library. "  The result is an efficient and tasty treat that could change the eating habits of electric vehicle consumers everywhere.  The German connoisseur's at DEKRA tasted the crunchy fowl and certified the results. (Michelin refused to participate--Zero Stars)  All of this has caused a firestorm of controversy in Germany, which a few months ago ignited the test vehicles used by DBM. They didn't have backup vehicles and had to reinvent the batteries from scratch in 4 months.)   But they did it again.  And now, everyone wants to meet "the Blue-headed hummingbird in the zoo of Augsburg" which sponsors DBM research.

To gain further insight, I contacted Mirko Hannemann, CEO of DBM and he provided the following information. (He urged me to conduct the interview in English):

B:  Frau Hanneman, thanks be to W┼Źdanaz for allowing me to ask you a few questions about your batteries.

MH:  Hair Hanneman.  Hair. No problem.

B:  Sure. Thanks.  Let's start with the fire.  You have these great batteries but decided to burn them and start over?  Could you explain?

MH: No B. We didn't burn the batteries, our storage facility caught fire and destroyed our test vehicle.  Do you understand?

B: Ah yes, very good. Is that because you couldn't control the charging apparatus and it blew up or something?

MH: No, the fire was investigated and determined to have nothing to do with our technology.

LA Laker Fan at the Parthenon

B:  OK, good.   How many times did you swap out the batteries when you drove from Munich to Berlin?

MH: Excuse me?  No, no, this was a single charge. No batteries were swapped.  We charged them once and drove the entire distance without recharging.

B:  What is the size of the fuel tank on the test vehicle?  Was it refilled?

MH: No, this is an electric only vehicle.  No fuels. Just batteries.

B:  Ah, that explains it then.  The test course is all downhill isn't it?

MH: Sort of, yes.

B: How did the car handle in neutral?  Did you burn out the brakes?

MH: Would you like to talk about the batteries maybe?

B: Would you like me to do the interview maybe?

MH: The batteries. Please.

B:  OK. 250 Wh/kg?

MH: That is correct. Certified.

B: I think that's probably what my readers want to know.   It certainly sounds very promising and I'd like to congratulate you on all of your accomplishments.  This is a great feat for Germans everywhere.

MH: Thank you. We have a dedicated team here and will do what we can to bring these batteries to market as quickly as the automakers will allow.   We are ready.

B:  That sounds great.  What is your plan for operations after EEStor delivers EESU's this year and puts you out of business?

MH:  We were thinking of going public like A123 Systems and then closing up shop slowly over the course of 5 years like A123.

B: I thought so.  There are certainly people willing to fund that plan.  Well, best of luck to you and yours.  One more thing, how can I contact the blue headed hummingbird of Augsburg?

Blue Headed 6 Minute Charge

Friday, April 1, 2011

Apple's External Battery Pack

An Apple patent application published yesterday describes a rechargeable external battery pack combined with a power adapter. The idea of the patent is to eliminate the need for a traveler to pack both.  But wait, there's more. The device would also have adapters that made it possible to charge your iphone or other portable electronic devices too.  

Why am I writing about this?  Because in the realm of portable electronics, one of the fastest paths to market for EESU technology would be the exact type of device Apple is seeking protection for with this application.    EEStor could create an external battery that wouldn't need to be customized for use by Apple, HP, Dell, etc etc.   

Note: Apple Insider broke this story

Note #2: No April Fool's Joke in this article.  Or is there?

Wired Reporters Trash Unsung DoD Science Hero

Source: Google Images
Wired's Noah Shachtman & Spencer Ackerman have been publishing a series of investigative articles attacking the ethics of DARPA head Regina Dugan.  The controversy centers around the fact that prior to her appointment to head the US DoD's premier research organization, she helped launch a startup company, RedXDefense, devoted in part to creating better detection of explosive devices.  The problem highlighted by Shachtman & Ackerman & Manymen is that when she was appointed head of DoD by Secretary Robert Gates, she disclosed being the company's co-founder & owning 15,000 shares.  Although she followed accepted procedures and recused herself from any dealings concerning RedXDefense, it was later awarded a contract by DARPA. Then another.  Oh, her father, uncle & sister work for the company & it owes Dugan $250, repayment for a loan or something.

Great material for a govt scandal article right?  Wrong.

Regina Dugan was appointed head of DARPA precisely because of her competence as a researcher & entrepreneur--> the exact profile of persons DARPA courts to conduct its research.  Dugan has a 1984 BS, 1985 MS & 1993 PHD in mechanical engineering. She wrote her dissertation about un-detonated bombs.   She entered the workforce as a researcher at a premier non-profit DoD think-tank called Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in 1993.  She must have impressed many because 3 short years later, DARPA hired her to manage a $100Mil research portfolio that included projects to detect land mines & help Marines storm mine infested beaches.  Between 2001-2003, the Army asked her to study what was happening in Afghanistan with IED's.